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Publication > Issue > Articles

The impact of biofuels on sulphur demand

Summary

On 16 March, the latest in a series of Webinars organised by jointly by The Sulphur Institute (TSI) and BCInsight Ltd. examined biofuel trends and impacts on fertilizers, fossil fuels and sulphur. Here, Mark Evans summarises the presentation, given by Dr. Chris de Brey of TSI.

Abstract

Between 2000 and 2010, global production of ethanol from biofuel sources rose fivefold, from 5 billion gallons in 2000 to an estimated 25 billion gallons last year. Production is dominated by the Brazil, the United States and members of the European Union, with China and India also now investing in new bio-ethanol capacity. (Table 1)
The rise in biodiesel production during the period has been comparably dramatic, rising from around 1.5 billion gallons in 2005 to some 4.5 billion gallons in 2009. The EU holds the global lead in biodiesel production, supplying approximately 2.5 billion gallons in 2009. Other significant producers are the United States, Argentina, Brazil and India.

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Chile's sulphuric acid industry

Summary

Its position as the leading global copper producer means that Chile is both a major producer and consumer of sulphuric acid. The balance between leaching and smelting is such that the country is the world's largest acid importer, but the pendulum may now be swinging back the other way.

Abstract

Chile has 38% of the world’s copper reserves, and is the world’s largest copper producer, with 5.4 million t/a of production in 2009, representing 34% of global production. Initially, production was highly dependant on smelting of sulphide ores to produce copper concentrates, where the copper is recovered at the anode. However, from the late 1990s Chile has gradually begun to use more and more hydrometallurgical copper production, which extracts the copper via sulphuric acid leaching of oxide ores. Chile has in fact become the world’s leader in copper leaching over the past 15 years, and its solvent extraction and electrowinning (SX/EW) copper cathode production now accounts for 69% of global leaching production, which uses 39% of Chile’s copper mine output.

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China rising

Summary

The defining business story of the 2000s has been the rise of China on the world economy. Even the sulphur market has not been immune to this trend as China, already dominant in the world market as a con­sumer, entered the stage as a large-scale sulphur producer with Sinopec's Puguang Gas Plant. In this article Lan Huanqin of Puguang Gas Purifying Plant, Bai Yan of Sinopec Engineering Incorporation, Bevan Houston and David Savage of Devco USA explore some key decision making factors for a large-scale forming facility, and how Devco II technology (and it's upgrades) were the most optimal solution for Sinopec.

Abstract

Sinopec’s Puguang Gas Plant is located in Tuzhu Township, Xuanhan County, Dazhou City, Sichuan Prov., China and has a daily sulphur forming capacity of 8,650 t/d (4 Devco II units). The choice of technology for this large-scale sulphur production facility was critical, and through a competitive tender process Sinopec chose the Devco II wet forming process. key areas of consideration were operational flexibility, product quality, capital savings and commercial benefits.

Operational flexibility 
In general wet forming units perform very reliably, requiring very little downtime for maintenance. As the majority of the process is controlled by gravity, rather than multiple motors and pumps, there is less maintenance on moving equipment. Typical daily maintenance activities include visual inspection of forming trays and water sumps along with general housekeeping (all of which happen during operation). Yearly maintenance would include a more detailed inspection of rotating equipment, fixed equipment and instrumentation, which is carried out in less than two days at many Devco operations.

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Refiners uneasy about energy policy

Summary

Worries about ethanol blending, competition from overseas and much more were in the air as the US National Petrochemical and Refiners Association (NPRA) came together for its annual meeting in San Antonio in March.

Abstract

Charles T. Drevna, president of NPRA, the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association, said that while he agreed with president Obama that the US needs to safely and responsibly develop and produce oil and natural gas and develop a wide range of energy sources for the future, he was wrong that the best way to achieve these goals was “to impose costly mandates and taxpayer-funded subsidies to pick energy winners and losers. American taxpayers can’t afford to be burdened with billions upon billions of dollars in taxes to subsidize ethanol, electric cars, and other energy ideas that can’t survive in the free market”, he argued.
Guest speaker journalist Robert Bryce was even more emphatic, calling the ethanol fuel subsidy a “scam”. However, as well as the contentious renewable fuel standard, other regulations, such as corporate average fuel economy standards (CAFE) will slowly lower demand for gasoline over the longer term, and the rise of refining capacity in the Middle East and Asia may also impact on US refiners’ profit margins, as Rick Thomas of Baker & O’Brien described in his paper on a “looming Tsunami” of product.

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Next generation granulation

Summary

Since its introduction more than 30 years ago, premium product sulphur has had a major impact on the sulphur industry. SUDIC's premium specification has been the driving force behind much of the research and development over the years to provide new and improved processes and equipment for the forming and handling of sulphur. Les Lang of Brimrock Group discusses the growing importance of premium sulphur and describes the development leading to the new RS-1500™ process – a new generation in sulphur granulation.

Abstract

Alberta producers and equipment designers have led the world in developing and implementing sulphur forming and handling technologies owing to the fact that the primary outlet for Alberta sulphur lies offshore. The annual 5-7 million tonnes exported from Canadian ports made Canada the largest supplier of sea-borne elemental sulphur in the world for many decades. The huge volumes of sulphur, the great distances sulphur must be transported to tidewater, the environmentally sensitive route through the Rocky Mountains and the location of the ports in urban areas created the need for superior products. Much of the research and development associated with reducing the environmental impact of sulphur taking place at Alberta facilities.
The need for superior products was the driving force behind the formation of the Sulphur Development Institute of Canada, (SUDIC) who were tasked with the development of a Premium Product Specification. The premium specification led to the introduction of the Siarkopol’s Polish Air Prill technology, Enersul’s (then Procor) GX™ granulation process and Sandvik’s Rotoform® process – all processes capable of producing a formed product which would meet the new specification.

