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Quality is a moving target

Summary

The global fertilizer market demands continuous improvement in the quality of granulated N, P and K fertilizers. The nature of these demands is becoming more complex, and it is no longer a question of improving a single parameter at a time. This has prompted the leading fertilizer producers to form partnerships with several specialised chemical companies that market additives and other agents to enhance fertilizer performance and quality.

Abstract

The requirements for improving the physico-chemical qualities of fertilizers continue to increase each year, being spurred by the demands of the commercial market and the stipulations of the regulatory authorities. These requirements add to the challenges of producing better products in a cost-effective way, and it is often no longer possible to improve just one parameter at a time, as the whole lifecycle of the product must be taken into account. (Mica – The Key to Better Quality in Granular Fertilizers, Heikki Hero and Harri Kiiski, Kemira GrowHow. Paper presented at IFA Technical Conference, Beijing [2004].)

The numerous handling, transport and storage steps involved between production and application demands that fertilizer materials should be free-flowing, with an avoidance of caking or dust, and they should be able to withstand exposure to atmospheric humidity. The different ways of applying fertilizer around the world (via machinery, by hand, or through drip feed irrigation systems) mean that different properties are important in different market areas. However, fertilizers should always be free of air-borne dust during handling to ensure healthy working conditions in all bulk handling areas.

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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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Granulation for the next decades

Summary

As the mega-urea plant with a capacity of 3,250 t/d or more becomes a reality, granulation technology is advancing accordingly. Here we review the most significant developments.

Abstract

Urea is the predominant nitrogen fertilizer, and global production now exceeds 140 million t/a, rising by an average of 4%/year. Urea has the highest nitrogen content of all solid nitrogen fertilizers (averaging 46%) and has gained considerable popularity around the world because it offers the lowest transportation costs per unit of nitrogen content. Urea is produced from synthetic ammonia and carbon dioxide, and can take the form of prills, granules, pellets, crystals or solutions.

Prilling is the simplest way of producing urea commercially. The technology involves the formation of spherical drops of urea melt while in free fall and their subsequent crystallisation in the cooling air counter-current. The alternative granulation technology using a fluidised bed was first developed in the 1970s, spurred by such leading urea technology licensing companies as Stamicarbon and Toyo Engineering. The fluidised bed granulation sections licensed by the leading companies have comparable process stages: the main points of difference are the design of nozzles spraying the urea melt on to a fluidised bed of pre-solidified (or seed) particles. (Fig. 1) (Prills or granules? Nitrogen+Syngas, No. 292 [March/April 2008].)

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A dedicated industry with a global role

Summary

Israel can muster a fertilizer industry that more than pulls its weight in international markets, enjoying a particular competitive strength in the development and supply of high added-value fertilizers, industrial chemicals and water-soluble nutrients.

Abstract

The origins of the Israeli fertilizer industry predate the formation of the State of Israel in 1948 and were based on local reserves of phosphate rock and the recovery of potash salts from the Dead Sea. From modest beginnings in the early decades of the 20th century, a dynamic industry has emerged and is making an ever-increasing impact in world markets.

The first experiments for the recovery of potash salts from the Dead Sea were undertaken in 1924. Recovery of potash salts on a commercial basis was first carried out in 1931, at a small plant on the north east shore. Refineries were built on the southern bank in 1940, and by 1948, capacity had increased to 65,000 t/a KCl. These operations formed the core of Dead Sea Works Ltd. (DSW), the state-owned company that was formed in 1952 to take over all of Israel’s potash operations.

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Yara tackles GHG emissions

Summary

The determination of Yara to tackle emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and global warming has prompted the company to develop a new patented technology that curtails the emission of nitrous oxide from nitric acid plants. These efforts led Yara to be awarded a prestigious environmental prize late last year.

Abstract

Yara International ASA has taken a leading role in recent years to curtail global warming by improving energy efficiency and capping emissions at its production sites around the world. These efforts were duly rewarded in November 2007, when HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway presented Yara with the country’s highly prestigious Glassbjørnen (The Glass Bear) environmental prize. Yara’s technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) won the Prize of Honour, as well as being a Product finalist. The Prize of Honour is awarded to those who have made “an especially significant and worthy contribution to advancing environmental effort” over a longer period of time.

The Glassbjørnen Prize was awarded by GRIP, the Norwegian Foundation for Sustainable Consumption and Production, which was established by the Norwegian Ministry of the Environment to promote and support sustainable patterns of production and consumption.

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Speeding the potash through Hamburg

Summary

This is a double success story: the German potash producer, K+S Group, is enjoying record shipments of potash and its other products. In order to accelerate these shipments through the port of Hamburg and improve the overall efficiency of its logistical operations, the company has teamed up with ThyssenKrupp Fördertechnik – an acknowledged leader in the field of bulk materials handling - to install a new high capacity shiploader. The installation is described below.

Abstract

Potash shipments are breaking new records, and the leading producers are reporting a surge in revenues and profits. Thus, the German K+S Group announced that it has enjoyed a very promising start to 2008, posting its best quarterly results yet in the period ended 31 March 2008. Revenues increased by 28% to e1.21 billion ($1.88 billion). K+S Group noted that demand for its product range continues to rise, especially in the emerging market countries, while the challenge of producing sufficient foodstuffs for a growing and more demanding global population is encouraging farmers worldwide to expand the land available to them and intensify cultivation.

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Manitoba waits in the wings

Summary

Long-mooted projects to exploit Manitoba's potash reserves now have some important backers. After these projects had been largely dormant for nearly two decades, a host of exploration companies are now making tracks to Manitoba. Will at least one of them finally launch potash from Manitoba on the market?

Abstract

The province of Manitoba is the most easterly of Canada’s Prairie Provinces. Like its Saskatchewan neighbour to the west, Manitoba is rich in mineral resources which have sustained an important mining sector. However, whereas potash has been a primary source of employment and wealth to Saskatchewan, base and precious metals such as nickel, copper, zinc and gold have been in the spotlight of Manitoba’s mineral industries.

Mining is the second largest primary resources industry in Manitoba, generating C$2.5 billion in mineral production in 2007. The province has eight operating mines, located mainly to the north, in the Thompson region. These mines produce all of the above-mentioned base and precious metals, Speciality minerals are also mined, including tantalum, lithium and cesium, plus industrial minerals such as dolomite, spodumene, gypsum, salt, granite, lime, sand and gravel.

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Uranium recovery from phosphoric acid, the next generation

Summary

In the January/February 2008 issue of Fertilizer International, the previous two experiences with the recovery of uranium as a by-product of phosphoric acid production were discussed (pp54-57). A second article published in the March/April 2008 issue discussed the current uranium market driving the renewed interest in uranium recovery. (pp40-42) This article will discuss what was learned from the successful previous operating plants and what the next generation of plants might look like.

Abstract

The largest body of operating experience from second generation uranium extraction plants comes from IMC and Freeport in the United States, which operated facilities well into the 1990s. These units utilised the DEPA/TOPO extraction process that was discussed in the January/February 2008 issue of Fertilizer International. While the plants operated by Westinghouse, Gardinier and United Nuclear only operated for about three years, they also contributed significant operating experience. The operating data discussed in this article is based on all these operations. The block flow diagram below summarises the primary processes. (Fig. 1)

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