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Methanol in Trinidad and Venezuela

Summary

Trinidad is now the world's second largest exporter of methanol, and Venezuela has plans to double its own production. Nitrogen & Methanol concludes its round-up of the Caribbean with a look at the future of the region as a methanol hub.

Abstract

Last issue looked at the gas-based nitrogen fertilizer industry in the southern Caribbean, dominated by Trini-dad and Venezuela. Given the two countries’ ready access to large reserves of relatively cheap natural gas, it will therefore come as no surprise that both are major players in the world methanol industry. Table 1 gives a brief summary of all of the plants operational or planned in the two countries.

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Grassroots success with KAAP

Summary

Rick Strait of Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR) reports on two new 1,850 t/d ammonia plants that were started up in 1998. Both plants use KBR' s KAAP ammonia technology.

Abstract

In 1998, two new grassroots ammonia plants using KBR Advanced Ammonia Process (KAAP) technology were started up in Point Lisas, Trinidad. These plants, Farmland MissChem Ltd (FMCL) and PCS Nitrogen Train 4 (PCS), represent the first of a new generation of Kellogg Brown & Root ammonia plants. This is the first time the KBR Advanced Ammonia Process (KAAP) and KAAP catalyst have been used in a grassroots ammonia plant. Not only are these the first grassroots plants to use KAAP technology, but they also have the largest nameplate cap-acity of any ammonia plant yet built.

In 1913 Haber and Bosch developed the modern ammonia process. It is unlikely they ever imagined how large ammonia plants would become or that their original catalyst would be in use for so long. Haber and Bosch built their process around a magnetite (iron) ammonia synthesis catalyst operating at high pressure to force the equilibrium of the ammonia synthesis reaction (below) to favour ammonia production.

3H2 + N2 -> 2NH3

In the decades since 1913 more active catalysts have been developed. Many improvements have led to today’s highly active magnetite catalysts. In addition, scientists have attempted to develop non-magnetite catalysts. This work had no commercial success until BP and Kellogg developed the ruthenium-on-carbon KAAP ammonia synthesis catalyst. The first commercial application of this KAAP catalyst was in Pacific Ammonia’s plant in Kitimat, British Columbia in 1992. This first application was part of a retrofit to increase the capacity of an existing plant. The second and third applications of KAAP catalysts were also revamp projects to increase plant capacities. However, there is a quantum leap from these revamps to applying KAAP know­ledge to the design of the FMCL and PCS plants in Trinidad, which, at 1,850 t/d, are the largest ammonia plants ever built.

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Maximising output from a single train

Summary

World-scale ammonia plants have been getting bigger. Producers want to take advantage of the economies of scale offered by larger capacities. Single-train outputs of 2,000 t/d are already possible and technology providers are looking at the possibilities of yet larger capacities. Nitrogen & Methanol looks at the how some of these companies see their technologies being adapted for maximum ammonia production from a single train.

Abstract

The average size of the world-scale ammonia plants that went on stream in the 1980s was 1,120 t/d1. Recently plants of capacities of around 2,000 t/d have been built and even larger plants may be built in the next few years. The important factor that has driven capacities upwards is the economy of scale. For capacities similar to present day plants a scale factor of 0.7 is assumed.

cost2 = cost1 x (capacity2/capacity1)^0.7

The specific capital investment for per tonne of ammonia is lower for larger capacities than it is for smaller. Production costs such as labour, maintenance and overheads are fixed, another factor in favour of larger plants. The use of the above formula does have its limits however. The formula is only valid if the same process configuration is scaled up or down, whereas it is possible that new or amended concepts may be needed at larger capacities. In addition large-scale equipment may incur extra costs due to its size. Suppliers of this equipment may be limited and special materials and methods of manufacture may be needed, driving the price of the equipment up. It should also be noted that small-scale production also has its economies. Savings may result from modular construction and the partial pre-assembly and pre-commissioning of smaller equipment.

Despite the limitations, larger production capacities undoubtedly do provide economies and the specific investment per tonne of ammonia is smaller up to at least 2,000 t/d. Several technology pro-viders have put thought into how capacities of this size or larger may be successfully and economically operated. The rest of this article looks at the large-scale technologies of some of these companies.

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Nitrogen '99 Conference Report

Summary

The Nitrogen '99 International Conference and Exhibition, organised by British Sulphur Publishing was held at the Hotel Tamanaco Inter-Continental, Caracas, Venezuela, from Sunday 28th February to Tuesday 2nd March 1999.

Abstract

Caracas hosted the Nitrogen ’99 conference at a time when Latin America is one of the few growth areas in terms of major fertilizer developments – including major projects such as Profertil in Argentina and Fertinitro in Venezuela. The region also appears to have confounded dire predictions that it would be next to catch the ‘Asian contagion’, after Brazil seems to have rallied from its financial problems late last year. Nevertheless, as delegates gathered in the Hotel Tamanaco Inter-Continental, the mood was distinctly pensive, with methanol, ammonia and urea all trading at several year lows.

The conference began with a cocktail reception on Sunday, February 28th, kindly hosted jointly by Synetix and Krupp Uhde, before moving to the papers proper the next morning.

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Steam Reforming Catalysts in Methanol Plants

Summary

Jim Richardson of United Catalysts Inc looks at how the Süd Chemie range of catalysts are applied to the production of methanol synthesis gas.

Abstract

Reforming of natural gas to produce a synthesis gas for methanol production has been done for more than forty years. Initially, reforming was done at low pressures and high steam/carbon (S/C) ratios to produce a methanol make up gas (MUG) that was low in inerts. As technology improved, reforming at higher pressures became more common. This lead to make up gas compositions higher in inerts, but also richer in CO due to the ability of reformers to operate at higher outlet temperatures. A major breakthrough in methanol synthesis occurred about twenty-five years ago when development of low-pressure synthesis catalysts reduced loop-operating pressures to 60-100 bar. High-activity catalysts allowed much more flexibility in the operation of the reformer since they were not as sensitive to changes in make-up gas composition as were older high-pressure catalysts. This article summarizes the application of various of the catalysts supplied by the Süd-Chemie group for use in production of methanol synthesis gas. Studies showing the effect of different reformer S/C ratios on the operation of the synthesis loop are also covered.

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