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Plenty of potential

Summary

The end of gas flaring in Nigeria has led to a search for ways of using it. Associated gas has also been responsible for the Atlantic Methanol plant in Equatorial Guinea. With oil and gas discoveries continuing to be made, west Africa looks to have plenty of potential for the development of syngas industries.

Abstract

West Africa has been riding the crest of a wave of oil and gas exploration and development over the past few years. The rate of discovery of new reserves has been the fastest of any region over the previous five years, and western oil and gas majors have rushed to the Gulf of Guinea as a result. The region has now reached the stage where companies are beginning to look towards downstream products in order to achieve higher returns on investment, and a slew of new gas-based projects are now under construction or consideration.

As Table 1 shows, the major gas-rich country in the region is Nigeria, with 90% of the reserves. However, the smaller reserves in some countries may be as much down to lack of exploration as lack of gas. Most of the natural gas in the region is associated with oil fields, and so gas availability is conditioned by the pace of oil drilling. However, increasing moves to end flaring of natural gas, especially in Nigeria, have led to greater attempts to find uses for the natural gas, and the region is now set to become a major area for syngas-based chemicals.

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Chinese urea a contractor's view

Summary

Replacement of ageing capacity is likely to provide the main area of new growth in the Chinese ammonia-urea sector. David Hayes discusses the prospects for foreign suppliers with Cho Juzan of Toyo Engineering's Chinese subsidiary.

Abstract

Chinese fertilizer exports are expected to show a sharp drop this year following the government’s decision to tighten regulation of this highly energy-reliant industry. In a move designed to cut exports and increase supplies of domestic products to the local market the government has more than doubled the export tariff rate on urea to 30% from June 2005, resulting in charges of Rmb 480/t ($58/t) based on export prices when the new tariff rate was imposed.

The decision to impose an export tax on urea was taken following a surge in exports last year as fertilizer manufacturers took advantage of high international prices in preference to lower state-regulated prices in China. At the same time, imports of foreign fertilizers plummeted as international prices reached $24–36/t more than China’s controlled domestic prices. Fertilizer exports reached 3.94m tonnes in 2004, according to Chinese customs statistics, of which about 75% was urea. Exports, mostly to Vietnam and Indonesia, accounted for almost 10% of China’s total 41m t/a urea production, prompting the government to take action, fearing that exports would rise further causing a domestic supply shortage.

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The third way?

Summary

LNG and GTL represent two ways of monetising 'stranded' natural gas, the former established, the latter now seeing increasing interest. But what of methanol routes to petrochemicals? Nitrogen + Syngas examines the commercial prospects for this technology.

Abstract

The issue of so-called ‘stranded’ gas – gas in fields a significant distance from markets – is one which has occupied minds in the oil and gas industry for some years. Natural gas is expensive to transport over long distance by pipeline, yet much of the gas in the world lies some distance from end-use markets. To overcome this problem, initially the infrastructure to deliver liquefied natural gas, or LNG was developed. This relatively simple but costly process involves super-cooling natural gas until it becomes liquid, then shipping it in LNG tankers and converting the liquid back into marketable natural gas at the point of demand.

More recently, chemical options for monetising the natural gas have become available as the cost of production technologies falls. At the moment the main thrust is towards the development of so-called gas-to-liquids (GTL) technology. The GTL process converts natural gas into liquid products such as high-quality transportation fuels, lubricant basestocks and petrochemical feedstocks.

However, the Fischer-Tropsch polymerisation reaction which most GTL processes are based around tends to produce relatively longer chain hydrocarbons, whereas the products most in demand are often short-chain hydrocarbons like ethylene and propylene, for plastics production. It is possible to convert bulk methanol into ethylene and propylene, and recent advances in large-scale, low cost methanol production have made this third route for gas monetisation, so-called methanol to olefins or MTO production a realistic possibility.

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Of a certain age

Summary

The 50th AIChE Ammonia Safety Symposium was held in Toronto in September at a time when the structure of the industry that it serves is changing more than at any other time in its history.

Abstract

The “Safety in Ammonia Plants and Related Facilities” of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers has been the premier forum for the discussion of safety-related issues for ammonia plant operators for half a century. In fact, though, the very first of these meetings, held in Boston in 1956, was concerned only with air separation plants, which were rather susceptible to explosions and other incidents in those days. But as many of the air separation plants in the USA at that time were providing oxygen and nitrogen for gasification-based ammonia plants, and considering that the ammonia plants themselves entailed high-pressure processes, it was logical that the programme should be extended to cover them from the following year on.

Over the years, thanks not least to the useful role of the Symposium, the reliability of air separation plants improved steeply while, as the ammonia industry went through a phenomenal period of growth led by a revolution in its technology, its concerns progressively dominated the agenda of the symposium. Nigh on 40 years ago the words “Air Plants” were dropped from its title.

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Gearing up for a new future

Summary

DME is manufactured from synthesis gas, so it does not depend on petroleum and can even be made from renewable sources (biomass). The first large-scale DME-for-fuel projects are now coming to fruition, and technological development continues.

Abstract

DME – a multi-purpose fuel

While the kind of technology that was used in Germany and South Africa – Fischer-Tropsch hydrocarbons synthesis – is being revisited for transport fuels, another virtually all-purpose fuel is in the process of entering large-scale use in various parts of the world. That fuel is dimethyl ether (DME). The main reason why this seemingly rather exotic material is attracting so much attention is that it can be produced either from methanol or as a by-product in the production of methanol.

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