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Viva la regulación

Summary

As government and industry bodies move to reduce security threats and minimise industrial accidents, regulation of ammonium nitrate is tightening up. Des Owen of Nitrogen+Syngas takes a look at different regulations around the globe, and what these mean for the future of ammonium nitrate fertilizers.

Abstract

The explosive potential of ammonium nitrate wasn’t fully realised until after World War I, when dynamite was used to “break up” a pile of excess ammonium nitrate at an ammonia synthesis plant in Germany. The blast caused significant damage, killing 600 people. In 1947 a French freighter carrying approximately 2000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertilizer caught fire, and exploded at the Texas City port killing over 580 people. The war was over, but it was the beginning of a new era for ammonium nitrate (AN), and both incidents initiated the regulation of AN during transport and handling.

Since then a number of other industrial accidents have occurred including a blast at an ammonium nitrate facility in Toulouse, France in 2001 that killed 29 people. AN has also been used as a primary ingredient to construct home-made bombs in a number of terrorist attacks around the world, including several IRA terrorist attacks in the UK, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the Oklahoma bombing in the USA. The recent bombing at the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan was also suspected to be an AN bomb and AN was also used in a number of bombings in India, including recent blasts in Jaipur, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and Delhi. In mid September this year, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs proposed an amendment to India’s Explosives Rules of 1983, to curb use of ammonium nitrate products with high explosive potential.

Security risks have been the main driver for tighter regulatory controls on AN in recent years and, ahead of India, many countries have already begun implementing legislative controls on the sale and distribution of AN products, particularly AN fertilizers. But how effective are these controls, and what does it mean for the industry and legitimate suppliers and users of AN?

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Scare stories drive formaldehyde legislation

Summary

Formaldehyde, the largest derivative of methanol by volume, is in the throes of a health scare that began with cancer worries and which has now begun to gain a grip in the popular consciousness, especially in the US. Is another major use for methanol about to be regulated out of existence?

Abstract

Formaldehyde is the major derivative of methanol, with a wide variety of applications. In particular it is widely used in thermosetting resins such as urea-formaldehyde, phenol-formaldehyde, and melamine-formaldehyde, mainly used as glues. These find their way into construction, in plywood, sheathing and cladding, asphalt shingles, cabinets and cabinet doors, floors, furniture, and panelling. It is also used in paints, plastics, foams, elastomers, and as an intermediate raw material to synthesise other chemicals include polyacetal resins, 1,4-butanediol, MDI, and pentaerythritol.

However, in recent years a series of health scares in the popular media, coupled with a recommendation by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) to reclassify formaldehyde as a Category 1 human carcinogen, have started to give formaldehyde and by extension methanol producers some jitters. With the salutary experience of the MTBE controversy still fresh in their minds, methanol producers might be forgiven for thinking that formaldehyde is about to go the same way.

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Catalyst suppliers meet new challenges

Summary

The rapid growth of the methanol industry and the constant desire to improve the production of both methanol and ammonia presents new challenges to catalyst suppliers. Süd-Chemie, Haldor Topsře and Johnson Matthey Catalysts report on their latest catalysts and how they are performing.

Abstract

For many decades methanol has been one of the most important intermediate chemical products, generally displaying very stable rates of development in both supply and demand. That period is now over. The rapid rise in the price of oil and emerging new technologies make methanol ever more interesting as a synthetic commodity and feedstock for the production of fuels and plastics and the soaring gas prices now provide the coal nations with a very good opportunity to economically exploit coal gasification for syngas production. Thus, the methanol industry is growing in leaps and bounds, especially in the Middle East and in China. This on-going global transformation of the methanol industry presents new challenges to the catalysts suppliers.

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Closer examination of urea plants

Summary

Building on its long experience in the inspection and repair of equipment and piping in urea plants, JSC NIIK has recently invested in new equipment to provide even better services.

Abstract

JSC “NIIK” (Research and Design Institute of Urea and Organic Synthesis Products) is a full-scale engineering company with unique experience and competence in the revamping and construction of grass-roots production and engineering facilities for the chemical industry. The engineering activity of JSC NIIK has recently focused on technologies concerning the production of urea, melamine and its derivatives (melamine cyanurate). In addition, the company is ready to share best practices for the production of cyanides, isocyanates, phosgene and related compounds.

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Advanced process control for syngas units

Summary

Christiaan Moons of IPCOS looks at advanced process control options for syngas-based chemical production, including ammonia, urea, nitric acid, methanol and hydrogen, as well as optimisation of the steam system for such facilities.

Abstract

Advanced Process Control (APC) is recognised as a technique for improving plant performance in the process industry, and differs from conventional control due to the utilisation of process models for operation optimisation. Although use of APC is widespread in re­fineries and the petrochemical industry, it is only recently that ammonia, urea, nitric acid and methanol plants have been optimised with this technology. Typical benefits can be a 1-3% increase in production, a 1% decrease in specific energy consumption, a higher on-stream factor and more hands-off operation due to decreased interventions by operators. All these benefits can be realised for minimal cost, with payback times typically varying between 4-9 months. This article explains how APC is able to optimise these plants and what is needed in order to deploy and maintain it.

For the past several years, IPCOS has been active in the fertilizer and syngas industries, providing APC solutions tailored to these industries.

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The imperatives for propylene production

Summary

Demand for propylene has been growing proportionately faster than that for ethylene, which has been problematic, since the main production method has so far been via steam cracking, which produces a relatively fixed ratio of the two products. As a result, 'on-purpose' propylene production is gaining ground, with a syngas route via methanol ('methanol to olefins' or MTO) one of the potential methods. However, it is by no means the only option...

Abstract

Propylene is one of the key building block chemicals, used as feedstock for a variety of polymers and chemical intermediates. The major propylene derivative is of course polypropylene, but also acrylonitrile, propylene oxide, cumene/phenol, oxo alcohols acrylic acid, isopropyl alcohol and many others. Applications are widespread, across the automotive, construction, consumer durables, packinging and electronics sectors. Figure 1 shows the main demand sectors by derivative.

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