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New investments sustain Germany's sour gas sulphur industry

Summary

The build-up of recovered sulphur production from sour natural gas in Germany is encouraging the industry to look offshore for additional markets, as domestic demand has levelled out; and new investments in support facilities for the production and shipping operations are helping to sustain the industry's future. Martin Horseman visited BEB Erdgas und Erdal to hear the latest news of sour gas sulphur developments in Germany, and saw the improvements made recently to the industry's shipping terminal at Brake on the river Weser.

Abstract

Natural gas is the most important component of Germany's primary energy consumption, meeting some 40% of total demand; and the likelihood is that the significance of the sector will be increasing in the future, given the recently announced plans to scale down the size of the nation's coal industry as well as the public opinion question marks that continue to attach to the nle of nuclear energy. Aside from the dominant role of natural gas, the next largest energy source is the oil industry, which meets about 20% of German demand; thereafter, hard coal, lignite and nuclear power each take shares of between 10-15% in the energy market.

In the immediate future, the natural gas industry is expected to receive a further boost from the liberalisation of the domestic gas market in Germany. This reorganisation is scheduled to take place in 1999, and it will see natural gas-supplying companies able to extend their marketing into any area of the nation rather than being confined to specific sales regions as at present.

So the context within which recovered sulphur operations are taking place in the German natural gas industry appears supportive of a steady future in the medium term, although the domestic contribution to the country's total demand is overshadowed by imports. The sour natural gas operations in northern Germany that are based on the gas fields in the South Oldenburg and Scholen areas of Lower Saxony have at their respective centres the treatment plants of Grossenkneten and Voigtei. In 1996, sour gas production at Grossenkneten was about 5.5 billion m3 and at Voigtei about 2.5 billion m3 • The output of some 8 billion m3 from the sour gas fields represented just under half of Germany's total natural gas production of 18 billion m3 last year, the latter corresponding to about 20% of the overall supply inclusive of imports (see diagram).

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Merchant acid in the mainstream

Summary

During the 1990s, international shipments of merchant sulphuric acid have become an integral part of the worldwide sulphur business, and the traffic is now recognised as occupying an important role in restoring regional variations in acid supply/demand balances. Martin Horseman reports on the trade and the traders, looking at the recent movement patterns and at some of the major players in the market.

Abstract

Less than 5% of the world's sulphuric acid demand is met by acid traded internationally between producing and consuming countries. Yet the significance of this trade is such that it certainly outweighs what is, on the face of it, a modest claim to importance in terms of the overall tonnages involved in the traffic.

Total world sulphuric acid consumption during 1995, the most recent year for which detailed figures are currently available (see Table 1), amounted to 151.4 million tonnes H 2S04 while the volume of acid traded internationally during the year totalled some 6.8 million tonnes H2S04 , Thus, about 4.5% of the world's use of sulphuric acid in 1995 could be said to have involved international trade, to meet requirements in importing countries that were not otherwise capable of being fulfilled.

Although the volume of sulphuric acid trade is small in global terms, the attention that the industry has given to this aspect of its operations in the present decade has ensured that the role of this business is now in the mainstream of sulphur operations. Producers, traders, shippers, importers and buyers of internationally traded sulphuric acid have made notable advances in understanding marketing opportunities and in providing the required transportation, storage and distribution facilities. And the option of entering export markets for the disposal of production surpluses has helped to make a reality of sulphuric acid projects in cases where their realisation had been formerly a doubtful prospect.

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Boosting SRU performance

Summary

Mohamad Abdul Sater of ADNOC provides a new approach to overcome the operating problems associated with start-up and shutdown by introducing an indirect heat start-up/shutdown heater to circulate hot nitrogen throughout the entire sulphur recovery unit.

Abstract

It is well known that many of the major operating problems experienced with sulphur recovery units are connected with plant start-ups and shutdowns. Operators of sulphur recovery plants prefer to keep the unit running unless there are major requirements to stop it. Some of the problems can be completely or partially avoided by adopting appropriate operating procedures or implementing design modifications. Other problems cannot be avoided due to plant design restrictions and/or process limitations.

Before admitting acid gas to the sulphur recovery unit, the unit including the catalyst beds should be heated to reaction temperature. This is carried out by firing fuel gas in the reaction furnace to produce hot flue gas which is used to heat up the sulphur recovery unit. Stoichiometric burning of acid gas is a delicate task because, in the case of air deficiency, carbon soot is formed and accumulated in the unit, especially in the first catalyst bed. In the event of excess air, sulphur fires can occur causing temperature excursions of the reactor beds resulting in loss of catalyst activity.

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What's new for sulphuric acid service?

Summary

Over the past few years, the designers and constructors of plant, equipment, catalysts and materials for sulphuric acid service have been busy introducing new and improved products to the marketplace. Lisa Connock provides an update on some of the key developments.

Abstract

In recent years there has been a trend toward more stringent control of sulphur dioxide (SOz) emissions from sulphuric acid plants. Many plants are now faced with a requirement for 99.85% conversion, while others in certain areas require 99.9% conversion corresponding to a 100-150 ppm sulphur dioxide emission level. Existing technologies like tail gas scrubbing or triple absorption have the drawback of increased captal costs. New plants may be designed with five-bed converters in a 3:2 configuration, but this layout is less attractive for existing plants equipped with 4-bed converters.

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