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Publication > Issue > Articles

Ever brighter prospects

Summary

British Sulphur Events' Fertilizer Latin America Conference is the longest established congress that serves the fertilizer industry and businesses in the region and has firmly endorsed the faith that the company has shown during almost two decades. This year's programme of presentations added fresh insights into Latin America's ever brighter agricultural prospects.

Abstract

In 1989, when British Sulphur held its pioneering Fertilizer Latin America meeting in Caracas, optimism about the region’s economic prospects was in far shorter supply. In the eyes of the wider investment community, Latin America had been associated too often with boom-and-bust cycles and financial crises. Political institutions remained weak, and many sectors of the region’s economy under-performed, most notably agriculture. Nearly two decades on, sentiment has changed, and the region’s economies are now on a sustainable pattern to growth. Latin America’s average GDP growth of 5.1% in 2007 puts the region among the world’s top performers, and a comparable performance is foreseen this year.

Latin America has been buoyed by the strong global economy, but its governments and institutions appear to be laying firm foundations for sustained long-term growth, drawing down foreign debt and building up globally-competitive indigenous industries. This has been evident for several years in the agricultural sector, especially as Brazil and Argentina raised their profiles in international markets for cereals and soybeans to become world leaders in these crop sectors. As the wider world began to embrace biofuel alternatives to diminishing reserves of fossil fuels, Brazil has set the pace in raising its bioethanol capacity.

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Riches from the desert

Summary

As a dynamic market-oriented economy characterised by high levels of foreign trade, Chile enjoys the highest GDP per capita of any Latin American country. Its abundant mineral resources include potash brines, copper and iodine, enhancing Chile's role in the global trade of fertilizers and associated raw materials. The country's impact in these markets is assessed here.

Abstract

For nearly two decades, Chile has been one of the powerhouses of the Latin American economy, setting the pace in instituting market-oriented reforms and building up high levels of foreign trade. Since 2000, Chile’s economy has enjoyed an average growth rate of between 5-7%/year, while in 2006 Chile became the country with the highest GDP per capita in Latin America.

The Chilean economy is highly dependent on international trade, and exports now account for over 40% of GDP. Enjoying an exceptional abundance of primary raw materials, Chile has traditionally been dependent on these for its exports, especially copper: the state-owned CODELCO is the world’s largest copper-producing company, based at Chuquicamanta in the northern region. Northern Chile also has rich, high-grade iron ore deposits, mainly in the Coquimbo area. Most of this ore is exported and the rest is used by the local iron and steel industry. Other minerals produced include gold, silver, molybdenum, manganese, zinc, lead, bauxite, sulphur and potash. Uranium, cobalt and tungsten are also mined. Mining constitutes almost half of Chile’s foreign trade, and the sector has attracted interest from both national and foreign investors.

Chile enjoys modest reserves of oil and gas. Proven oil reserves are estimated at 150 million barrels, sustaining an average production of 18,500 barrels/day, while Chile’s proven gas reserves are about 99.05 billion m3. Domestic production of 1.18 billion m3 meets some 20% of domestic needs, Chile’s remaining gas needs being met mainly by imports from Argen­tina. Overall, Chile is relatively energy-poor, and Argentina has recently slashed the volumes it supplies in the wake of its own rapidly increasing energy needs. This has prompted Chile to turn to Bolivia as an alternative source of supply. Meanwhile, a liquefied natural gas terminal is scheduled to open in 2009, thereby reducing Chile’s reliance on supplies from Argentina.

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EuroChem's rapid ascent to the world stage

Summary

Since it was established in 2001, EuroChem Minerals & Chemical Company has established itself as one of the major global fertilizer companies, achieving an annual turnover in excess of $3 billion in 2007. What lies at the heart of this dynamic growth?

Abstract

Established as recently as 2001, MCC EuroChem is already one of Russia’s Big Three fertilizer producers (along with PhosAgro and Acron Holdings) and it is furthermore one of the top ten global fertilizer producers. EuroChem comprises six divisions for the extraction of raw materials and manufacture of finished fertilizers, organics, feed phosphates, plus marketing and logistical divisions covering domestic and overseas sales.

Kovdorsky GOK is located in the Kola Peninsula of northern Russia and manufactures apatite concentrate – the raw material for phosphate fertilizers – as well as iron ore concentrate and baddeleyite (zirconium oxide, ZrO2) concentrate. The company is the second largest producer of apatite concentrate in Russia, with a 23% share of output: PhosAgro accounts for the greater share of 77%. Output of apatite in Russia totalled an estimated 10.3 million tonnes in 2007, an increase of 3% over the previous year. (The Market Outlook for Phosphates in Russia and the FSU Region, Vladimir Kalenski, MCC EuroChem. Paper presented at Phosphates 2008, Paris [February 2008].)

