BC Insight - Nitrogen+Syngas, Sulphur, Fertilizer International
Login
BCInsight Ltd
China Works
Black Prince Road
London, SE1 7SJ
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)20 7793 2567
Fax: +44 (0)20 7793 2577

Publication > Issue > Articles

Perfectly poised?

Summary

One of the fastest-growing areas for new syngas-based developments in the past couple of years has been Egypt, as the government seeks to monetise natural gas reserves. With access to both European and southern Asian markets, is Egypt perfectly poised to become one of the leading suppliers of the 21st century?

Abstract

Egypt’s petrochemicals sector is undergoing something of a renaissance at present, especially in the gas-based sector. The Egyptian government has made a conscious decision to develop the country’s extensive natural gas reserves as oil exports begin to decline, and new gas projects have been coming thick and fast. Coupled with this is a sudden speeding up of the previously fairly slow pace of economic reform, which had seen little progress during the 1990s. This had limited foreign direct investment in Egypt and kept annual GDP growth in the range of 2%–3% in 2001–03. However, in 2004 Egypt implemented several measures to boost foreign direct investment. Last September, Egypt pushed through custom reforms, proposed income and corporate tax reforms, reduced energy subsidies, and privatised several state-run enterprises. The Egyptian pound has also been floated since January 2003, immediately dropping in value and assisting export industries and balance of payments. Egypt’s GDP growth reached 3.6% in 2004 and is expected to be at about 5.3% by the end of the decade. However, unemployment remains a stubborn long-term problem and this has slowed the pace of privatisation of state enterprises, which often have high levels of overstaffing due to labour regulations.

Add to basket


Maintenance excellence: the GPIC way

Summary

Gulf Petrochemical Industries Co (GPIC) has become renowned across the Arab Gulf for its quality control and environmental record. Here, Abdul Rahman Jawahery, general manager, discusses the firm's approach to maintenance.

Abstract

In the petrochemical industry where competitiveness rules, production must be supported by a strong maintenance infrastructure able to sustain safe, reliable and continuous production. GPIC, a leading producer of high quality ammonia, methanol and urea, believes that its success is attributed to seamless integration between the major business functions; starting with correct investment decisions, implementation, safe and reliable production and successful marketing.

Add to basket


Methanol technology forum

Summary

The International Methanol Technology Operators' Forum (IMTOF) was held at the Langham Hilton Hotel in London from June 13th-15th.

Abstract

Perhaps reflecting the general health of the methanol market at the moment, 150 delegates attended this year’s bi-annual conference, the eighth in what began life as the ICI Methanol Technology Operators’ Forum.

The conference began as is traditional with market overviews, first from John Bonarius of CMAI, with a review of global economic conditions and a forecast to 2009. The global economy has recovered from recession of 2001–2002, and it is now growing at around 3% year on year. However, while the baseline forecast was for continued strong growth of 3–4% over the next five years, high oil prices, booming Chinese demand, and the potential for significant geopolitical ‘shocks’ to the system means that CMAI now gives a 20% chance to a scenario where the world enters a recession during 2005–6.

Yousif Abdullah Yousif of GPIC then discussed the opportunities for developing a gas-based industry in the Middle East, where the bulk of the world’s new petrochemical plants seem to be gravitating.

Add to basket


GTL update

Summary

With oil costs rising and the ready availability worldwide of other sources of hydrocarbons, attention has begun to focus on ways of converting those hydrocarbons into a useable form. So-called gas to liquids (GTL) technologies have proliferated, with syngas often the key intermediate step. Nitrogen + Syngas looks at the state of commercialisation of the rival technologies.

Abstract

There are several factors driving interest in GTL technologies, but the main three so far have been as follows:

  • Dealing with stranded gas. A number of gas fields around the world – it is estimated up to 60% of gas – is ‘stranded’ – too remote from end-use markets to be easily transported in spite of steadily falling pipeline costs. If this gas can be converted into a liquid form it becomes more readily transportable and hence ‘monetised’ by the owning company. In some other cases there are also environmental concerns relating to associated gas dissolved in oilfields where flaring is becoming increasingly unacceptable, such as in west Africa.
  • Rising oil prices. During the mid-1990s, GTL economics were seen as unattractive in a world of $15/bbl oil. However, at a time of $60–70/bl oil, and with OPEC’s long-term price goal in the $25–30/bbl range, GTl economics look much more favourable. There is considerable debate about when we will reach the peak of global oil production, but the oil industry expects overall production to begin to decline some time in the next 5–10 years. From that point onwards, products for oil-derived petrochemicals will begin to rise, and there will be a significant opportunity for chemicals produced from other hydrocarbon sources.
  • Product quality. The fact that GTL-based chemicals are synthesised rather than refined means that it is far easier to control levels of impurities. This means that products are generally far purer than those produced from a conventional oil route. This has become of particular concern for diesel producers, since increasingly tight restrictions on levels of sulphur and aromatic compounds in diesel fuel are making the cost of removal progressively higher. At the same time, the amount of ‘sweet’ or low-sulphur crude oil on the market is steadily shrinking compared to larger volumes of sour crude, and this trend seems likely to continue. Furthermore, the synthetic diesel produced from GTL reactions has a higher cetane number of about 70 compared to ca. 55 for conventional product. Because of this and the far lower levels of sulphur and aromatics, GTL diesel is estimated to carry a quality premium of between $5 and $10/bbl.

