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Cautious optimism in San Diego

Summary

Nearly 300 people attended the AIChE Ammonia Safety Symposium in San Diego in September a very creditable turn-out, given the contemporary circumstances. The keynote speaker even held out the prospect of a slight improvement from the grim conditions that the US nitrogen industry has had to weather in the last three or four years.

Abstract

The AIChE’s “Safety in Ammonia Plants and Related Facilities” symposium is supposedly an annual event, but this year’s – the 47th in the series, held from 16–19 September 2002 in San Diego, California – came only 8 months after the 46th, which had to be postponed in the aftermath of “Nine-Eleven”. Given the shortness of the interval between the two meetings, the generally difficult state of the nitrogen industry in North America and Europe, and the understandable though no less regrettable absence of representatives from some other parts of the globe, the turn-out of nearly 300 must have been equally gratifying for the industry’s Ammonia Safety Committee, under the chairmanship of Ian Welch, of PCS Nitrogen Trinidad, and for the AIChE’s conference secretariat, led by Scott Rothschild. Perhaps the venue had something to do with it. The climate of San Diego is legendary and certainly lived up to expectations on this occasion, and the picturesque and luxurious (and commensurately pricey) Loews Coronado Bay Resort would have been well nigh irresistible to anyone who was aware of its beach-side setting with magnificent views across the blue waters of the bay.

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DME the new wonder fuel?

Summary

Dimethyl ether may be set for a tremendous boom if proposed uses as an environmentally-friendly heating or power generation fuel or as a DERV-fuel additive or substitute take off. It all depends on the economics of its large-scale production.

Abstract

Dimethyl ether (DME; CH3OCH3), is the lowest homologue in a family of ethers, the most familiar of which is diethyl ether (C2H5OC2H5), known simply as “ether” and formerly used as an anaesthetic. Under ordinary conditions ether is a very volatile liquid giving off a heavy, pungent vapour; DME, on the other hand, is normally gaseous but can be kept liquid under mild pressure. This property makes it suitable for use as an aerosol propellant in products such as spray paints and varnishes, agricultural chemical sprays and cosmetics. It decomposes completely in the climatic atmosphere in a matter of a day or two, so it never reaches the stratospheric ozone layer as CFCs did and it makes no lasting contribution to the greenhouse effect.

Currently propellants account for about half of world production. The remainder mostly finds use as a residue-free solvent for specialised cleaning, as in the electronics industry, and in chemical synthesis as a methylating agent.

Although DME is less toxic than methanol, it is harmful if inhaled in high concentrations, with effects similar to those of diethyl ether. Contact of the liquid with the skin can produce frostbite. No carcinogenic or mutant effects have been observed.

Current production capacity for DME amounts to around 143,000 t/a (Table 1).

 

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Integrated gas complexes

Summary

Is the integrated gas-based petrochemical complex the future for methanol production?

Abstract

Methanex call it a ‘Syngas Factory’. BP call it a ‘Meth­ane Refinery’. But whatever name it goes by, it is a widely-discussed topic in the oil and gas industry, and could ultimately represent the way forward for the nitrogen and methanol industries. It is of course the concept of a multi-product stream from a stranded natural gas field.

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