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Repeated stand-offs fuel an uncertain outlook

Summary

Natural gas prices in Eastern Europe have risen dramatically since new contracts were made with Russia in 2005/06 and further increases are expected in the near term. How will this trend impact on the competitiveness of ammonia and urea producers in the region?

Abstract

The headline is becoming all too familiar: “Gazprom threatens supply reduction to Ukraine.” Haven’t we seen this before? In the latest outbreak of the continuing friction between Russian and Ukraine over contract supplies of natural gas, Gazprom threatened to start reducing supplies to Ukraine with effect from 3 March as the two countries wrangled over alleged debts owed by Ukraine for deliveries during 2007 and over the proposed new structure of Ukraine’s domestic gas distribution network. At the height of this latest dispute, Gazprom pro­tested that the Russian monopoly gas distributor had received just $280 million from the Ukrainians in 2007 out of an alleged debt of $1.5 billion. The dispute was further inflamed when Ukraine’s Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko refused to sign contracts that her country’s president, Viktor Yushchenko, had agreed with Gazprom.

In the event, Gazprom and Ukraine stepped back from the brink of a dispute that could have proved highly damaging not only to the Ukraine but also to other countries which rely on receiving their supplies of Russian gas via Ukraine. Around 120 bcm/year of gas is shipped to third-party countries via this route, including Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland and France. When supplies were cut in 2006, Ukraine compensated for the shortfall by curtailing shipments to Western Europe. Russia supplies Europe with around 25% of its gas needs, most of which go through Ukraine. Although the curtailment of shipments in January 2006 was brief, supplies to some countries fell by 40%. (Financial Times, 6 March 2008).

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Maximising feedstock use, zeroing in on CO2

Summary

Ammonia production processes are today very energy efficient. However, new developments continue to be made in order to improve energy efficiency still further. This review looks at the latest advances to enhance feedstock use and reduce CO2 emissions throughout the global fertilizer industry.

Abstract

In today’s market, energy efficiency has become supremely important as plants struggle to contain rising costs of natural gas. An additional issue is the emission of gases from plants – one which is moving very high on the political agenda. Fertilizer producers are therefore paying increased attention to improving the energy efficiency at their plants.

About 80% of the ammonia produced globally is used in the manufacture of nitrogen fertilizers and about 50% of all nitrogen fertilizer consumption is accounted by urea. The starting point for the basic production process is the creation of a hydrogen stream, which generally comes from hydrocarbon and water (in the form of steam). As the cheapest and most efficient feedstock for ammonia production, natural gas accounts for more than 80% of the world’s ammonia production. (Initiating New Projects in the Ammonia Sector, Andrew Prince, British Sulphur Consultants. Paper presented at IFA Technical Committee Meeting, Ho Chi Minh City [March 2007].) The hydrogen is split from the hydrocarbon and steam using high temperatures, pressures and catalysts to facilitate the reaction. The carbon from the hydrocarbon forms carbon monoxide (CO) and is then converted into carbon dioxide (CO2). Nitrogen from the atmosphere is used to react with the hydrogen system.

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Speciality fertilizers establish a firm niche

Summary

Agriculture continues to spearhead the record economic growth seen throughout Latin America within the past decade, and an increasingly diverse range of crops is being grown. These crops in turn have very specific fertilizer requirements, thus opening entirely new markets for speciality products, as described here.

Abstract

Agricultural GDP in Latin America and the Caribbean countries has been growing at unprecedented levels, averaging between 4-5% in the first half of the present decade. By comparison, according to FAO, the average growth in the region’s agricultural GDP averaged just 1.9%/year in the 1980s and 2.7%/year in the 1990s. It is clear that a significant take-off is under way. It should nevertheless be noted that marked differences remain in the rates of growth between different countries. Brazil continues to show the fastest rate of growth, averaging 6%/year between 2000 and 2004: Argentina and Paraguay have also made significant strides.

According to FAO, two-thirds of the agricultural growth between 2000 and 2005 can be attributed to greater cultivated areas, while the increase in yield per hectare accounted for another 43% in the value of production during this period. Almost two-thirds of the total value of crop production came from three main commodity groups: cereals, oilseeds and fruits. The remaining 37% was from sugar, vegetables, coffee and spices, roots and tubers, pulses, plant fibres and rubber.

