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Ammonium nitrate on trial

Summary

Manufacturers of ammonium nitrate have been closely following the progress of a lawsuit filed against ICI Explosives USA by relatives of the people killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. Richard Hands reviews the court case that could have far-reaching implications for the ammonium nitrate industry.

Abstract

On April 19th, 1995, 169 people were killed by a huge bomb in Oklahoma City. The bomb had been placed inside a rental truck that was left parked outside the Alfred Murrah Federal building, and is alleged to have been the work of two disaffected ex-military men who had become involved in right-wing fringe 'militias'. The bombing was the worst ever terrorist act on American soil, and has forced both people and government to confront the reality of terrorism on their own doorstep, and the anti-government forces at work in some parts of the country.

In the aftermath of the bombing, on May 12th last year, came a lawsuit filed against ICI Explosives USA by relatives of four ofthe dead. Their argument was that ICI had been negligent in allowing ammonium nitrate to be sold, knowing that it could be used for making explosives, without including any additive to render it less harmful. The case has since expanded, and·now more than 100 victims or relatives of victims, headed by 0 J Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran Jr., are suing ICI for compensation.

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Vietnam: Asian dynamo or paper tiger?

Summary

Vietnam has been a popular destination for western investors in recent years. However, last year saw several maJ·or companies withdraw from the country or scale down their investments. Has the bubble already burst for one of the fastest-growing economies in southeast Asia?

Abstract

The Vietnamesezgovernment's embrace of capitalist market economics; doi moi, or 'economic renovation', is ten years' old this year. Since 1986 the changes in the economy have been tremendous. In 1986 parts of the country were suffering a famine. Today Vietnam is the world's third largest rice exporter. Economic growth has been greater than 8% for the past five years, and last year reached 9.5%. For the past few years, Vietnam has become classed as another Asian 'tiger'. In 1994, the United States ended its 17-year trade embargo, and last year VIetnam was admitted as a member of ASEAN, the Association of South--East Asian Nations. But the euphoria of the early years has begun to wear off. Total's well-publicised withdrawal from a $1.2bn refinery project has become emblematic of growing frustrations among western investors in the country. Is the honeymoon finally over?

Conserv~tives within the Vietnamese government has also begun to have second thoughts about the pace of change. Most of all they are worried about creating for themselves the same problems that have begun to dog China's transition to a market economy, such as corruption, erosion of public health and education systems, and the growing income gap between the urban nouveau riche and the peasant farmers that make up the bulk of the communists' supporters. Inflation, which touched 300% in the early days of doi moi, but which had fallen by 1993 to 5%, has accelerated again in the past two years to 17%.

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Methanol: the year In perspectIve

Summary

The world methanol industry gathered in Phoenix~ Arizona last December to reflect upon a year of changing fortunes. Nitrogen was there to report on both the present and possible future circumstances of the industry.

Abstract

I t was the USA's turn tcr hold the 1995 World Methanol Conference, switching as it does from one side of the Atlantic to the other on alternate years. Some 360 delegates gathered together in the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Hotel, Phoenix, from December 5th to 7th, to discuss the current shape of the world methanol industry. 1be meeting was perhaps a more subdued one than the previous year's; the euphoria of methanol prices at $600/t has given way to more gloomy forecasts as prices tumble and new capacity builds seem to indicate more of the same for the future. In addition, the United States Reformulated Gasoline programme, which was to have provided an outlet for excess methanol, has begun to contract under a withering assault by the media and pressure groups. For this reason, Ray Lewis, President of the American Methanol Institute, opened the conference with an overview of the regulatory scene in Washington. The Reformulated Gasoline (RFG) programme is under attack, he said. Fear has been generated by allegations of health effects and high pricing, allegations that have had no official confirmation. Nevertheless, Mr Lewis believes that alternative fuels will be a major contributor to tomorrow's car market. Ford already produce a Flexible Fuelled Vehicle (FFV) for the same price as a petrol-driven car. 1be prospects are equally encouraging for methanol fuel cells, which are being given a high priority by car manufacturers, and have the potential to be a $50bn/year industry in 56 years. Unfortunately, said Mr Lewis, the result is that methanol has become totally dependant upon political forces for its success in the USA. He predicted that there would be an attempt to remove oxygenates from gasoline in 1996, and warned of the campaign of "misinformation" that is being waged against MTBE.

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Industrial experience with PlatinitŪ gauzes

Summary

H. Diibler* and H. Kropshofer** review the historical developments in gauze catalysts and report on the industrial experiences gained to date with Degussa's PlatinitID knitted gauzes

Abstract

Gauze catalysts have been used for the catalytic oxidation ofammonia in the largescale production of nitric acid and hydrogen cyanide for many years1,2,3. Despite many efforts to produce alternative catalyst configurations, such as perforated metal foils and metal fibre webs4 , or metal felts 5, gauze catalysts continue to provide the best technical and economical solution. This lack of progress makes the recent changeover in the manufacturing technique ofplatinum alloy gauze catalysts from weaving to knitting all the more significant. The knitting process for catalyst gauzes was first introduced a few years ago by Johnson Matthey and Degussa, independently of each other, and is now being implemented worldwide. Other companies offering knitted gauzes include Engelhard-ClAL and Heraeus (see Nitrogen May-June 1994 39-44).

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Ferrara refines its granulation process

Summary

Snamprogetti has recently acquired the double falling curtains drum technology from Agricoltura. This technology was installed at the Ferrara urea plant in Italy in 1990. Since then the granulation process has been modified to improve product quality and reduce pollution.

Abstract

The prilling process is by far the most .widely used process for the production of solid urea. In fact, the larger urea producing countries in the world such as India, Indonesia, China and the FSU are still using the prilling process. This choice is mainly due to the simplicity of the process that essentially consists of spraying molten urea from the top of a prilling tower and collecting the prills at the bottom of the tower. The ptills are then cooled and stored or sent directly to the bagging station without any further treatment.

Unfortunately, however, the prilled product has some major drawbacks with regard to product quality, for example:

  • low hardness;
  • small size;
  • tendency to cake.

Another problem associated with the prilling process is the release of pollutants to the atmosphere, e.g. urea dust and gaseous ammonia from the top to the prilling tower. This problem is difficult to solve because of the large volume of air, the small particle size of the urea dust, and the extremely low partial pressure of ammonia contained in the air.

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