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The global urea market

Summary

After the record prices of the commodity price bubble of 2007-8, urea prices have dropped back towards more familiar territory. The industry is entering a period of overcapacity, but as usual political decisions loom just as large as economic ones.

Abstract

Urea is the most widely traded fertilizer in the world. Its popularity has increased dramatically, especially in Asia, because of its high nitrogen content (46%), and it is seen as one of the most cost-efficient ways of delivering nitrogen to soils. As a result the market for urea is dominated by agricultural uses, and the politics of agriculture often distort the market for urea itself.

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Tapping into coal

Summary

Swan Hills Synfuels, a private Canadian developer, has secured reserves of deep coal in Alberta, Canada, and is adapting existing in-situ coal gasification (ISCG) technology to turn this deep stranded coal into clean synthesis gas that can be used as fuel for clean power generation or processed further to create other clean energy products.

Abstract

In-situ coal gasification (ISCG) combined with carbon capture and storage has excellent environmental attributes, including significantly reduced air emissions, non-fresh water use in the gasification process and minimal surface disturbance. The clean gas from the ISCG process, when used for fuel for power generation, creates an efficient power generation facility that has a dramatically better emissions profile than existing coal-fired facilities or power generation from natural gas.

The province of Alberta in Canada, with its abundance of deep coal that is too costly and technically difficult to mine, represents one of the best locations globally to develop commercial ISCG projects. The energy content in the deep coals in Alberta is greater than the energy content of all of the oil sands and all of the conventional oil and gas reserves remaining in Alberta.

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Unconventional gas reserves

Summary

'Unconventional' gas production, from tight gas sands, coalbed methane and especially shale gas has had a transformative effect on US gas production and imports, and hence prices. Will we now see the same thing repeated worldwide?

Abstract

One of the major changes to the gas market mix in recent years has been the development of so-called ‘unconventional’ gas reserves. These are reserves which had previously been thought of as technically and/or economically too difficult to recover due to a variety of factors. With falling reserves of conventional gas, the United States was the first to move into large-scale extraction of unconventional reserves, to the point where they now represent the bulk of US gas output. From 1990 to 2005, the proportion of US natural gas production accounted for by unconventional sources rose from 15% to over 40%, and this year that has reached more than 50%. However, the technologies are now also beginning to find applications in other regions. One of the attractions for oil and gas companies, as for other technically difficult areas of the industry such as sour gas production, is that the techniques involved in recovery of unconventional resources require considerably more expertise and expense than conventional extraction, but they can become economical in regions where conventional reserves are low and declining. They offer oil and gas companies access to new resources which are otherwise tied up under the auspices of state oil and gas companies around the world.

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Underground coal gasification

Summary

The fifth Underground Coal Gasification Partnership Conference and Workshop was held in London in March. Nitrogen+Syngas listened in on discussions about an old technology that is starting to see renewed interest.

Abstract

The recent run of high oil prices has encouraged people to take a fresh look at a variety of other ways of producing energy, and other feedstocks for chemicals. One of the major beneficiaries of this has been coal, but coal, even when gasified, has been widely seen by governments and the public as a polluting technology, in that it emits far more carbon dioxide per tonne than other feedstocks like natural gas. Coal gasification is also an expensive route to syngas, with solid fuel handling and processing and gasification sections needing to be added on to the front of any chemical plant.

Underground coal gasification (UCG), as we described earlier in the year (Nitrogen+Syngas 303, Jan/Feb 2010, pp56-58), and also elsewhere in this issue, has been seen as a potential way of overcoming these limitations, by gasifiying the coal in-situ in the ground, removing the need for expensive coal processing sections. Not only is it more efficient in producing syngas, it is also a more efficient way of using the coal, and the carbon dioxide produced is already contained and ready for sequestering. However, a variety of technical, environmental and economic challenges still face the technology.

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Pushing the boundaries

Summary

In recent years there has been a renewed interest in synthesis gas generation based on autothermal reforming. Autothermal reforming breaks the traditional upper capacity limit of many plants being economically constrained by the size of tubular steam methane reformers. Nitrogen+Syngas reports on the technologies and catalysts involved.

Abstract

Hydrogen and synthesis gas (a mixture of hydrogen and CO) are the major route from hydrocarbons (e.g. natural gas) to many important chemicals such as methanol, Fischer-Tropsch liquid fuels, alcohols and aldehydes from oxo-synthesis and ammonia. Synthesis gases can be processed from practically any carbon containing feedstock.

Table 1 shows the synthesis gas composition requirements for the most important processes.

Different technologies can be applied for the production of syngas. The technologies operating with autothermal heating have significantly higher CO and CO2 content in the synthesis gas than those with external heating, which have much smaller H2:CO ratios (carbon oxides are found in the flue gases).

This is illustrated by the graph shown in Fig. 1. The figure shows the individual ranges of H:CO ratios in the syngases according to the different technologies applied.

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