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Is the Gulf's day here at last?

Summary

The number of new ammonia and methanol projects in the Arabian Gulf has been increasing rapidly over the past few years. Nitrogen & Methanol looks at whether the region is finally achieving the things expected of it ever since 1973.

Abstract

The Middle East region, especially the Arabian Gulf, is becoming one of the leading players in the international nitrogen fertilizer and methanol industries. The region is richly endowed with hydrocarbon and production resources. The Arabian Gulf in the Middle East has proven gas reserves of 24.42 and is 15.5% of the world gas reserves. Gas has become particularly important for countries like Qatar and Oman, where oil production is in decline as wells are exhausted, but where large untapped reserves of gas remain. This has been the reason for the recent spate of new LNG project announcements.

In addition to straightforward export of gas, however, most Middle Eastern countries have seen that greater value can be added by downstream projects. Such gas-based chemical industries help to diversify predominantly oil-based economies, to increase foreign revenue and provide a cushion against fluctuations in oil prices. Prominent among these industries are ammonia and methanol, as well as activities even further downstream such as urea, MTBE and acetic acid. The region’s share of world’s urea production has increased from about 6% during 1995 to more than 10% during 2000 even as global urea capacity has increased. Table 1 shows the logic behind the region’s success. Most of the countries of the Gulf have both ample gas reserves and small populations, leading them to be idea places for export.

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Nitrogen 2001 conference report

Summary

The Nitrogen 2001 International Conference and Exhibition, organised by British Sulphur Publishing was held at the Hyatt Regency Westshore, from the 18th to the 21st February, 2001.

Abstract

This year’s Nitrogen conference came to Tampa just as the US nitrogen industry was recovering from the shock of $10/mmBtu gas prices over the winter. With product prices high, US gas prices falling, and US plants beginning to reopen, the mood was surprisingly upbeat – especially among delegates from outside the US! The conference began with a cocktail reception on Sunday, February 18th, kindly hosted jointly by Synetix and Krupp Uhde (see left), before moving to the papers proper the next morning.

Conference director and Nitrogen & Methanol publisher John French, opening the conference, commented that he hoped that the worst was over now for the US nitrogen industry, and that the current run of higher prices would continue.

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Primary reformer problems

Summary

The largest and most expensive item in an ammonia or methanol plant, the primary reformer is also the most critical. Avoiding failures in it depends not only on technological improvements but on good operation of the entire plant.

Abstract

Time was when all the ammonia, methanol and (non-electrolytic) hydrogen plants in the world ran on coke or coal, but steam reforming of light hydrocarbons (natural gas in particular) is so much cleaner and more economical that, except when there are strategic or socio-political reasons for doing otherwise, it is always the process of choice wherever an appropriate feedstock is available. The small proportion of ammonia and methanol plants feeding on heavy feedstocks such as fuel oil and coal which remained after the great ammonia plant building spree of the 1960s and 1970s has been in continual decline in subsequent years as more and more natural gas has been discovered and developed in new locations, as the demands of the environmental authorities have become harder to satisfy, and as socialist economic systems have embraced more of the features of true market economies.

One additional, topical factor that may be lending a little additional momentum to that trend, at least in relation to ammonia and hydrogen plants, is the current international concern over the effects of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Of all the fossil fuels, methane (CH4), the chief constituent of natural gas, has the lowest carbon : hydrogen ratio, so it gives rise to less by-product carbon dioxide per ton of main product than do other feedstocks.

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