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China and the WTO

Summary

China's economy has made great strides in the past twenty years as the country has persued a policy of gradually opening its markets. However, the final step, that of WTO entry, is likely to prove the most challenging, especially for the agricultural sector.

Abstract

On December 10th 2001, China formally became the 143rd member of the World Trade Organisation, ending several years of often tortuous negotiations. The move is one of great historical symbolism – throughout its centuries of history, the Middle Kingdom has swung between an open or closed stance to the rest of the world. The openness of the early dynasties – especially the Tang, who in the Middle Ages traded as far afield as Africa – was a stark contrast to the closed stance of the Ming, who during Europe’s Renaissance restricted contact with the West to the Portuguese port of Macao and forbade all foreigners from entering the country. China’s isolationism was finally forcibly overturned by Western powers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries; leaving deep scars on China’s national psyche and leading to various revolts and revolutions, beginning with the Boxer Rising of 1900 and ending with the accession of Mao’s communists in 1949. From the mid-20th century, China once again turned inward. And now the wheel has turned again, and the WTO accession marks a milestone on the road that began with the tentative steps of the ‘open door’ policy in 1978.

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GulfNitrogen 2002 conference report

Summary

The GulfNitrogen 2002 International Conference and Exhibition, organised by British Sulphur Publishing, was held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Doha, Qatar, from Sunday 17th March to Wednesday 20th March 2002.

Abstract

The after-effects of September 11th were still making themselves felt as delegates gathered in Qatar for the 2002 Nitrogen conference. Numbers of attendees were down, especially from North America. In fact, only two delegates from the United States made it to Qatar, since many companies were forbidding employees to travel to the Middle East; a fact made slightly ironic in the light of the visit to the Ritz Carlton hotel on the Sunday before the conference of US vice president Dick Cheyne, along with 400 US journalists, State Department staff and secret service personnel!

The conference was fortunate to have attracted generous sponsorship as usual, beginning with a cocktail reception on Sunday, March 17th, kindly hosted jointly by Synetix and Krupp Uhde, and including a Hydro-sponsored lunch on Monday, a Sud-Chemie lunch on Tuesday, and dinner on Tuesday night provided by local hosts the Qatar Fertilizer Company (Qafco).

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Is there any real competition for iron?

Summary

Cobalt and, especially, ruthenium are more active than iron as catalysts in the ammonia synthesis reaction, but there are practical and economic disadvantages. We view their prospects.

Abstract

Platinum impregnated into asbestos was well established in the early days of chemistry as a catalyst for various chemical processes. So in the pioneering research for a catalyst for the synthesis of ammonia from gaseous hydrogen and nitrogen by Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch and Alwin Mittasch and their co-workers at BASF in the early years of the last century, platinised asbestos was an obvious starting point, though it did not prove very effective. Thousands of other potential catalytic compositions were investigated, based on other Group VIII metals such as cobalt and osmium, certain other transition metals such as tungsten, molybdenum and manganese, rare earths such as cerium, and even uranium.

As revealed in an early patent1, the BASF researchers were the first to develop the concept of “promoters” (their term): often alkali metal or alkaline earth metal compounds, which enhanced the activity of the main catalytic material. They also appreciated the deleterious effect of catalyst “poisons” such as sulphur, phosphorus and heavier Group V and VI elements, and easily fusible and reducible metals such as lead, tin and zinc.

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Keeping urea plant corrosion at bay

Summary

Corrosion is an ever-present hazard in nitrogen chemicals manufacture, and nowhere more so than in a urea plant. But advances in stainless steel technology are reducing the cost of protecting the most vulnerable parts of the plant.

Abstract

Most metals which have sufficient mechanical strength to be useful in the construction of chemical plants come above hydrogen in the electrochemical series, which means that – viewed from a strictly thermodynamic point of view – they should react with any acidic media which they encounter. In other words, they are liable to corrode. The fact that they do not necessarily do so is due to an effect called passivation, in which dissolved oxygen or other mildly oxidising species present in the medium react with the metal surface to form a tenacious and impervious layer of the metal oxide, which insulates the metal against acidic attack. Even iron exhibits this effect under some conditions, although its corrosion-resistance is vastly enhanced by alloying it with chromium and other constituents such as nickel, manganese and molybdenum, as well as a variety of “magic ingredients”: exotic minority constituents such as titanium, niobium, tantalum, titanium and zirconium.

The limits of the range of “safe” operating conditions (for example, temperature, acidity, electrolytic and/or oxidising potential, and liquid flow rate) beyond which the passive layer breaks down and corrosion accelerates depend on the chemistry of the metal or alloy constituents and that of the corrosive medium. In the case of alloys, including steels, the complex chemical and crystallographic results of interactions between the various alloy constituents, some of which may be present only in quite minor amounts, can have a very marked effect.

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