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Seeking the end of the rainbow

Summary

The present year has been by no means the worst that the Western European fertilizer industry has experienced, and it can actually draw some positive conclusions from several developments, notably in the planned reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy and from the forthcoming enlargement of the EU. However, many factors continue to blight the industry's long-term future, and that fabulous pot of gold at the end of the rainbow remains elusive.

Abstract

Senior executives in the Western Euro­pean fertilizer industry have known worse years than 2003, and the older among them have known better. They are generally a battle-hardened group, and have become familiar with the hard challenges that they must address. They are es­pecially aware that the long-term prospects for the survival of Western Europe as a force in the world fertilizer in­dus­try remain the subject of intense debate by numerous market analysts, industry participants and policy-makers.

How many graduate students or school-leavers are likely to contemplate choosing a career in the Western European fertilizer industry? Not only is a lack of obvious glamour unlikely to appeal, but also a career in the fertilizer industry will most certainly involve wrestling with many intractable problems. The maturity of the Western European fertilizer market poses a particular challenge for an ambitious potential executive, as regional consumption has fluctuated around 16-17 million t/a nutrients during the past decade (Fig. 1), and is unlikely to rise above that level in the foreseeable future.

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B is for balanced nutrition

Summary

Rio Tinto Borax is the world's leading producer of boron fertilizers. The California-based company has been at the forefront of crop research since 1940, and continues to break new ground in boron science. This investment in agronomic research pays off for growers in their efforts to maximise crop yield and quality. For decades, the company's product line – including Granubor® for bulk blends, Fertibor® for suspensions, and Solubor® for foliar applications – has been synonymous with boron fertilizer. Marcos Gutierrez – Rio Tinto Borax's Global Business Manager, Agriculture – shares his thoughts on the major B trends affecting growers, as well as the fertilizer industry as a whole.

Abstract

Boron is one of seven essential plant micronutrients, but its effects are macro. B plays a vital role in plant reproduction, controlling flowering, pollen production, germination and fruit development. B is also necessary for plant growth, moving sugars from leaves to growth areas and roots. Independent research shows that B fertilizers can quadruple corn yields and increase cotton yields by more than 500 lbs/acre. Nevertheless, B deficiency is one of the most widespread of all crop deficiencies, affecting almost all major crops grown around the world.

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Fertile Minds III hits the road

Summary

While the past two Fertile Minds Ideas Expos have been huge successes, PotashCorp is excited about the next stage, Fertile Minds III. This programme takes the Fertile Minds concept to the agricultural dealers, and will be launched at the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) Conference and Exposition on 3 December, at Nashville, Tennessee.

Abstract

In an effort to get the word out about Fertile Minds to as many different agricultural industry professionals as possible, Fertile Minds will be kicking off the ARA Conference and Expo at the Sheraton Music City in Nashville, Tennessee. The past two Fer­tile Minds expos were held in San Antonio in conjunction with the Southwest Fertilizer Conference, but PotashCorp felt that the ARA would be a good fit too. “Ours is an industry that needs everybody’s full participation,” said Betty-Ann Heggie, Vice President, Corporate Relations. “We have great Fertile Minds materials, but what we need are messengers to take that information about modern farming practices to the public – and ag retailers are just the people do it.”

ARA officials welcome Fertile Minds, as they expect it will provide a boost to attendance for the remainder of the conference. “As the official kick-off to ARA’s 11th Conference and Expo, Fertile Minds III promises to be both entertaining and educational, and a good fit with this year’s theme of Creating Retail Value – Two Steps Ahead of the Rest,” said Jack Eberspacher, ARA President and CEO.

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How to tackle sticky materials

Summary

Founded in Padua, north east Italy in 1908, Bedeschi SpA has specialised in developing equipment for handling bulk solids, clays and other difficult materials, including phosphate products. This profile examines some of the solutions to difficult processing and handling problems that Bedeschi can offer.

Abstract

For almost 100 years, Bedeschi SpA has specialised in processing raw materials for cement and brick plants and in designing and manufacturing machinery for this purpose. The company produces apron feeders, crushers, stackers and reclaimers in various types, sizes and specifications, in accordance with customers’ specific requirements, and specialises in designing equipment that can handle sticky materials in a reliable manner. Bedeschi’s first experience in this field was gained with sticky clay material, which provided an excellent basis for the company to extend its expertise in further areas.

This profile reviews the various issues involved in choosing adequate storage and handling equipment for fertilizers.

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The continuing search for innovative solutions

Summary

Fertilizer manufacturers can already choose from a wide range of coating agents to prevent caking, dusting and moisture absorption by their products. Meanwhile, research continues into developing new coating products, which offer considerable potential for use by the fertilizer industry.

Abstract

Coating and anti-caking agents offer various ways of protecting the fertilizer from deterioration. These include:

  • Protection from moisture
  • Spreading of liquid film
  • Inhibiting dissolution and crystallisation
  • Modifying bond tensile strength.

