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Publication > Issue > Articles

Delicate economics

Summary

Since the last AFCOME Bulk Blending meeting two years ago, the Western European fertilizer industry has had to endure further hardship, especially in the nitrogen sector, prompting a further wave of capacity rationalisation and the divestment of unprofitable activities. The first half of this year appeared to have brought some respite, and the leading producers that remain committed to the fertilizer sector can point to positive gains from their cost-cutting programmes. However, the regional industry remains vulnerable.

Abstract

The years 1999 and 2000 were characterised by further upheavals for the beleaguered Western European fertilizer industry, and the leading producers had to come to terms with continuing falls in sales and diminishing profit margins. Retreat was the order of the day as Norsk Hydro revised its market strategy and announced another wave of plant closures, while BASF reduced its exposure to fertilizer markets by selling subsidiary busi­nesses to its former offshoot, Kali und Salz. Kemira Agro Oy announced that it would concentrate as a supplier of speciality fertilizers, and divest its commodity fertilizer business, which was separated into the Kemira Agro Nitrogen (KAN) segment. The French market for potash was set for major changes as SCPA announced that it would cease production at its remaining Alsace mines in 2003, earlier than expected. In Spain, the Israeli company Dead Sea Works (DSW) began to integrate the Spanish subsidiary, Iberpotash, which it acquired in 1998.

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NPK fertilizers meet many needs

Summary

Multinutrient fertilizers are a key factor in attaining the necessary plant nutrients in sufficient quantities. Farmers can chose from a wide variety of multinutrient fertilizers, which have been developed to meet specific needs

Abstract

Agricultural scientists recognise that for optimum fertilizer use efficiency, balanced fertilisation is necessary. Those primary, secondary and micronutrients which are the most deficient in the soil limit the yield and/or affect the quality, and thus for good agricultural practices, balanced fertilisation means a supply of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in line with soil reserves, the required and expected yield of the crop, with the addition of secondary and micronutrients as necessary. (Fertili­zers and Their Use, IFA/FAO [2000])

“Fertilizer use integrated into good agricultural practices should provide the needed plant nutrients in sufficient quantities, in balanced proportions, in available form and at the time when the plants require them.” (Ibid.) The easiest way to achieve this is through the use of multinutrient fertilizers, containing more than one of the primary nutrients of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). The Euro­pean Fer­tilizer Manufacturers Associ­ation (EFMA) notes that there are three distinct types of multinutrient fertilizers:

  • Complex fertilizers
  • Compound fertilizers
  • Blended fertilizers

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The implications of the tragedies of September 2001

Summary

As international fertilizer markets were reacting to the tragic events of 11 September 2001 in the United States, there followed a catastrophic explosion at the Grande Paroisse ammonium nitrate plant at Toulouse, France. The latter event at first appeared to be a tragic accident. Both are expected to impact on market sentiment, however.

Abstract

September 2001 will be forever seared in the world’s collective memory for the mass destruction and wholesale loss of life that was the sole achievement of the terrorists in the United States. These awful events and their consequences continue to reverberate in all aspects of life around the world: many sectors of the global economy will inevitably be strongly affect­ed, and one must assume that fertilizer markets will not escape entirely unscathed. 

The month was marked by a second tragedy: on 21 September, a catastrophic explosion at Grande Paroisse’s (GP) Toulouse plant in France killed 29 people and left more than 1,000 injured. Inves­tigators have yet to identify what detonated the 200 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in bulk at the site.

In common with other sectors in the global economy, fertilizer markets were at a low ebb before the US outrages, and expectations that the third and fourth quarters – traditionally a strong period for demand in North American, European and Asian markets – were at best muted. Prices for urea, DAP and other leading traded fertilizers were in the doldrums. The North American producers were in a particularly severe predicament, as several of them issued profits warnings in anticipation of publishing their third-quarter results.

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In the vanguard for top quality

Summary

Ensuring the safety, quality and performance of their products are the uppermost concerns of fertilizer manufacturers. They have an important tool through the use of modern coatings. These offer good anti-caking effects, reduce water uptake and suppress dusting. Further advances in coating systems continue, and several companies have specialised in developing coating agents that have been formulated specifically for the fertilizer sector, as described here.

Abstract

From the outset of the industrial production of commercial fertilizers over a century ago, fertilizer manufacturers have been preoccupied with ensuring the safety, quality and performance of their products, and that these are not compromised during transport, handling, storage and application. There are many attendant risks, and fertilizer materials may deteriorate – especially in humid conditions. Most fertilizer grades are hygroscopic to some extent, being at least partly water-soluble. Thus, DAP and MAP generally have a water solubility in the range of 60-80% P2O5. The more hygroscopic the fertilizer, the more the product is at risk to deterioration and loss of quality during storage and handling.

Among the factors affecting hygroscopicity are:

  • Chemical composition of the fertilizer
  • Moisture content
  • Ambient temperature
  • Relative humidity
  • Particle structure and porosity
  • Time left exposed
  • Particle surface area.

In addition to countering the worst effects of hygroscopicity, fertilizer manufacturers must ensure that their products meet the specific needs of the market, especially in terms of:

  • Size distribution
  • Shape and surface smoothness
  • Hardness
  • Absence of dust and caking
  • Overall moisture content and resistance to moisture absorption.

 

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Incitec reduces ammonia emissions

Summary

Hydro Fertilizer Technology BV (HFT) enjoys world market leadership in fluid bed urea granulation technology. HFT has worked in close co-operation with Krupp Uhde to develop this technology further, focusing particularly on reducing ammonia emissions. This article reviews these latest advances and is drawn from the paper by Wim Hamelink and André Kayaert of HFT and Paul Niehues and Martina Schmitz of Krupp Uhde GmbH, which was presented at the IFA Technical Conference in New Orleans last year.

