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Enhancing spent acid recovery

Summary

Spent acid regeneration provides the most environmentally acceptable means of dealing with the large quantities of spent sulphuric acid produced worldwide by a range of industrial chemical processes. We assess the technology and services offered by leading companies in this field.

Abstract

Many industrial chemical processes use sulphuric acid as a reaction medium that does not form part of the final product. This leads to the involuntary production of dilute and contaminated acid (spent sulphuric acid) as a waste product. Dealing with this spent acid poses a complex environmental problem as production capacities have increased and environmental regulations have become more stringent. In the past, typical methods for disposing or recycling spent sulphuric acid have included:

  • Neutralisation with lime
  • Ocean or river dumping
  • Reconcentration/blending with oleum.

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Agricultural productivity -- Finding a faster track

Summary

Having made astonishing advances to develop unheralded levels of food security during the past 3-4 decades, agriculture in India, China and other emerging economies has now reached a plateau, with diminishing levels of productivity growth. What role can the world fertilizer industry play to reverse this worrying trend?

Abstract

The Green Revolution that eliminated starvation from many regions of the world from the 1960s onwards is rightly regarded as one of mankind’s finest achievements and an outstanding example of human ingenuity. For the first time in history, famine was eliminated in such populous countries as China and India, due to the investment in agricultural research and infrastructure and spurred by the development of higher-yielding cereal varieties and the more intensive use of irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides. (The end of abundance, Financial Times [2 June 2008].)

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How will biofuels affect the global fertilizer markets?

Summary

Much is being publicised about how the second-generation of biofuels derived from corn stover, waste wood and even algae will help to meet global transport fuel needs in the longer term. But for the next five years at least, it will be conventional biofuels bioethanol produced from cane sugar or corn, and biodiesel from oil seed crops that will continue to dominate. Biofuel crops are already having a major impact on cropping practices in many important agricultural regions in the world and there is no sign of the trend slowing down. The projected changes in crop areas and the potential impact on the markets for seeds, fertilizers and other inputs, and other crop management systems are reviewed in a 120-page report recently published by Impact Reports, as summarised here.

Abstract

Three regions and three crops dominate the biofuel scene today: Brazil with its mature but still growing sugarcane ethanol industry; the United States with massive investment going into corn ethanol production; and the European Union (EU), the global leader in biodiesel production from oilseed rape and sunflower oils.

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China's fertilizer strategies: wait-and-see is the current watchword

Summary

A review of fertilizer production strategies in the world's most populous country.

Abstract

Despite China’s increasing pre-eminence in the global industrial economy, agriculture remains the most important economic sector in the country, employing over 300 million farmers. China ranks first in worldwide farm output, primarily producing rice, wheat, potatoes, sorghum, tea, barley and cotton. China’s agriculture was transformed after the Four Modernisations campaign was launched at the end of the 1970s, when the Family Production Responsibility System was created, restoring responsibility for agricultural production back to households, and the consequent leap in farm output sustained a growing population and underpinned the growth of China’s industrialisation. However, the challenges facing China in general and agriculture in particular are becoming critical as the population continues to grow at a record pace, reaching 1.3 billion by 2007 – equivalent to 20% of the world total. (Fertilizer Use and Promotion of Sulphur Fertilizer in Chinese Agriculture, Gao Xiangzhao, Ministry of Agriculture, China. Paper presented at TSI Sulphur World Symposium, Madrid [April 2009].)

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The changing ammonia industry

Summary

Production of ammonia continues to evolve. Changing natural gas markets have led to high prices in some regions and greater consideration of alternative feedstocks, while plant sizes continue to slowly increase.

Abstract

The ammonia industry was born from coal-based production in Europe in the 1920s. However, with the advent of large-scale use of natural gas in the 1950s and 1960s, there has been a progressive switch towards what was seen as a cheaper, more efficient and cleaner-burning alternative. Figure 1 shows the current breakdown of global ammonia capacity by feedstock, and these proportions have remained roughly consistent now for some decades. Natural gas remains the mainstay of the ammonia industry. However, the gas market today is very different from the way it was fifty years ago.

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Safety is supreme in Bahrain

Summary

The International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) convened its first Global Safety Summit in Bahrain between 14-18 March. The Summit was hosted by Gulf Petrochemical Industries Co. (GPIC), a company which has been in the forefront of promoting best safety practices. More than 200 delegates participated in the Summit, whose goal was to establish a "Safety First" mindset in fertilizer production and share best management practices.

Abstract

Under the patronage of His Excellency Dr. Abdul Hussain Bin Mirza, Minister of Oil and Gas Affairs for the Kingdom of Bahrain, the International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) in partnership with the Gulf Petrochemical Industries Company (GPIC) presented the world’s first global safety summit for the fertilizer industry in Manama, Bahrain. “Safety is the most valuable service we can provide,” said William Doyle, IFA vice president for sustainable development and CEO of PotashCorp, in his welcome address. Doyle’s thoughts were echoed throughout the summit, as industry leaders and safety specialists addressed a number of themes. These included:

  • Leadership and innovation
  • Technology
  • The role of safety in sustainable development
  • Employee empowerment
  • The challenges of maintaining good safety performance during difficult economic times.

