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Publication > Issue > Articles

Hopes are high for a renewed momentum

Summary

Fertilizer consumption in Argentina took off rapidly from the mid-1990s. While the rate of growth in demand has slowed, many positive factors remain, and the country is investing in new production capacity, being furthermore set to join the ranks of potash producers.

Abstract

Argentina is the third most important market for fertilizers in Latin America and between 1999 and 2004, it en­joyed a sustained growth in consumption of 7 %/year. This growth peaked at an astonishing 20 % in 2004, mainly due to a record area being cropped to maize and wheat, when the grain harvest totalled 84 million tonnes, compared with 72 million tonnes in the previous year. (IFA Country Reports, 2004-05, Dr. Ricardo Melgar, INTA.) Argentinean farmers also invested in soya, becoming the world’s third largest exporter of soybeans. Since 1990, Argen­tina’s soybean exports have increased more than threefold. (Fertilizer Use by Crop, FAO, 2004.)

The advance of Argentina’s agricultural sector was seriously checked in 2005, and fertilizer consumption suffered accordingly, falling by between 20-25 % compared with 2004. (Fig. 1) As observed by INTA (Insti­tuto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria), the areas planted to wheat and maize fell sharply, a consequence of weak prices in world markets. These crops have a very high requirement for fertilizers. Many farmers consequently switched their land utilisation to soya, which demands less fertilizer and very little nitrogen. The area sown to wheat fell by 20 %, to 6.2 million ha compared with 7.4 million ha in 2004/05, while the area planted to maize fell by 8.5 % during the year.

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Guaranteeing ­consistent fertilizer quality

Summary

Fertilizers are at risk of caking and water uptake throughout the processes of production, handling and storage. Several specialist companies have devised coatings which can reduce these risks considerably. The factors which cause caking are examined below, as are the options to guarantee the quality of the fertilizer throughout the production and distribution chain.

Abstract

At the most recent technical meeting of the International Fertiliser Society (IFS), a paper was presented, entitled New Developments in Fertiliser Coatings (E. A. Bijpost and J. G. Korver, Holland Novochem B.V. Pro­ceedings No. 584, International Fertiliser Society, 19 October 2006.). This publication has formed the basis for the following article.

Most fertilizers which are handled in bulk are at risk of caking. The principal factors which may cause caking include:

  • Moisture content
  • Chemical composition
  • Moisture uptake
  • Temperature
  • Particle size, size distribution, and the presence of dust and fines
  • Granule hardness
  • Pressure
  • Time
  • Effectiveness of coating agent.

 

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A fading impetus

Summary

The development of India's agricultural sector has reached an impasse, and this has been reflected in the stagnation of the country's fertilizer industry. In scale, it is one of the world's largest, but India's fertilizer producers have been frustrated in recent years by frequent shifts in government policy, which controls selling prices and earnings, as well as by feedstock shortages and pressure from imports of low-priced product. Dr. M. P. Sukumaran Nair, Managing Director of Travancore Cochin Chemicals Ltd., offers several suggestions to revive the fortunes of the Indian fertilizer industry.

Abstract

Globalisation has had a major impact on the Indian fertilizer industry during the past decade. The growth of the industry has been retarded, plant closures (due to increasing feedstock and fuel prices) have reduced the overall size of the industry, while government policies intended to contain fiscal deficits have significantly curtailed the lifeline of subsidies. The costs of all inputs – raw materials, energy and other utilities, service charges – have exceeded expectations, while farm gate prices of fertilizers were kept at a low level under statutory control. Only those producers with access to cheap sources of natural gas feedstock and which can take advantage of economies of scale by operating large capacity plants are able to survive the onslaught of current economic policies.

The liberalised import duty regime and increasing pressure to open up the country’s market to imported agricultural products impose another hurdle in the expansion of the agricultural base and the consequent demand for fertilizers. The malaise of the industry has resulted in increased imports of fertilizers into the country. Domestic fertilizer consumption has increased only marginally and agricultural production has stagnated for over a decade, imperilling food security. Recently, the Government decided to import large quantities of foodgrain and pulses to meet domestic demand.

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A widening spectrum

Summary

In many countries in both the developed and developing world, interest in non-food agriculture is gaining pace. Hopes are high that non-food crops will spur the next great advance in ­agriculture. The definition is a broad one, however.

Abstract

The term non-food crops may be defined as the use of agricultural crops for uses other than human or animal nutrition. The range of crops with non-food uses is very broad, and includes the well-publicised field of biofuels and bioenergy. (Table 1) This review focuses on other, less familiar fields.