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A consummate engineer

Summary

A sunny Sunday afternoon in Paris was the glorious backdrop for celebrating the memory of Pierre Becker and the contri­bution he made to mankind's wellbeing. The occasion was the presentation of the 2007 Pierre Becker Memorial Award to Robert De Coster – a man who enjoys the widest esteem in the field of phosphate fertilizer technology.

Abstract

A sunny Sunday afternoon in Paris was the glorious backdrop for celebrating the memory of Pierre Becker and the contri­bution he made to mankind’s wellbeing. The occasion was the presentation of the 2007 Pierre Becker Memorial Award to Robert De Coster – a man who enjoys the widest esteem in the field of phosphate fertilizer technology.

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More space and less maintenance at Rocanville

Summary

As part of its programme to increase production capacity at its Saskatchewan potash plants, PotashCorp has invested in additional capacity that has enabled it to produce more granular potash at Rocanville. This investment included the provision of new bucket elevators, as described here.

Abstract

Adding a dozen bucket elevators equipped with shaft-mounted Rexnord® Planetgear® drives as part of a major expansion project saved space and reduced clean-up and maintenance at the PotashCorp mine at Rocanville, Sasktachewan. The facility, which as been in operation since 1970, mines and proces-­ses potassium chloride (KCl) granular and standard forms for fertilizer. In 2004, PotashCorp undertook a major expansion at Rocanville, raising capacity to 3 million t/a. This made it possible to produce more of the product that is most preferred by much of the world marketplace. Thus, production of granular KCl increased from 15-20% of the facility’s product mix to more than 50%. Included in the expansion was the addition of 12 new Rexnord Hi-load chain bucket elevators, which elevate the bulk dry product so it can be screened for sizing and recompacted or crushed if necessary.

To provide elevators for the expansion, PotashCorp selected the Rexnord Conveying Equipment Division, which draws upon power transmission products made by the firm’s various divisions to provide a broad range of material handling equipment and systems.

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Happy birthday, SOPIB

Summary

The Sulphate of Potash Information Board's mission and its decade of achievements in spreading the word are described here.

Abstract

The Potassium Sulphate Information Board (SOPIB) was formed in 1998 as a non-profit organisation by the world’s four leading producers of potassium sulphate. Its goal was to promote throughout the world the agronomic and economic advantages of potassium sulphate in appropriate crop production systems, using the media of science, research and information.

The charter members of SOPIB ten years ago were IMC Global of the United States, Germany’s Kali und Salz GmbH; SCPA/ Tessenderlo Chemie of France and Belgium, and SQM Nitratos S.A of Chile. During the intervening years, the international potash industry underwent several changes in ownership, and IMC Global sold its potassium sulphate interests. Today’s membership of SOPIB thus comprises Great Salt Lake Minerals Corporation, K+S KALI GmbH, SQM S.A. and Tessenderlo Chemie NV/SA.

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Three production technologies

Summary

Three technologies are available for the production of potassium sulphate, as described here

Abstract

The three main methods for the production of potassium sulphate depend on the available raw materials. They are:

  1. Recrystallisation based on natural KCl and kieserite (MgSO4.H2O).
  2. Reaction of KCl and sulphuric acid (H2SO4)
  3. Evaporation and crystallisation of brines from natural salt lakes.

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Phosphoric acid and uranium recovery – market focus

Summary

The jump in uranium pricing in 2007 to historical highs of $138/lb sparked renewed interest in the recovery of uranium from phosphoric acid. However, the price has now fallen back to $75/lb (as of February 2008) and producers have yet to announce firm plans to construct new facilities. The decision to invest in third generation recovery facilities will ultimately come down to economics and risk.

Abstract

This is the second article by Joe Guida and Dr. Regis Stana in a three-part series on the recovery of uranium from phosphoric acid. The first article provided a brief overview of the subject while this article focuses on current market forces, potential risk and project costs. A primer is also included to provide the reader with a general understanding of basic uranium chemistry and physics. The third and final article will explain the recovery processes in detail along with operating experience from second generation plants in central Florida during the 1970s and 1980s.

Uranium is one of the more abundant elements found in the Earth’s crust, but concentrated ores are found in just a few places. While it can take many chemical forms, it is generally found in the form of an oxide in hundreds of different minerals. Approximately 99.3% of naturally occurring uranium is in the form of U-238 (92 protons and 146 neutrons) and is non-fissionable. The other 0.7% is U-235 and can be made to fission under certain circumstances.

The extraction processes for phosphoric acid produce yellow cake and, depending on the process, green cake (UF4) as an intermediate form. In either form, the isotope concentrations are in the same ratio as naturally occurring uranium. Market pricing and trading of uranium is done on a U3O8 basis.

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