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Publication > Issue > Articles

Agrium branching out

Summary

Following its acquisitions of Viridian and Unocal's nitrogen arm, Agrium is now the largest producer of nitrogen fertilizers in North America. It is also extending production to Argentina, where the company has a retail sales arm. Nitrogen & Methanol looks at the rise of the company and its possibilities for future growth.

Abstract

Canadian major Agrium has come a long way from the days when it was Cominco. Since its initial public offering in 1993, a series of strategic acquisitions has seen it grow to become a major retailer as well as producer of fertilizer. Revenue has quintupled and the share price is now at 3.4 times its 1993 value. While the North American industry has had a bad patch this summer, Agrium has maintained profitability and seems confident in its ability to ride out the current storm and continue its programme of overseas growth.

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Ammonium nitrate storage and handling regulations

Summary

Ammonium nitrate is almost infamous for its potentially explosive properties, mainly due to a series of serious accidents in the first half of the 20th century, and its use in terrorist weapons in the closing years of the century. Of course, industrial grade or low density ammonium nitrate, mixed with fuel oil, is used as a blasting explosive ('ANFO' ammonium nitrate/fuel oil), but fertilizer grade AN can be handled safely provided that reasonable precautions are taken.

Abstract

mmonium nitrate became popular as a fertilizer in the 1920s, following the development of the Haber-Bosch process. During the 1960s, with ICI’s development of a stabilised AN prill, it came to be the major fertilizer in the developed world, and AN fertilizers are still widely used throughout Europe and the former Soviet Union, and to a lesser extent in the USA. In particular, France and the UK are major consumers. In all some 11.5m tonnes N are manufactured every year, and this figure has been relatively stable for some years now – the markets in which AN has greatest penetration are relatively mature, and urea has become the nitrogen source of choice for much of the developing world. While most AN is used close to the site of production, around 20% of the total production is transported across borders. The number of accidents in storage and transport has been thankfully few over the past couple of decades, but nevertheless a small number of incidents serve as a reminder that ammonium nitrate can be dangerous.

This article aims to review the potential safety implications of AN storage and transport, as well as the legislation which has evolved to cope with this.

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Improved ammonia plant safety via advanced process control systems

Summary

Brent Frahm of Farmland Industries, Inc. and Robert Lin and William A. Poe of GE Continental Controls describe the implementation of a new process control system made at Farmland's ammonia unit at Beatrice, Nebraska

Abstract

The application of a multivariable control system (MVC) at Farmland’s Nitrogen Operations near Beatrice, Nebraska has improved overall plant safety and achieved smoother plant operations. The retrofitted, Kellogg design, natural gas feedstock, ammonia plant with a current capacity of 280,000 st/a has been operated since 1965. The multivariable control system was installed and has run continuously since April 1998 with improved plant benefits by increasing ammonia production and decreasing fuel energy consumption. Operators from the plant have accepted the advanced process control system with enthusiasm while improving their knowledge of operating the plant.

 

The ammonia plant was built in 1964 with a capacity of 200,000 st/a. In 1980 the plant underwent debottlenecking to increase the production rate to 250,000 st/a. In 1993, the plant revamped and improved the operation to a capacity of 280,000 st/a. In July 1997, the plant management contacted GE Continental Controls (GE CCI) to study the possibility of implementing an advanced process control (APC) system.

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Catch the cash

Summary

Matthew Dex of Terra Nitrogen UK and Darren Bryce of Johnson Matthey Plc describe how increases in the price of precious metals have made catchment systems a topic for debate amongst nitric acid producers.

Abstract

Platinum group metal alloy gauzes have been used as an ammonia oxidation catalyst within nitric acid production for nearly 100 years. Since the introduction of platinum gauzes as ammonia oxidation catalysts, metal losses have always gone hand in hand with catalytic activity. The introduction of platinum rhodium alloys strengthened the gauzes, which helped to reduced metal losses. For over 70 years 10% rhodium platinum gauzes woven from 76 or 60µm diameter wires were the norm within nitric acid plants until in 1991 Johnson Matthey introduced knitted gauzes. Knitted gauzes can further reduce metal losses but they are impossible to avoid, and are in fact desired if the catalyst is to act at maximum efficiency.

The Otswald ammonia oxidation process is carried out at 800–940°C. Metal is lost from the catalyst surface via two methods; volatilisation and attrition. Volatilisation of metal from the surface is an inevitable consequence of a highly active catalyst. A high volatilised metal loss means a greater production of NOx. Attritional metal losses are a consequence of low mechanical strength within the gauze and inappropriate catalyst design. A high attritional loss bears little relation to NOx production and should be avoided.

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Keeping it safe

Summary

Besides the usual concerns of efficiency and environmental cleanliness, ammonium nitrate plant designers and operators have to contend with special safety considerations.

Abstract

Millions of tons of ammonium nitrate are produced, stored, handled, transported and used perfectly safely every year. It is important to remember that, because although ammonium nitrate is a potentially dangerous material (it is, after all, the main constituent of a blasting agent widely used in mining and a favourite ingredient for terrorist bombs such as the one that demolished the Federal Building in Oklahoma City a few years ago and countless others over the years in Northern Ireland), accidents involving it in the normal course of manufacture or hand­ling are really quite infrequent, considering the annual tonnages involved. Nevertheless, there have been some spectacular incidents in the past, and avoiding recurrences requires special vigilance in every aspect of process design, plant construction, operation and maintenance.

At the same time, ammonium nitrate plant operators, like those of any other kind of fertilizer plant, are subject to all the usual pressures: they have to try to stay competitive by improving the product- and energy-efficiency of their plants and, hand-in-hand with that, they have to stay within the law by conforming with each successive round of environmental regulations on their atmospheric emissions and liquid effluents.

The special safety concerns are an added complication in the modernization of old plants. This article takes a brief look at the safety features of a representative modern neutralization process and then looks at how the operator of a complex ammonium nitrate installation in an Indian fertilizer plant approaches safety issues.

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AN and CAN fluid drum granulation

Summary

S Valkov of Kaltenbach-Thuring describes the application of fluid drum granulation technology to the Croatian fertilizer manufacturer Petrokemija Kutina.

Abstract

Petrokemija Kutina is a well-known fertilizer producer in Croatia. It has a production capacity of 1.5m t/a, which ranks it among medium-sized European and world producers of mineral fertilizers. Petrokemija had a CAN prilling plant design by Kaltenbach in operation for more than 30 years. In that plant the 95% ammonium nitrate solution leaving the first evaporator was mixed with filler before being sent to a final evaporator on top of the prilling tower and then crystallized in the prilling tower.

 

From 1976 onward emission monitoring was performed which showed that the emission was below the legal limit required by the regulations but nevertheless still high, especially in the waste gas after the final evaporator. Petrokemija eventually decided to revamp the plant so as to decrease the level of emission and, at the same time, to improve quality of product.

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