Abstract

Since being acquired by Norsk Hydro in 1979, the nitrogen fertilizer complex at Sluiskil, Nether­lands, has been transformed into an operation that has remained competitive in the world market. Its capacity today comprises 4,500 t/d ammonia and 2,400 t/d prilled and granular urea. Sluiskil is also a showpiece of the technology pioneered by Hydro Fertilizer Technology BV (HFT), the licensing arm of Norsk Hydro, notably for fluid bed urea granulation technology. This technology has been applied at numerous plants throughout the world, in conjunction with the German engineering company, Krupp Uhde.

Within the past three decades, the fertilizer industry throughout the world has steadily moved towards granular urea in place of prilled product, in the past often via the spherodizer process in which for­mal­dehyde-based components are added to enhance product quality and control dust formation.

However, as unit capacities of urea synthesis plants began to exceed 1,500-2,000 t/d, the typical spherodizer capacity of 300-400 t/d became a potentially limiting factor, making it necessary to install multiple units. This prompted HFT to develop its own fluid bed urea granulation finishing technology, which has no such capacity limitations.

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Kaltenbach-Thuring's new generation

Summary

As a leading supplier of fertilizer granulation technology, Kaltenbach-Thuring has developed the Fluidised Drum Granulator (FGD). During the past 15 years, some 15 plants employing this ­technology have been brought on stream. The company has announced a second-generation FGD that offers extended operating periods, reduced dust formation and several other notable advantages, as described below.

Abstract

Kaltenbach-Thuring S. A. (K T) has many years of experience in pioneering fertilizer granulation technology, notably the Fluidised Drum Granulator (FDG), which has been in operation for over 15 years at 15 installations around the world. KT has harnessed this experience to take FDG technology one step further by developing the Advanced FDG.

The Advanced FDG represents an evolutionary advance. Compared with KT’s established FDG technology, the main changes centre on:

  • Modification of the spraying system, including headers, nozzles type and position.
  • Adaptation of the system to granulate 95% urea solution.
  • Modification of the internals to offer alternative operations, spraying and chemical reaction in the same equipment.

The heart of the process is a cylindrical granulating drum, fitted internally with lifters. The drum rotates around its axis in a conventional manner, differing from the conventional drum granulator by ­having an internal fluidised bed. This comprises a flat, slightly inclined perforated plate through which fluidising air is blown. In some cases, air can be used directly from the atmosphere. In other cases, prior air conditioning is required.

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Design options for phosphate plants

Summary

In this article, D. M. Ivell, Manager of Granulation Technology, Jacobs Engineering Group, reviews some of the design options that can be considered for a modern phosphate fertilizer granulation plant. Many of these features are incorporated in the recently-constructed Oswal and WMC plants. The article is based on the author's paper presented at the AIChE 1999 Clearwater meeting.

Abstract

The fluidised bed granulation concept for the production of straight nitrogen products, such as urea and ammonium nitrate, represents a giant advance in technology. Its domination of the market over the last 10-15 years is a testament to its revolutionary nature. By contrast, progress in phosphate fertilizer granulation technology has been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Since the introduction of the rotary ammoniator-granulator in the 1950s, the unit operations have remained very roughly the same in all designs.

Today, the detailed design of each unit operation, rather than the basic principle, tends to differentiate one company’s design from another. Those details can make the difference between a poor design and a good one. At Jacobs Engineering, we are fortunate in having engineers whose wide and varied experience allows us to offer designs which incorporate the best ideas from a variety of sources. Jacobs has recently supplied two large granulation projects – three lines each rated at 142 t/h DAP for Oswal Chemicals & Fertilizers in India, and one line rated at 135 t/h DAP/MAP for WMC Fertilizers in Aus­tralia. The Oswal DAP plants have the largest nameplate capacity in the world.

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A new roll-call of producers

Summary

The spate of new capacity for the production of potassium nitrate is unprecedented. Demand for this speciality product is being driven primarily by the requirements of drip-feed agriculture and other applications on high added-value crops. However, will the new capacity outstrip the forecast growth in demand? This review acknowledges the studies undertaken on this topic by British Sulphur Consultants.

Abstract

Potassium nitrate (KNO3) is a crystalline compound which has wide­spread application in industry, as well as in fertilizers. It occurs as colourless, prismatic crystals or as a white powder, and is found pure in nature as the mineral saltpetre or niter. It is slightly soluble in cold water and highly soluble in hot water. KNO3 has been used extensively in the manufacture of gunpowder since the Middle Ages and is also used in explosives, fireworks and matches, as well as a preservative in foods. As a fertilizer, KNO3 (44% K2O equivalent and 13% N) has been a speciality product, supplied by a small number of companies. However, while potassium nitrate for long accounted for only 1% of the potash fertilizer market, demand has increased considerably in the past decade, prompting not only the established suppliers to increase their production capacity, but encouraging new producers to enter the market.

In its recent study on speciality potash fertilizers, British Sulphur Consultants, estimate that KNO3 sales totalled 945,000 tonnes in 1999 and probably exceeded 1 million tonnes for the first time in 2000. Of this total, between 80-85% was used as fertilizer, while the remainder was used in various industrial applications. Europe (dominated by Spain and Italy) accounted for around 40% of total con­sumption, North America and Asia/Oceania each accounted for 20%, Latin America 15% and other regions accounted for the remaining 5%. The de­mand for potassium nitrate today is being driven by fertilizer consumption in the more specialised sectors, such as soluble products for fertigation and special grades of field fertilizers for use on high-value crops.

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