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Then there were two

Summary

Three years ago, Qatar was on the verge of a massive and unprecedented boom in gas to ­liquids (GTL) production, with no fewer than six massive projects under development. However, as ExxonMobil announces its withdrawal from the Qatar GTL project, only two schemes remain under development. What became of Qatar's GTL ambitions?

Abstract

No country has embraced GTL technology as wholeheartedly as Qatar, with talk in the early part of the decade of turning the country into the “GTL capital of the world”. With a positive attitude from government, every major developer of GTL projects worldwide looked to the country as a place to set up new GTL plants. At one stage, an astonishing 600,000 barrels/day of gas to liquids products were under consideration, almost rivalling Qatar’s conventional oil production, and representing a greater investment even than Qatar’s massive LNG output. Perhaps it is inevitable that such ambitious plans have turned out to be over-optimistic, but as a result Qatar has become something of a test-bed for the GTL industry to prove itself.

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Nitrogen + Syngas 2007 conference report

Summary

The Nitrogen+Syngas 2007 International Conference and Exhibition, organised by British Sulphur Events and BCInsight, was held at the Gulf Hotel, Bahrain, from February 25th-28th.

Abstract

With nitrogen and other downstream syngas-based product prices continuing to remain high, and margins good, especially in the Middle East, there was an upbeat mood as the 350 delegates from the industry met in Bahrain in late February. However, the prospect of future industry overcapacity and questions about how long product prices could remain at these levels continued to loom large in delegates’ thinking.

British Sulphur Events conference dir­ector John French welcome delegates as usual, and introduced Dr Abdul-Hussein bin Ali Mirza, Bahraini minister for oil and gas affairs and chairman of the National Oil and Gas Authority, who formally opened the conference. Dr Mirza spoke on the development of the petrochemicals and fertilizer industry in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and its growth. The GCC represents about 50% of capacity in the Middle East and 80% of capacity growth in the fertilizer industry over the past 25 years. It has seen the rise of megacomplexes, such as Qafco at Ras Laffan and Sabic at al Jubail, and now Ma’aden, as well as new departures such as gas to liquids in Qatar. Moving to political developments, he noted the growth of the democratic process in Bahrain, its free trade agreement with the US, and the privatisation of the power industry. Although Bahrain’s oil and gas industry is not huge in Middle Eastern terms, it has nevertheless produced revenues allowing the country to invest in its greatest asset, its people, and Dr Mirza was pleased to note that Bahrain had the highest literacy rate of any Arab country.

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UREA plant reliability, flexibility and performance

Summary

As the design capacity of urea plants continues to rise, urea plant builders will be selecting urea technologies to provide the best advantages in terms of safety, reliability and economy. Lisa Connock reports on some of the recent achievements, advances and experiences in urea technology discussed at Nitrogen + Syngas 2007.

Abstract

While skills in plant management are the main factor to obtain high reliability in urea plants, utilisation of urea technology that incorporates features aimed at obtaining reliability through plant flexibility is a key factor for successful plant management. Of major importance is the flexibility of the process technology to achieve the required performances under a wide range of operating conditions, to react to unforeseen events, avoiding unplanned shutdowns and to maximise the on-stream factor.

Since the early stages of development, Snamprogetti has made reliability through flexibility a key feature of its urea technology.1 The advantages of excess ammonia in Snamprogetti urea technology include corrosion control, safety, pollution prevention, energy consumption and low investment cost. In addition, the medium-pressure section for ammonia sep­aration from carbamate solution provides the advantage of being able to operate with a wide range of ammonia temperatures from battery limits (i.e. from -33 to +40°C) and to the urea reactor.

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Extending the life of reformer tubes

Summary

The tubes of steam reformers are subject to very high demands in terms of thermal stress and are a common area of failure. In extreme cases this can shut down the entire plant, and so a variety of techniques have been developed for extending the life of these vital components.

Abstract

Steam reforming is still the most common method of synthesis gas generation around the world, and is used a variety of applications, from hydrogen to methanol and ammonia production. It is most common in smaller units, although various varieties of steam reforming can also be used, in parallel or in conjunction with autothermal or other reforming in larger units. Nevertheless, in any steam reforming syngas complex, the primary reformer is the most expensive and energy-intensive part of the plant.

Steam reformers are essentially large furnaces packed with banks of tubes packed with catalyst through which the reaction gases pass. Considerable thermal stress is placed upon the reformer tubes themselves, making them prone to a variety of problems, and fractures and mechanical failures are common.

Furthermore, as pressure to enhan­ce plant efficiency increases, so the focus is on critical equipment items which can cause plant shutdowns. Plant productivity can be directly controlled by the reliability of the steam reformer. Reformer tubes in particular will fail and require replacement, and predicting and extending reformer tube life can have a direct impact on the plant’s reliability and bottom line, whether by reducing unplanned outages or allowing longer runs in between shutdowns.

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