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The future is sour

Summary

The Middle East is seeing a step change in the pace of sour gas developments, as delegates to the 2011 Sour Oil and Gas Advanced Technology (SOGAT) conference in Abu Dhabi discovered.

Abstract

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Sulphuric acid myths - BUSTED

Summary

An urban myth or legend is a fictional tale that circulates widely, is told and retold with differing details, and is supposedly true. In an industrial setting, myths can come from a number of sources: (1) with limited process information, conjecture can become reality; (2) actual events may be embellished; (3) opinion from a credible source may become reality; (4) news of a bad experience quickly filters through the industry. There are numerous sulphuric acid myths circulating in the industry which have arisen due to a variety of reasons. In order to sort out the fact from the fiction, Sulphur magazine invited industry experts to expel some of the more common sulphuric acid myths. In this article, Bruce Garrett of MECS, a DuPont company, discusses the relevance of vanadium content in sulphuric acid catalysts, the escape of acid mist in acid towers and the merits of the stick test as a diagnostic tool, and Alfred Guenkel of NORAM Engineering & Constructors Ltd discusses a number of myths concerning factors which affect the performance of packing in acid towers.

Abstract

1 Higher vanadium content improves the activity of sulphuric acid catalysts
The active ingredient in sulphuric acid catalyst is V2O5. There is a school of thought that says more is better. But, is that always the case?
To test the theory, MECS carried out tests in an adiabatic integral reactor with multiple thermocouples and gas sampling along the length of the catalyst bed. Two catalyst samples were prepared to see if higher vanadium content improves the activity of sulphuric acid catalyst. The catalysts were identical in composition and made at the same time in the catalyst plant. The vanadium content of Catalysts A and B was 7.2 wt-% V2O5 and 7.8 wt-% respectively. Table 1 provides some of the physical characteristics of the catalyst samples.

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The Sulphur Doctor

Summary

Problem No. 7 Major piping considerations for SRUs. This is the seventh in a series of short articles on the subject of "common problems" with Claus Sulphur Recovery Units (SRUs). In this issue, B. Gene Goar discusses major piping considerations for SRUs, based on his wide and varied experience in the design, operation, trouble-shooting and remedial problem-solving of Claus SRUs.

Abstract

Piping design and layout is one of the most important aspects of the mechanical design of a Claus SRU. The rules for piping design are relatively simple and straightforward:
l make all piping free-draining, and with no low-point pockets;
l keep piping runs as short and direct as possible;
l keep all piping hot, but not too hot;
l steam-jacket all liquid sulphur service block valves and sulphur rundown lines;
l utilise crosses, with drop flanges, at all direction changes in all sulphur rundown lines (no Ls or Ts permitted);
l sulphur rundown lines must be “roddable” from two directions;
l make sulphur rundown lines  adequate in size (to run only partially full);
l slope all liquid sulphur rundown lines ¼" drop per lineal foot to promote draining;
l each sulphur condenser should have its own  sulphur seal pot and look box.

 

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An advantaged element

Summary

The message from TSI's annual meeting in New York this April seemed to be that boom times are ahead for both sulphur demand and supply.

Abstract

The Sulphur Institute’s (TSI) annual meeting in New York in April this year saw the launch of the organisation’s new campaign: Sulphur: An Advantaged Element – see more on that in our regular TSI review elsewhere in this issue. The conference itself began with market round-ups, beginning with an overview of the US and wider global economy by Robert Westcott. The weak US dollar has helped an industrial-led recovery, with consumer spending still low as people pay down housing debt while interest rates are low. He highlighted Latin America, which is now seeing “Asian-style” 4-5% growth rates, and Africa, where high commodity prices have led to 5-6% growth; the best the continent has seen for 40 years. Although the World Bank lent $100 billion to Africa in 2009-10, this was outspent by Chinese investment alone, which totalled $110 billion, illustrating just how entwined China now is with Africa. There is a slowdown in the Chinese economy, but this is not as serious for the world as high oil prices in Mr Westcott’s view. While oil still has a political risk premium, demand has been flat for 5 years, although if prices were to remain above $110/bbl for the long term there would be a serious risk of global recession.

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Let's return to basics

Summary

Don Messick of The Sulphur Institute discusses TSI's new sulphur advocacy campaign and why we should all be proud of element 16.

Abstract

What do your friends say when you tell them you are in the sulphur business? There are no doubt people, even within our industry who would, at first thought, have a less than positive comment to make. But, let’s focus on the incredible value this material has in our day-to-day life.
Sulphur is essential to specific amino acid formation, which in turn have a role in protein development. This is critical, not only to grow crops we rely on for our nourishment, but essential to human health! Look at environments, such as parts of Africa, where plant materials are the primary source of protein, most notably legumes. Here the populous needs the protein to maintain well-being, to have energy… and to be productive. And it doesn’t take large amounts of sulphur to improve the situation where needed. Sulphur is also an important component of vitamins and enzymes, which are vital to life.

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Sulphur forming plant listing

Summary

Sulphur's regular update of recent and scheduled projects worldwide to supply equipment for the manufacture of formed product.

Abstract

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