There are two types of anti-caking agents: coating agents and internal additives. The latter are added during the production of the fertilizer and act internally as hardeners or crystal modifiers, with a resulting improvement in storage properties. Examples include the addition of formaldehyde (UF85) to molten urea, magnesium nitrate solution to ammonium nitrate, and the presence or addition of impurities, such as iron or aluminium during the production of wet-process phosphoric acid.

Coating agents are applied to the surface of fertilizer particles and can take several forms. The most common are inert powders, liquid coating agents and solid coating agents. Another class of coating agents is hydrophobic and non-surface active. Examples include paraffin waxes, synthetic polymers and mineral oils. They act by creating a barrier between the granule, which prevents wetting across the contact points and delaying the absorption of moisture from the ambient air. Continuing research across the spectrum is giving fertilizer manufacturers an ever-widening choice of coating and anti-caking agents to enhance the quality of their products.

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Who's who in the coating business

Summary

Several companies have devised speciality coating agents for use by the fertilizer industry. These include products to prevent caking, dusting and moisture absorption by the fertilizers. The companies supplying coating agents have formed problem-solving partnerships with their fertilizer industry customers to develop or modify the products and ensure that they compatible with existing manufacturing processes.

Abstract

Companies:

  • Akzo Nobel Surface Chemistry AB
  • ARR-MAZ Products LP
  • CECA SA
  • Filtra Catalysts & Chemicals Ltd.
  • Jiangsu Feixiang Chemical Co. Ltd. (Feixiangchem)
  • Kao Corporation S.A
  • Nufarm Group
  • Surface Chemists of Florida (SCF)
  • Zinkan Enterprises Inc.

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Benchmarking energy efficiency of muffle furnaces for SOP production

Summary

As part of the Dutch government's programme for complying with the Kyoto protocol on climate change, TNO is undertaking benchmarking studies on energy-intensive industrial processes to establish fair standards for energy-efficiency. Geert Jacobs and Hans van Limpt discuss the current candidate – the Mannheim alkali metal sulphates process.

Abstract

In response to growing worries about global warming, the United Nations concluded a “Framework Convention on Climate Change” in 1992, leading to the Kyoto Conference in 1997. In the Kyoto protocol quantitative agreements were fixed for the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases (for example, CO2).

In the Netherlands, the government took the view that it was not appropriate to impose absolute caps on energy-intensive industries, as it would obstruct their expansion possibilities. Nor was it appropriate to impose equal percentage reductions on all enterprises, because that would harm industries that had already taken action and favour those that had not. Ultimately it chose to use objective standards, and for that purpose the benchmarking method was preferred, which could be used to determine actual performance levels in comparable industries in other parts of the world and set attainable energy-efficiency performance targets, which the Dutch industry would be obliged to meet.

In 1999, TNO started a first benchmarking study to compare the energy-efficiency of the Dutch glass industry with that of its competitors world-wide (Fig. 1). In such benchmarking studies, a profound study of energy balances of furnaces, pro­cesses and all factors affecting energy-efficiency is needed to obtain a valid ranking.

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Rotem strengthens its presence

Summary

Rotem traces its origins back to 1952, when Negev Phosphates Limited was formed to mine phosphate rock in the Negev Desert of southern Israel. The company subsequently became a subsidiary of Israel Chemicals Limited (ICL), becoming the Rotem Amfert Group following the transfer in 1989 of Amsterdam Fertilizers (Amfert). In 2001, ICL merged the Rotem Amfert Group with the Dead Sea Works (DSW) potash subsidiary, and in the following year incorporated DSW's Spanish subsidiary Iberpotash and the recently-acquired Cleveland Potash Ltd, to form ICL Fertilizers. Further restructuring led ICL to form ICL Fertilizers Europe to handle operations of the entire group in Europe. Today, as described by Lynda Davies, Rotem is an integral part of ICL Fertilizers, with manufacturing bases in Israel and Europe that produce a comprehensive range of products, including various grades of phosphoric acid, granular and speciality fertilizers, speciality chemicals and phosphate salts.

Abstract

Israel Chemicals Limited has undertaken a major restructuring programme to enhance its inherent strengths based on a rich portfolio of natural resources and advanced technologies. By focusing on its core activities – phosphates and potash, fertilizers, speciality chemicals, bromine and bromine compounds, and magnesium metal – and by maximising inter-business synergies and improving cost efficiencies, ICL has further strengthened its balance sheet.

The group recently reported very strong first-half results, with each of its four business segments recording increased sales and improved profitability compared to the first half of 2002. ICL posted a 25 % in­crease in net profit to $60.3 million in the first half of 2003 compared to the prior-year period. For the first six months of 2003, sales increased by 16 % to $1.121 billion, from $968.3 million in the first half 2002. ICL Fertilizers’ sales increased in the same period by 27 % to $606 million, representing over half the group’s revenue, and operating profits increased by 29 % to $95.2 million.

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