After a decades-long deficit, Chile's sulfuric acid market is expected to turn a net surplus by 2020 on a future decrease in consumption due to lower production of copper in cathodes, said state copper commission Cochilco.
Used in hydrometallurgy processes, sulfuric acid is one of the main supplies of the mining industry.
In Chile it is obtained mainly from seven copper smelters - four of which are run by state giant Codelco, one by state minerals firm Enami, and the Chagres and Alto Norte smelters owned by Anglo American and Glencore, respectively.
Additionally, there are a number of other facilities that also produce sulfuric acid, including roasters and metallurgy plants.
Chile's sulfuric acid production was 5.4Mt in 2013, while consumption was 8.36Mt, creating a deficit of 2,936Mt. Some 2.83Mt were imported, mainly from Peru, Japan and South Korea, according to a Cochilco report.
Cochilco said that deficit condition is expected to continue through 2020, year in which production is expected to surpass consumption, creating a surplus of 222.6t. By 2023 the surplus is expected to reach 721t.
The decline in consumption is explained by a decline in the production of copper in cathodes, expected to fall to 1.13Mt in 2023 compared to 1.93Mt produced in 2013.
Cochilco noted that there's only one large scale cathodes production expected to come online in coming years - Antofagasta Minerals' Antucoya. Meanwhile, Collahuasi, Quebrada Blanca, Mantos Blancos, Michilla and Mantoverde are all expected to close down operations before 2023.
Other factors expected to contribute to the surplus are an increase in acid production as a result of process optimization due to new smelter emission standards that will enter into effect in 2018, and a voluntary increase in production from two new sulfur roasters expected to go online in 2016.