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Feedstock issues in the natural gas industry

Summary

With a few exceptions, such as the growth of coal-derived capacity in China, the nitrogen and methanol industries remain largely dependant upon natural gas as a feedstock. The natural gas market is in the process of a long term seismic change, from a series of small, regional markets where gas-based petrochemicals were a significant factor in gas development, to a global market where power production is beginning to become predominant.

Abstract

Current global demand for natural gas is in the region of 2,400 billion cubic metres per year. By 2025, this is projected to virtually double to nearly 5,000 bcm. As Figure 1 shows, while demand in Europe and North America is likely to show a steady increase, and while demand is now increasing again in Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union after a decline during the 1990s, it is in the developing world, especially Asia, where new demand is at its greatest.

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Nitrogen 2005 conference report

Summary

The Nitrogen 2005 International Conference and Exhibition, organised by British Sulphur Publishing, was held at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Bucharest, Romania, from Sunday 7th February to Tuesday 2nd March 2005

Abstract

The continuing run of high product prices helped to keep the mood upbeat as 250 delegates from the nitrogen and methanol industries of 39 countries met in Bucharest earlier this year. Nevertheless, as last year, the prospect of future industry overcapacity continued to loom large in delegates’ thinking. Conference director and Nitrogen & Methanol publisher John French, opening the conference, commented that the industry had once again seen a profitable year, but also highlighted potential pitfalls ahead, including the problems being created in the global economy by the growing US budget deficit. However, he also noted that all change can bring opportunity, and that the best way of adapting to the challenges ahead was to be well armed with information. This emphasised, he said, the continuing relevance of the Nitrogen conferences.

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Project Gaia: methanol for the developing world

Summary

Bengt Ebbeson of Domestic AB, and Harry Stokes of the Stokes Consulting Group ­present an update on their proposal for methanol as a cheap, portable energy source for the developing world.

Abstract

So often communities in the developing world that host modern oil, gas and petro­chem­ical facilities do not have the opportunity to share in the chemical and energy riches that are ex­tracted, processed and transported to the developed world for sale and consumption. The capability usually does not exist in the host communities to use these resources, and even if that capability did exist, the purchasing power is simply not there. This dilemma has given rise to strained relations between industry and the host community in more than a few instances, and more and more such communities and their governments are clamouring for a share of the resources that are extracted for export. This situation is especially acute in the case of the oil and gas industry and the demand for energy by host communities that are literally energy-starved.

Perhaps the most recent case in point is the story that broke in the news on Tuesday, September 28th, with the pronouncements of a heretofore all but unknown group, the “Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force,” a group with apparent links to the Ijaw people in the Niger Delta, to the effect that all foreign nationals, particularly those working for the oil companies, were to leave the Delta or face retribution. This of course is not a new threat, and is not a threat that comes from political groups of the Ijaw people alone. The majority of the rural people of the Delta may be seen gathering firewood for their cooking fires against the backdrop of flow stations, pipelines and gas flares. They stand in line at fuel shops to purchase poor quality kerosene at al­most $1/litre, up from $0.35/l just 18 months ago, and have long de­manded not only a share of the proceeds from the sale of oil from the national government but also a share of the energy products from oil production as well. When fuel pricing deregulation was enacted in Nigeria in 2003, a much needed reform, strikes and protests swept the country. People could not under­stand why they should pay yet more for their fuel supplies and suffer endemic fuel shortages when they were the fifth leading producer of oil worldwide. In the Delta, the breaching of pipelines to steal re­fined products has been a common occurrence for years, often resulting in horrible accidents, fires and deaths. Never­theless, this practice continues.

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Squeezing out the CO2

Summary

Though it has a vital influence on the efficiency of the whole ammonia plant, there is often considerable room for improvement in the CO2 removal section – and it does not necessarily involve large costs.

Abstract

By the time it is fed into the synthesis loop, ammonia synthesis gas consists essentially of nitrogen and hydrogen in the molar proportion 1 : 3, along with minor amounts of atmospheric noble gases (mainly argon) and methane. As generated in the steam-methane reformer, however, the raw synthesis gas is a mixture of principally hydrogen and carbon monoxide generated by reaction 1, with a minor proportion of carbon dioxide generated by reaction 2.

CH4 + H2O + heat CO + 3H2 (1)

CH4 + 2H2O + heat CO2 + 4H2 (2)

Also present are about 10% unconverted methane and some surplus steam. These two last constituents are present for a purpose. Methane is needed to consume the oxygen introduced into the secondary reforming stage in the process air which provides the nitrogen needed in the final synthesis gas, while steam is consumed in both the secondary reformer and in the succeeding stage, where it participates in the CO shift reaction, which converts the carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide.

CO + H2O CO2 + H2 (3)

The reason for converting carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide is that, although it is technically possible to remove carbon monoxide from synthesis gas by so-called copper liquor washing – as was, in fact, common practice in the early days of ammonia manufacture – for efficient operation that process requires a high pressure, substantially higher than the operating pressure of most modern ammonia synthesis loops. That raises concern about both economics and safety. Carbon dioxide, on the other hand, is much easier to remove from synthesis gas at pressures in the same range as the operating pressure of all the previous steps. That means that the synthesis gas does not have to be compressed until it is introduced into the ammonia synthesis loop, after all the extraneous components have already been removed. Its volume at that point is at a minimum, which saves on compression power.

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