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Romania's nitrogen and methanol industries

Summary

With one of the largest fertilizer and methanol industries in eastern Europe, Romania has had to adapt to the changing circumstances produced by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. That process is however still not complete.

Abstract

Romania is the only major natural gas producer in eastern Europe, which has helped to insulate its fertilizer and methanol industries from some of the problems elsewhere following the fall of communism. However, ageing plants with poor efficiency and environmental records and the process of market liberalisation and privatisation have been a problem in Romania, as elsewhere. Romania is now beginning to emerge from the liberalisation process and the chemical companies are beginning to see the fruits of investment in modernisation. However, with gas prices continuing to rise and EU membership potentially only two years away, the future remains uncertain for Romania’s chemical industry.

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Making hay while the sun shines

Summary

At the World Methanol Conference in Barcelona last December, the current run of high prices was overshadowed by looming industry overcapacity.

Abstract

Last December the 22nd World Methanol Conference and Exhibition was held at the Hilton Barcelona in Spain. This has been another good year for the methanol industry, with prices continuing to remain high and demand strong, but now that the first of several huge methanol plants have begun to come on-stream, methanol inventories have been replenished, and with MTBE in terminal decline in the US, the medium-term prospects are not encouraging for higher-cost producers. Nevertheless, owing to the reduction in costs that the new mega-plants look set to generate, the longer-term prospects for methanol, with outlets such as MTO, DME and possible fuel use, meant that there was still optimism at the conference, if not among North American producers.

CMAI’s John Bonarius began the conference 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 30% chance to a scenario where the world enters a recession during 2005-6.

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A balancing act

Summary

Matching the grade of energy recovered in some stages to the heating and power requirements of others is crucial to the overall economics of the ammonia plant

Abstract

In the early days, owing mainly to technological limitations on the size of pressure vessels and mach­inery, large ammonia plants com­prised multiple parallel streams. Each stage in the process was run virtually as a separate factory, with its own plant manager. His brief was simply to process gas received from the preceding stage to meet a set speci­fication and send it on to the next stage. There was little or no co-ordination between the various pro­cess units in respect of energy management. Indeed, on account of the cumbersome and inefficient producer gas / water gas system for generating the raw synthesis gas from coke, there was little possibility of recovering large amounts of high-grade energy. Overall energy con­sum­ption per tonne of ammonia was prodigious. The Haber-Bosch ammonia complex at BASF’s Ludwigshafen works in the 1940s had a consumption of about 88 GJ/tonne of ammonia!1

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Down to the wire

Summary

The surface characteristics and the geometry of the platinum-rhodium wire are all important in determining the selectivity and durability of the ammonia oxidation catalyst gauze.

Abstract

Right from the start, the process for producing nitric acid from ammonia has used platinum as the ammonia oxidation catalyst. Although the catalytic effect of platinum on the oxidation of ammonia was first discovered by Kuhlmann in 1839, the real father of the process, after whom it is named, was Wilhelm Ostwald, professor of chemistry at the University of Leipzig from 1886 to 1906, whose pioneering work on catalysis and investigations into the fundamentals of chemical reaction rates and equilibria earned him the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1909. That Ostwald understood the fundamentals of the process and the attributes of the catalyst needed to promote the formation of nitric oxide (NO) in preference to side reactions is evident from his patent applications:

  1. Besides the oxidation of the ammonia to form nitric acid or higher oxides of nitrogen another reaction usually takes place which leads to the formation of free nitrogen. In order therefore to attain a technically useful process the operation must be so conducted that the first reaction is thorough and practically complete, whilst the second should be as small as possible.
  2. A further condition is that the products of the reaction should be exposed for as short a time as possible to the reaction as otherwise rapid decomposition of said products would result. For this reason I employ catalysators (sic) as short as possible and cause the gases to pass over them at a high velocity. I have found it advisable to so arrange the length of the catalysators and the velocity of the gases in such a manner that the contact of the latter with the former should not exceed 1/100th of a second.
  3. In the catalytic oxidation of ammonia to oxides of nitrogen, which occurs in a very short time, the catalytic device must have two properties. In the first place it must oppose the smallest possible resistance to the passage of the gases; in the second place it must be such that the gases become thoroughly mixed and that all parts of the gaseous mixture to be subjected to catalysis come in contact with the solid catalytic agent.

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