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Sulphur supply – from deficit to global glut?

Summary

Sulphur is an essential raw material for phosphate fertilizer production and a key manufacturing cost. A supply increase of over a fifth by 2019 looks set to push the market into surplus, driven in large part by the arrival of long-awaited Middle East sour gas projects. We discuss the implications of these developments with analyst Meena Chauhan of Integer Research.

Abstract

Global production of elemental sulphur grew by 1.7% to 55.6 million tonnes in 2014. Almost half of this volume (27.4 million tonnes) was derived from oil refining, with sour gas recovery (24.9 million tonnes) and sourcing from oil sands (2.3 million tonnes) accounting for much of the remainder. Looking ahead, IFA is currently predicting a 27% increase in production over the next five years to 70.8 million tonnes by 20191. If correct, this will alter the current supply/demand balance and see the global sulphur market finally move into a long-heralded surplus. Shifts in pricing and new market dynamics are likely to accompany this sea change, as the pattern of consumption and production changes in key countries and regions2.

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Ammonia production on a lower carbon path

Summary

The widespread adoption of the best available technology (BAT) by ammonia producers globally provides scope for cutting the industry's carbon emissions by a quarter. Action by China's giant, energy-intensive ammonia sector will be particularly critical. Take-up of cost-effective energy efficiency measures there could potentially cut CO2 emissions by 27 million t/a, more than the total emissions of European ammonia producers.

Abstract

The fertilizer industry is responsible for around 1.2% of world energy consumption and about the same percentage share of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Ammonia production, as a major segment of the chemicals industry globally, has come under close scrutiny, particularly because it consumes more than 90% of the overall energy used in fertilizer manufacturing – with a correspondingly high carbon footprint1. The debate over the climate impacts of fertilizer production is likely to intensify during the reminder of this year, particularly in Europe. The issue is rising up the agenda thanks to reforms to Europe’s ‘cap and trade’ system, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), tabled by the European Commission over the summer. Efforts to reach a legally-binding global agreement on climate change will also reach a moment of decision at the COP21/CMP11 conference in Paris in December.

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Introducing a new multi-nutrient fertilizer

Summary

ICL Fertilizers is offering new granular and powdered polyhalite products under the trademark Polysulphate. Mined in the UK by its subsidiary Cleveland Potash, Patricia Imas, ICL's chief agronomist, outlines Polysulphate's many applications and agronomic benefits.

Abstract

Polysulphate is a natural, multi-nutrient fertilizer sourced from the mineral polyhalite. Its unique combination of four nutrients, sulphur, magnesium, potassium and calcium, makes it a particularly unusual product. Importantly, Polysulphate’s solubility means that all these nutrients are readily available for plant uptake. The new product is mined by ICL subsidiary, Cleveland Potash, at its North Yorkshire Boulby mine in the UK, where it is extracted from a polyhalite layer deep below the North Sea at a depth of more than 1,000 m. This polyhalite layer is found around 150-170 m below Boulby mine’s main potash seam and was originally formed 260 million years ago. The first polyhalite samples were brought to the surface by Cleveland Potash in September 2010.

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A disruptive influence

Summary

Sirius Minerals is developing the world's thickest and highest-grade polyhalite deposit near Whitby in northern England as part of its flagship York Potash Project. The ambition is to produce 10 million t/a of polyhalite, either as a direct application fertilizer or as a source of potassium in a NPK blend. The firm's CEO, Chris Fraser, and marketing head, J.T. Starzecki, update us on the project's progress in an exclusive interview.

Abstract

With its plan to sell an unprecedented large volume of polyhalite into the fertilizer market, Sirius Minerals has some very bold ambitions for the York Potash project, as J.T. Starzecki, director of marketing and sales makes clear: “What we’ve set out to do is really a game changer. This space has been very traditional – traditional players, traditional ways of doing business. We have come in as a bit of market disruptor, both by the size and the magnitude of what we’re implementing, and just the fact that it’s a new product.”

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Africa: the emerging potash continent

Summary

Two very different African countries, the Republic of Congo and Ethiopia, are fast becoming greenfield potash hotspots. We weigh up the prospects for six front-running African potash mining projects.

Abstract

Promising African entrants to the potash market could eventually produce over eight million tonnes of potash annually, more than 10% of current global supply. Below, we review the progress of six of Africa’s leading greenfield potash projects. All of these projects are at an advanced stage. Four of the contenders have released definitive feasibility studies with the other two expected to follow suit within the next three to nine months. Ambitiously, many hope to be in a position to begin construction next year and start producing potash as early as 2018. Finding partners prepared to invest in and finance these projects remains a common hurdle though.

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Clearwater's granulation masterclass

Summary

This year's 39th Annual Clearwater Convention held by AIChE on Florida's Gulf coast on 5-6 June, featured a granulation technology workshop. This well-attended, thought-provoking and occasionally humorous session proved to be a convention highlight.

Abstract

For four decades now, industry engineers have gathered at Florida’s ­idyllic Clearwater Beach for the AIChE’s two-day annual convention on sulphuric acid, phosphoric acid and phosphate fertilizer production. The convention, which always runs on a Friday and Saturday, is renowned for its relaxed atmosphere and ability to combine business with friendship, food and family. Neil Greenwood chaired the newly-introduced granulation technology workshop on Friday afternoon. The slightly tongue-in-cheek programme promised a panel of four industry experts “who will draw on their vast knowledge and experience to amaze and impress the audience with their expertise”. To their credit, the panel managed to surpass expectations by delivering a masterclass on granulation over the course of a single afternoon.

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Potash from brine: the major playas

Summary

Last year, over ten million tonnes of potash was produced by harvesting brines using solar evaporation. The limited scope for potash ore mining makes potassium-enriched brines a particularly important source of potash in China. We profile major brine processing operators around the world, and look at the merits and demerits of this production route.

Abstract

As well as occurring as solid ore, commercially-recoverable quantities of potash are also found across the globe dissolved and enriched in lake brines. These brines may have a potassium chloride concentration of just one or two parts per hundred, but can pool in vast volumes at or near the surface, given suitable geological and climatic conditions. Brines of commercial significance have a particular association with closed drainage systems and the extensive salt flats that occur in arid continental interiors.

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The elemental value of phosphorus

Summary

China, Japan, North America and Europe provide large markets for elemental phosphorus (P4) and its derivatives. High-value speciality chemicals such as glyphosate, lithium-ion battery electrolytes and flame retardants depend on P4 for their synthesis. Phosphoric acid production in China is also almost exclusively sourced from P4. We explain the complex dynamics governing the global P4 market and look at the industry's value chain and future prospects.

Abstract

The production of elemental phosphorus (P4) exemplifies how the phosphates industry, by diversifying into non-fertilizer markets, can add value and generate higher revenues. Delegates at this year’s SYMPHOS 2015 conference in Marrakech, for example, learnt that phosphate compounds widely-used in lithium-ion batteries have a value of $50/kg (Fertilizer International, 467, p45), roughly 100 times the current market price of phosphate fertilizers.

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