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Using oxygen to debottleneck a nitric acid plant

Summary

Oxygen injection can be used to increase the output of a capacity-limited nitric acid plant. But it is vital to identify all the potential pitfalls first.

Abstract

Oxygen injection (or oxygen boosting) has become fairly common as a method of increasing the throughput of air-based oxidation process plants in chemical factories and oil refineries. Sometimes, though, the oxygen consumption is higher than predicted, while mechanical constraints may outweigh the chemical advantages of oxygen boosting if no particular attention is given to the process as a whole. Air Liquide has developed a global approach towards the application of oxygen injection for debottlenecking oxidative processes that maximizes efficiency and minimizes unexpected problems linked with revamping. The technique has been employed at a nitric acid plant in France owned by Rhodia, using Air Liquide’s proprietary evaporative cooling process.

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Combining fuel cell power

Summary

The growth of fuel cell technology has now reached a point where widespread commercialisation is literally just around the corner. As we reported in the Nov–Dec 1999 issue (Nitrogen & Methanol 242), there are many ways in which this may impinge on the ammonia/methanol industry. In the light of new developments, here we revisit the subject of combining large scale fuel cell power generation with the production of ammonia and methanol. Bill Lavers reviews the possibilities.

Abstract

Fuel cells are very efficient converters of energy and differ from conventional power generation in not being hampered by the limitations of the Carnot cycle. Overall energy efficiencies between 40–80% are seen as feasible for fuel cell power generation, compared to 25–40% for conventional turbo-generation. And the liberalisation of power markets means that in the future primary power generation will not be the sole province of the power establishment. As we reported in Nitrogen & Methanol 242, Nov–Dec 1999, many fuel cell power applications of small and medium scale are now being developed to compete with conventional power supply at the point of use. As yet, however, large scale projects – to compete with conventional power generation at the point of supply – are still at the pre-embryo stage.

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A new lease on life

Summary

Using Stamicarbon's "More In – More Out" revamp concept, IFFCO expanded the capacity of its venerable urea plant at Kalol by 37%.

Abstract

The modern nitrogen fertilizer industry produces just two basic products: ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3, 34–35% N) and urea or carbamide (CO(NH2)2, 46% N). Partly for agronomic and partly for historical reasons, ammonium nitrate is mostly produced and consumed in the temperate industrialized areas of the northern hemisphere (northern North America and northern Europe). Its quick action, which is due to the presence from the outset of the nitrate ion, is especially beneficial in areas with short growing seasons. In the years following the Second World War, when fertilizer producers began to change over from traditional but not very concentrated products such as ammonium sulphate (around 21% N) to high-analysis products for economic reasons, the industry was mostly situated in these areas and serving their markets, so ammonium nitrate was the product of choice. As a consequence, much of the early technological development of high-analysis fertilizer production was directed at its production sequence, particularly at the nitric acid production process, which is the “high-tech” part.

Urea has an even higher nitrogen content than ammonium nitrate, so it is cheaper to transport; it has better storage properties in warm climates; and it is agronomically more effective on the crops and soils encountered in hot climates, especially in paddy rice cultivation. But it is only in relatively recent decades that fertilizer demand in developing countries has grown to the point where urea has emerged as a serious contender in the high-analysis nitrogen fertilizer market. The door really opened for it as a competitive product with the development from the 1960s onwards of the “total recycle” production process and of the later variants known as the stripping processes. These technologies converted effectively all the input ammonia and carbon dioxide to the intended end-product, eliminating the problematic of the substantial low-pressure streams of unconverted ammonia and carbon dioxide issuing from earlier types of process, for which it was difficult to find a use in a stand-alone fertilizer works.

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The future is remote gas

Summary

As Jim Crocco bowed out of the methanol industry at his last conference, the talk in San Diego was of the continuing low prices in the industry, and where the methanol market might be going. The consensus seemed to be that competitive advantage has now shifted decisively in favour of remote producers.

Abstract

At the end of November 1999, San Diego became the venue for the 17th World Methanol Conference. Around 250 delegates gathered in the Hyatt Regency Hotel from November 29th to December 1st, to discuss the current shape of the world methanol industry. This was to be the last methanol conference organised by Jim Crocco, formerly of Crocco and Associates and now part of the CMAI consultancy group, who will, as he put it, be “moving into a sliproad off the main highway of the industry” and passing the baton to his other CMAI colleagues.

After Jim had formally opened the proceedings, Gary Adams of CMAI introduced Mark Fisler, who would be taking over from Jim in CMAI’s methanol section over the course of 2000. Rampersad Motilal of the Trinidad and Tobago Methanol Company was also welcomed as the new president of the International Methanol Producers’ and Consumers’ Asso­ciation (IMPCA), before Jim Crocco began the conference proper with his final review of the state of the industry, in a paper entitled ‘The Crazy World of Methanol, Part Deux’.

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Strategic alliance to promote methanol fuel cells

Summary

On November 12th last year, Statoil and Methanex signed a five year memorandum of understanding to form a strategic alliance. The overall goal of the partnership is to "prepare for a safe introduction of methanol as a fuel in fuel cell applications, and to facilitate the introduction of fuel cell vehicles."

Abstract

The scope of the memorandum covers three major elements. Primarily, Statoil and Methanex plan to begin pilot demonstration programmes. These will cover all aspects of methanol supply, distribution and marketing, and are aimed to be in place by 2002 at the latest. Secondly, there will be cooperation in setting fuel specifications and safe handling procedures. Thirdly, the companies aim to cooperate to convince politicians and environmental organisations, and to launch joint PR initiatives.

As the major world methanol producer and supplier, Methanex has taken a lead in the industry in pushing methanol as a fuel for fuel cells. The alliance with Statoil is something of a breakthrough in this regard, since it is the first oil and gas company which has been signed up for the concept of methanol fuel cells. Of course, Statoil is itself a methanol producer – the largest in Europe, at some 840,000 t/a. However, it is something of a minnow compared to both the global domination of Methanex, or, for that matter, compared to Statoil’s huge oil and gas production.

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A difficult road ahead

Summary

These are trying times for the western European fertilizer industry. In spite of the extensive rationalisations of the early 1990s, fertilizer plants are once again being shut down as the industry grapples with low prices and overcapacity.

Abstract

Hydro Agri’s announcement in December that it was to close 1.0m t/a of fertilizer production throughout Europe came as no huge surprise to anyone. In spite of supposedly emerging much fitter and more competitive from the problems and plant closures of the early 1990s, the western European fertilizer industry is once again facing rationalisation. Falling domestic demand has coupled with the collapse of sales to the east, and indeed a continuing flood of cheap imports coming in the other direction. China’s withdrawal from the global urea market and more plant building in India have led to a global depression in fertilizer prices in recent years, and this has made the possibility of exports from the EU increasingly difficult, leaving a significant overhang of capacity.

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