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Latin America: on the rebound?

Summary

After a difficult few years around the turn of the century, Latin America's economies have returned to growth and stability, bolstered by the recent run of high commodity prices. However, the difficulties of the past have left their mark in a series of left-wing governments which are seeking to reassert state control over gas reserves and petrochemicals.

Abstract

Latin America has had several reversals of fortune over the past decades. Until the oil crisis of 1973 it was one of the most dynamic, fast-growing parts of the world economy, but subsequently the region slumped into a decade of crisis and debt, and rule by military strongmen backed by the army. The debt crisis had a long overhang, and burdened these economies throughout the 1980s, during often tortuous renegotiations and write-offs. However, in the 1990s South America once again became a ‘hot ticket’, especially when other emerging regions, like the former Soviet Union and eventually even the ‘Asian Tigers’, proved not to be the great opportunities that they had been thought. Democratic governments were elected across the continent and the military went back to barracks, and the region’s economies were booming again.

But the turn of the century brought currency crises in Argentina and Brazil, coup attempts in Venezuela and a return to civil war in Colombia, and the potential for another disastrous reversal for the region. Fortunately, by and large things have returned to stability and growth, and as Table 1 shows, GDP growth rates are now rising sharply in most countries, bolstered by high prices for commodity exports of all types, from oil to copper. However, the wealth has not made an impact in the lives of ordinary people; the continent as a whole has suffered in recent years from high levels of unemployment and social inequality, often exacerbated by austerity measures to deal with rampant inflation, currency crises and lack of investor confidence. As a result the IMF has become something of a bogeyman for people in the region, and globalisation – and the United States – are blamed for many of the region’s woes. It has been fertile ground for the left, and since the election of Hugo Chavez as president of Venezuela in 1998, politics in South America has taken a decidedly leftward turn, with a succession of elections delivering socialist governments. Some, like those of president Luiz ‘Lula’ da Silva in Brazil or Michelle Bachalet in Chile, have been of a more moderate social democratic stripe, but others, like Chavez and Bolivia’s president Evo Morales, have been of a more authoritarian bent..

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New Technology for GLT production

Summary

Japan is preparing to launch its own gas to liquids (GTL) demonstrator plant project as part of a government-sponsored effort to develop a Japanese version of what is becoming an increasingly popular technology. David Hayes spoke to the Japanese Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI) about the programme, which uses a unique oxygen-free process to handle large volumes of CO2 in the feed gas.

Abstract

Japan’s plans to develop the nation’s own GTL technology are about to take an important step forward with the planned construction of a pre-commercial GTL plant, following the earlier completion of a successful four year pilot GTL plant project, using indigenous natural gas feedstock. The government-backed pre-commercial GTL plant scheme is being undertaken by a consortium of private companies that jointly own Japan’s GTL license but who may decide to license the technology to others in future. Japan’s GTL development programme is a public-private scheme with government funding from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) that is channelled through the Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC), which pays out the allocated funds to the private company members forming the consortium.

During the initial pilot project which ran from 1998 to 2004, JOGMEC worked in collaboration with five Japanese companies - Japan Petroleum Exploration Co Ltd, Chiyoda Corporation, Cosmo Oil Co Ltd, Nippon Steel Corporation and Inpex Corporation, with the eventual aim of establishing a GTL process as a technology option for exploiting stranded gas reserves. Prior to the project launch the consortium members had all been working independently on processes or catalysts.

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In UAN the solution?

Summary

Urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) is an increasingly popular fertilizer in the US and Europe because of its ease of storage and handling compared to solid ammonium nitrate and ammonia solutions.

Abstract

Urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) is a popular liquid fertilizer. In the US, it is close to liquid ammonia in popularity, and as restrictions are increased both on liquid ammonia solution and solid ammonium nitrate fertilizers, so UAN has steadily gained in popularity, not just in the US but elsewhere.

As the name suggests, it is basically a mixture of urea and ammonium nitrate in a liquid solution, with an overall nitrogen content of 28-32% by weight; lower than both solid urea (42% nitrogen) or solid AN (typically 33-34% nitrogen). A typical UAN solution (of 28-32% N) contains 38-48% AN, 30-35% urea and 20-30% water (again by weight). Ammonia and nitric acid are used to adjust solution pH to close to 7 (usually between 6.8 and 7.5) and a small amount of corrosion inhibitor (about 0.15%) is also added for ease of storage and transport, because of UAN’s corrosive properties. The solution can also be enriched with other soluble plant nutrients like sulphur, boron and calcium compounds.

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World's largest ammonia plant

Summary

Uhde's dual pressure process for large-scale ammonia plants has been applied to SAFCO IV, the world's largest ammonia plant. Dr Dennis Lippmann of Uhde presents the design features of this mammoth 3,300 t/d ammonia plant and reports on experiences from the commissioning phase.

Abstract

Driven by the need to improve economics, the capacity of new ammonia plants has increased continuously over the decades. The first Uhde ammonia plant built in 1928 had a capacity of 100 t/d distributed over four reactors. Nowadays single train plants are typically around 2,000 t/d (Fig. 1).

As early as 1971 Uhde commissioned a 1,400 t/d plant at a loop pressure of 225 bar. In 1991, the BASF Antwerp plant, which has a nameplate capacity of 1,800 t/d (now operating at 2,060 t/d) marked the beginning of the next generation of Uhde ammonia plants. For this plant design a second ammonia converter was introduced into the loop, the scale-up experiences from this project led to the design considerations that were taken into account for the next capacity generation at 3,300 t/d and beyond.

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Acetic acid technology

Summary

Nitrogen + Syngas reports on new developments in acetic acid technology and highlights the locations where some of the latest world-scale plants are being constructed in response to both regional and global growth in acetic acid demand.

Abstract

Acetic acid is not the fastest growing chemical business. Total acetic acid demand in 2003 was approximately 7.5 million tonnes. Like other chemicals, the fastest growth for acetic acid is expected to occur in the Asia-Pacific region.

Acetic acid is used as the basis for many different market end uses. The primary uses are:

  • Vinyl acetate: a base for paints, adhesives, textiles, paper, film and chewing gum.
  • Purified terephthalic acid (PTA): used for the production of polyester fibres, polyester film and PET bottles.
  • Acetic anhydride: for cigarette filters, acetate fibres, paracetamol/aspirin and preservatives.
  • Ethyl acetate: acetate solvents are used in the paint industry for automotive finishes (amongst others) and also for printing inks.
  • Propyl and butyl esters: used for inks/dyes, adhesives and paints.
  • Others: many other applications from fragrances to foodstuffs and detergents.

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