The National Non-Food Crops Centre (NNFCC), UK, estimates that the global market for industrial crop-derived materials is around 71 million tonnes and is valued at $ 15 billion. The market is growing fast, spurred on by environmental and consumer considerations, as well as cost drivers. Nor is the recent increase in crops grown for industrial purposes likely to be a short-term, Green Party-endorsed fad, as manufacturing industry has welcomed the benefits that crop-derived raw materials offer, viewing them as more sustainable, non-toxic and biodegradable. However, for such materials to be successful, they must be competitively priced and be available in sufficient quantities to meet market needs, as well as meeting functional specifications.

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Keeping pace with changing P2O5 needs

Summary

"Running fast to stay in the same place" may be the motto of phosphate producers around the world, as they address the need to enhance plants' operating efficiency in the face of some tough economic and environmental odds. Some of the tools at managers' disposal are outlined here.

Abstract

As consummate professionals, managers of phosphate plants throughout the world seek to achieve optimal production levels at or even beyond nameplate capacity, while minimising costs and environmental impacts. In managers’ never-ending quest to achieve operational improvements, the three most pertinent drivers are:

  • The increasing need to harness phosphate rock of lower grades or with higher levels of impurities.
  • Minimise the consumption of costly energy resources.
  • Reduce effluent and emissions and en­hance overall environmental performance.

Phosphate rock must be considered as a non-renewable resource: many mines are becoming completely depleted and many others are showing declining grades. John Sinden, of JSA Ltda. emphasises that it is ever more important to make the most efficient use of vital phosphate rock resources. “This means increasing the sustainability of the phosphate rock,” he said. (The Efficient and Sustainable Use of Phosphates in Fertilizer Production, John Sinden. Paper presented at Phosphates 2006, British Sul­phur Events, Brussels, April 2006.)

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China at the crossroads

Summary

China now accounts for more than one quarter of the world's total production of phosphate fertilizers, and the country's industry at present meets around 90 % of domestic demand, using local rock resources. Some of this capacity is based on imported modern technology, while the remainder uses technologies developed domestically for low and medium quality phosphate rock. However, some potential pitfalls risk halting China's continuing progress in the phosphate fertilizer sector, and these are assessed in this review.

Abstract

China’s production of phosphate fertilizers in 2005 totalled 5.36 million tonnes P2O5, equivalent to 23% of the world total of 22.93 million tonnes. China’s production of DAP, MAP and TSP now meets around 90 % of domestic demand, and on the basis of current capacity expansion and improved operating rates, China is poised to become a net exporter by late 2006. This has been an astonishing transformation, as less than one decade ago China was the world’s leading importer of phosphate fertilizers.

The Chinese phosphate fertilizer industry recorded another year of rapid growth in 2005. Production of DAP, MAP and TSP rose by 1.0 million tonnes P2O5 over 2004, consolidating similar gains posted in 2003, while production of phosphoric acid rose to 6.74 million tonnes P2O5 in 2005, from 5.41 million tonnes P2O5 in 2004 and 4.45 million tonnes P2O5 in 2003. (Table 1)

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Bulkflow builds on innovation

Summary

Bulkflow Technologies, Inc. was only founded in 1999, but in that short period, the company has helped to transform the manufacture of granular fertilizers with its unique heat exchanger process. The company is now turning its expertise to other areas in the production process, promising considerable increases in energy efficiency.

Abstract

Bulkflow Technologies Inc. has an­nounced a new high temperature bulk solids cooling system that marks the latest chapter in the story of this young and dynamic company. The new system offers an innovative tube exchanger that minimises thermal stresses and accommodates thermal expansion, and it can be used to cool bulk solids with temperatures up to 1,000 °C. For these very high temperatures, Bulkflow developed a system that uses horizontal water-cooled tubes as the heat ex­change surface. The bulk powder material flows via gravity over the cooling tubes while it is cooled indirectly. The geometry of the tube is perfectly uniform, providing even temperatures throughout the tube wall to avoid hot spots and high local stresses.

The tubes in this new high temperature model are arranged in a serpentine design connected to manifolds at the top and bottom of each section. The tubes penetrate the front and back of the exchanger, and all welded connections are outside of the product flow. The tubes are not welded to the front and back wall, thereby allowing full movement. A product seal where the tube penetrates the front and back wall prevents product leakage. The front and back wall is typically refractory lined on the inside (product side) to keep the temperature of the walls low, thus minimising thermal expansion.

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