Add to basket


Catalyst makers eye secondary control of N2O

Summary

The nitrous oxide problem is less the absolute one of getting rid of it, more a matter of economics. Catalyst producers are looking at a combination of primary (catalyst gauze improvements) and secondary (high-temperature decomposition) abatement techniques to supplant tertiary abatement (add-on tail gas processing).

Abstract

The problem of nitrous oxide emissions is still hovering over nitric acid producers, especially in countries which have signed up to the Kyoto protocol on climate change and are taking their commitments under it seriously. Based on a combination of its infra-red transmission characteristics and the time it remains in the atmosphere after release, nitrous oxide is around 310 times as potent as a greenhouse gas as is carbon dioxide, making the nitric acid plant of an ammonia and nitrates complex a bigger contributor to global warming potential (GWP) than the ammonia plant and all associated sources of carbon dioxide. And, because of its longevity in the atmosphere, it eventually diffuses into the stratosphere, where it becomes photochemically activated and contributes to ozone depletion. Therefore, curbing any substantial source of it pays dividends in both environmental and political terms.

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is formed in side reactions on the platinum-rhodium alloy gauzes used as the catalyst for the ammonia oxidation reaction in a nitric acid plant, the desired product of which is nitric oxide (NO). It is unaffected by conditions in the succeeding stages of the ammonia plant, passing out of the plant in the tail gas, and it is virtually inert to ambient conditions in the climatic zone of the earth’s atmosphere. That makes it both an economic threat and an environmental one.

Add to basket


Satisfactory solutions?

Summary

Safety and security issues, not least onerous new regulations, are assailing producers, vendors and users of high-density ammonium nitrate. It is likely that the industry will have to switch to alternative forms of delivering this agronomically useful material.

Abstract

Half of the nitrogen content of ammonium nitrate (AN) is in the nitrate form, which is the form that is most readily available to the roots of crop plants, and the rest is in the ammoniacal form, which needs only to be converted to nitrate by nitrifying bacteria in the soil. That usually takes only a day or two. In comparison, all of the nitrogen in urea must first undergo microbial hydrolysis to ammonia, a process which is hindered by low temperatures and dry conditions. Consequently, ammonium nitrate has historically been a popular fertiliser for use on winter crops and in zones with a short growing season where a rapid effect is needed, especially Western Europe, Canada and the FSU. Its quick action is also very advantageous in irrigated sandy soils, such as the desert reclamation areas in Egypt, because urea tends to be washed down into the subsoil before much of its nitrogen content has become available.

Hitherto the advantages of ammonium nitrate have tended to outweigh its disadvantages. The dangerous properties of ammonium nitrate have been known since the early days of its commercial production. An attempt to break up a caked mass of ammonium nitrate using explosives – a standard practice with other fertilisers under such conditions – produced a huge blast which blew away most of BASF’s Oppau chemical factory and a considerable number of people in 1926. A second massive explosion of a shipload of ammonium nitrate, which destroyed most of Texas City in 1947, underlined the inadvisability of using organic anti-caking agents with ammonium nitrate. And the Toulouse blast of 2001, the memory of which is still green, has re-emphasised the need for the utmost caution in handling potentially contaminated reject material. There have also been some explosions in manufacturing plants; the most recent sizeable blast, at Terra’s Port Neal plant in 1994, appears to have been largely due to inadvertent acidification of the neutraliser contents during shutting down procedures.

Add to basket


Fifty years of shared experiences

Summary

It has been 50 years since the first AIChE ammonia safety symposium was held. Venkat Pattabathula of Incitec Pivot Ltd, Brisbane, Bhaskar Rani of Terra Industries Courtright, Ontario, and DH Timbres of Agrium, Inc., Fort Saskatchewan, review the more than 1200 papers presented over the past 49 years, covering topics such as accidents, fires, explosions, safety developments, benchmark studies, technological advances, and process and maintenance improvements. The article also highlights the key lessons learned by the ammonia and syngas industries across the globe from past experiences.

Abstract

The AIChE organisation has played an important role in providing a platform which has no doubt improved the safety of our plants, and saved lives and expense. The symposium also prevented many similar incidents from ever happening due to people being aware of what has happened elsewhere. The first AIChE Safety in Ammonia Plants and Related Facilities Symposium was held in 1956. At that time, the symposium was called Safety in Air and Ammonia Plants. This year, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Symposium, which has become the premier forum for sharing experiences in the nitrogen fertiliser and syngas chemicals industry.

Through the papers presented at these symposia we have been able to make our industry safer and more efficient. Knowledge of the bad experiences has helped others to avoid them. Knowledge of the positive experiences and design improvements has contributed to a more efficient industry. In the 50 years of the symposium, as the global ammonia industry has grown tenfold from 14m t/a to 140m t/a, there have been more than 1200 papers presented. The titles alone of many of the papers reflect the advances in the technology used in our industry. Others reflect lessons learned the hard way through accidents and near misses. In this paper, we will review what we consider to be some of the most important developments and lessons learned from the past.

Add to basket