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Undersea phosphates from Namibia

Summary

Approximately 60 km off the coast of Namibia's Conception Bay in south west Africa lies one of the largest known submarine phosphate deposits in the world out of sight, perhaps, but most definitely not out of mind.

Abstract

Offshore surveys in the 1970s and 1980s discovered phosphate deposits just off the Namibian coast from Walvis Bay in the north to Meob, south of Conception Bay. The extent of these deposits was initially investigated by Gencor in the early 1990s. However, after Gencor was taken over by Billiton, it was decided not to pursue industrial minerals and the project was abandoned. These initial investigations nevertheless highlighted significant phosphate resources, with an average grade between 15-20% over an area of approximately 1,000 km2. The investigations also discovered that phosphate occurred in an adjacent area 30 km long and 10 km wide. The small number of drill samples taken during the Gencor investigations was insufficient to confirm the relationship between the deposits, although some continuity was suspected.

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A milestone in New Mexico

Summary

The Mosaic Company prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of potash production at Carlsbad, New Mexico by expanding production of its K-Mag potassium magnesium sulphate facility and by taking on a new look.

Abstract

New Mexico’s major tourist attraction is the famous Carlsbad Caverns National Park, which draws more than 300,000 visitors each year. Many of them will take the scenic and dramatic journey through the Chihuahuan Desert and the Guadalupe Mountains of south eastern New Mexico, perhaps surmising that this part of the United States is a wilderness exclusively for naturalists, explorers and hardy vacationers. Few visitors will be aware of the nearby fertilizer production facility that also contributes to the state’s economy, employing more than 500 people to mine and process one of the most important crop nutrients in the world.

The Mosaic Company now operates the potash facility at Carlsbad and will shortly celebrate 70 years of production at the mine. K-Mag® potassium magnesium sulphate is the main focus of a facility that has been identified as one of the largest underground mines in the United States and is the largest producer of langbeinite ore in the world.

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Ma'aden progress on all fronts

Summary

What has been done and what remains to be done to get the world's largest phosphate fertilizer project on stream on schedule.

Abstract

In just over one year’s time, the first production of phosphate ore is scheduled to begin at the Al Jalamid mine of Ma’aden, Saudi Arabian Mining Company. Commercial production of phosphate fertilizers, including 2.9 million t/a DAP will follow soon afterwards, thus propelling the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia into the leading rank of suppliers in the sector. The project will advance Saudi Arabia’s long-desired strategy to diversify its economy away from excessive reliance on the oil and gas sectors, and it will open up the hitherto undeveloped north east of the Kingdom to bring new added value industries on stream. Together with the construction of the downstream phosphate facilities at the port of Raz Az Zawr, near Jubail, the provision of a 1,500-km rail link from the mine as well as port facilities, the Ma’aden phosphates project is one of world’s biggest capital expenditure projects, estimated at over $13.0 billion overall.

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The financial rollercoaster continues

Summary

Since we published a detailed review of the world fertilizer industry's leading financial performers in our November/December issue (FI No. 427, pp20-37), the industry has in common with all other commodity market sectors suffered a cataclysmic change in its fortunes. Oliver Hatfield, Director of the London-based consultancy and market research company Integer Research Ltd., assesses the impact of the new market outlook.

Abstract

The optimism that delegates shared at the 2008 IFA Annual Conference spurred on by sharply rising prices, bullish demand and strong industry profitability, quickly evaporated in the second half of the year. As we move toward this year’s IFA 2009 event in Shanghai, many producers are seeing profits falling faster than the equivalent rise a year earlier. However, beneath some gloomy results announced at the end of 2008, demand fundamentals remain positive. The downturn in the fertilizer sector has hit producers in each of the major nutrient categories, though to varying degrees. Potash producers have exerted some control on production, shoring up falling prices, while phosphates and nitrogen prices have plummeted, outpacing declining production costs. Fig. 1 shows phosphate producer margins rising each quarter up to the final quarter of 2008. Although Russian companies have not yet released their results for the fourth quarter of 2008, profits have clearly taken a major hit for most phosphate manufacturers, following a consistent run up for the six previous six quarters.

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Phosphates: China reaches a turning point

Summary

We examine how China's indigenous phosphate producers endeavour to satisfy the country's demand for fertilizers and other phosphate products.

Abstract

The origins of the Chinese phosphate fertilizer industry can be traced back to 1942, when the Yudian Phosphate Fertilizer Plant was established in Kunming to produce calcium superphosphate. (China Phosphate Fertilizer Industry, Duan Changsheng, Sinochem Fertilizer Co. Ltd. Paper presented at The Sulphur Institute Symposium, Madrid [March 2009].) Between 1952 and 1957, four additional small-scale calcium superphosphate plants were set up, while two industrial facilities for the production of granular calcium superphosphate followed in 1958. These were located in Nanjing, Jiangsu province and Taiyuan, Shanxi province, with capacities of 400,000 t/a and 200,000 t/a respectively.

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