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Publication > Issue > Articles

The global market for ammonia

Summary

Relatively small volumes of ammonia are traded compared to the amount produced, and high transport and storage costs make for a series of regional markets rather than a unified global market such as exists for urea. Nitrogen & Methanol presents an update on developments in ammonia trade over the past few years.

Abstract

One of the things most notable about the global ammonia trade is that it generally bears little relation to the urea trade, in spite of the close connection between them chemically. Although Trinidad & Tobago is the largest exporter of ammonia in the world, for example, it exports very little urea. Ammonia trade represents around 10% of all ammonia produced; the volume is relatively small because of the high cost of storage and shipping, since ammonia is a refrigerated gas, unlike urea, a dry solid which can be moved and stored relatively easily and cheaply.

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Managing steam reformer tubes

Summary

Reformer tubes are expensive, but so are the consequences when they fail unexpectedly. John Brightling, of Synetix, considers how to get long service while minimising the risk of failure.

Abstract

The steam reformer is the largest and most expensive piece of equipment in ammonia, methanol and hydrogen plants. On account of the arduous operating conditions the tubes run close to their metallurgical limits and suffer so-called “creep damage” over time. This damage does not occur at a uniform rate across the reformer; local overheating may cause more damage to some tubes than others. For example, flames from the furnace burners may accidentally impinge directly on the outside surface of one or two tubes, or the activity of the catalyst in the odd tube may become impaired by carbon formation, which reduces the reaction rate and, therefore, the rate at which the heat is removed from the inside surface of the tube wall, leading to so-called “hot bands”.

Management of reformer tubes is important in the interests of both minimising costs and avoiding unscheduled shut-downs resulting from tube failures. It is important to realise that there is as yet no such thing as an everlasting reformer tube: every tube will fail eventually. The best that can be achieved is to specify a target service life and then to determine the combination of material properties and physical dimensions needed to attain it under the desired operating conditions. Periodic inspection will then be required to identify tubes that need to be replaced and to diagnose causes of excessive creep.

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Problems, world records and honours in Montreal

Summary

AIChE's deferred Ammonia Safety Symposium took place in Montreal in January. During the conference the Committee awarded a lifetime achievement award to Dr Max Appl. The audience also heard of a world ammonia production record.

Abstract

Originally scheduled for last September, the postponed 46th Safety in Ammonia Plants and Related Facilities Symposium of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers took place at Le Centre Sheraton, Montreal, Quebec, from 14 to 17 January. In the confusion and uncertainty that followed the events of 11 September last year, it was a courageous decision to proceed with the meeting at all rather than just to cancel it, and it is therefore very gratifying that, although the attendance was somewhat reduced, it was still very respectable.

Over the years the international participation at the Ammonia Safety Symposium has grown steadily, reflecting the outward shift in the centre of gravity of the industry from the mature industrial economies to areas of developing demand and low-cost feedstock supplies. This has helped to sustain the numbers at Ammonia Safety, even when the home industry has been going through tough times.

The fact that this meeting continues to enjoy such good support is testament to its value as a forum for the interchange of practical information and experience in safety-related matters. There is no doubt that it has made (and continues to make) a very positive contribution to the improvement of safety standards and performance in the fixed-nitrogen industry.

Many of the components used in nitrogen production processes are highly stressed on account of high operating temperatures and pressures, high-speed rotation or exposure to corrosive media. In addition, the media being handled are mostly toxic, flammable, explosive or corrosive. As the scale of production continues to increase, so does the destructive potential of any failure leading to the escape of process or product gases or liquids from either the production plant or from storage facilities – even, in extreme cases, detonation.

The programme comprised a mix of papers on plant performance, maintenance and inspection procedures, equipment failures and their repair, hazard evaluation, operating techniques, process control, revamping and upgrading of old plants, metallurgy, and technological advances, particularly those having an impact on plant reliability and, concomitantly, safety. Space, unfortunately, does not allow us to highlight all of them.

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The future of US gas

Summary

The US nitrogen industry was decimated by the natural gas price spike of winter 2000/2001. This article takes a look at the state of the US market and where it may be heading.

Abstract

According to BP Amoco’s 2001 Statistical Review of World Energy, the United States of America consumed 654 bcm of natural gas in 2000, making it by far the largest consumer of natural gas in the world. Gas consumption has increased 20% over the past decade, and represents 27% of US primary energy consumption. Around 85% of US gas needs are met from domestic production, which in 2000 stood at 555 bcm, having increased by 8% during the 1990s. However, this proportion is falling, and there are increasing imports, at present almost exclusively from Canada, although the prospect of LNG imports is now looming. The biggest increase in consumption comes from new power plants being built to meet new energy demands. The new power plants use gas-turbines, and are helping to change the environment in the US gas market.

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