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Still a competitive product

Summary

In recent years, bulk blending has challenged granular compound NPKs as a primary source of multinutrient fertilizers in many regions around the world. Can new technology still make granulation an economical option for NPK production?

Abstract

The unique selling point of complex fertilizers is “All the nutrients in one granule.” Compound NPK fertilizers enjoy a long pedigree that can be traced back to the earliest days of synthetic ammonia production in Germany in the early decades of the 20th century. One ­pio­neering multinutrient product was launched in 1926, when BASF commenced production of Nitrophoska NP and NPK at its Lud­wigshafen site. Other Western Europe companies followed suit from the 1930s, and a significant take-off in regional capacity oc­curred between 1965 and 1975, when West­ern Europe’s production capacity of NPK fertilizers rose from 1.9 million t/a N to 4.0 million t/a N. (Global Trade of NPK Com­pounds, Joachim Felker, fertiva GmbH. Paper presented at IFA Production and International Trade Conference, Quebec City, October 2002.) By the mid-1970s, compound fertilizers in Western Europe had achieved a share of around 30-35% of all nitrogen used for fertilisation.

In North America, however, multinutrient fertilisation took a different route, especially from the 1950s, as bulk blending became the predominant source of NPKs. This was primarily a consequence of the unique logistics within the United States, where large-scale fertilizer plants were located many hundreds of miles from their markets. Blending gained momentum in the 1960s and 1970s, especially in the wake of the many advances in the technologies used to produce ammonia and urea. Blended fertilizers tailored to individual customers’ requirements came to be seen as a much more economical alternative to compound NPKs, and this enabled blended NPKs also to gain considerable ground in Western Europe – the traditional heartland of compound fertilizers – in the past two decades.

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The compaction alternative

Summary

The compaction alternative The French company, Sahut-Conreur SA, has developed a technology that involves granulation by compaction, which eliminates many of the shortfalls in the traditional granulation process, as well as offering enhanced product quality, improved economics and greater energy efficiency. The French company, Sahut-Conreur SA, has developed a technology that involves granulation by compaction, which eliminates many of the shortfalls in the traditional granulation process, as well as offering enhanced product quality, improved economics and greater energy efficiency.

Abstract

The compaction process is basically a dry granulation process, in which fine particles of fertilizer raw material are subjected to sufficiently high pressure to squeeze them together and bring their surfaces close enough for short-range intermolecular and electrostatic forces to cause cohesion.

The traditional steam granulation method used in the production of complex NPK fertilizers has certain drawbacks, being relatively expensive to install: the process requires a granulator, a dryer and a cooler, all of which have major energy inputs. This method also lacks the flexibility when compared with the alternative of bulk blending, as changing the NPK formulations entails stopping the plant to reset many of the process parameters. Manufacturers of compound NPK fertilizers therefore have to restrict their product range to several standard grades. Farmers increasingly demand batches of custom-formulated fertilizers, but are reluctant to pay the premium that a steam granulation fertilizer plant would charge for a small production run.

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Packing a punch at Clearwater

Summary

The Central Florida Section of AIChE met in June for the 30th year in Clearwater to examine current issues in sulphuric and phosphoric acid operations and technology. As ever, it was an excellent forum.

Abstract

Two half-day sessions on Florida’s Sunshine Coast sound an attractive proposition and an undemanding schedule, but the annual AIChE Central Florida meeting at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort at Clearwater Beach offers participants one of the best opportunities in the annual fertilizer industry calendar to exchange news and views on the latest developments in industry technology, conducted in the most relaxed of surroundings. The scope of this long-standing meeting has been extended to give full coverage to sulphuric acid as well as phosphoric acid and phosphate topics, and the Saturday morning sessions are now supplemented by workshop sessions on the afternoon of the preceding day.

The AIChE Clearwater meeting regularly attracts around 250-300 delegates, including strong participation from the contracting and equipment sectors. This year’s meeting, held on 9 and 10 June, was the 30th in the series. The conference began with two concurrent sessions. One involved a presentation by the Central Florida Sec­tion of AIChE on the Rules and Laws Section for the Florida PE Continuing Education Requirement, while the other session was the 9th Annual Sulphuric Acid Workshop. This was a characteristically lively session, chaired by Rick Davis and Jim Dougherty. Rick heads Davis & Associ­ates Consulting of Lakeland, Florida, while Jim is with Mosaic Co.

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A higher profile, but deficiencies prevail

Summary

The prognosis in global terms is not a good one: the micronutrients which are vital to plant and human health are being removed more quickly than they are being replenished. What can be done to reverse this tide?

Abstract

Although awareness of the importance of micronutrients for plant, animal and human health has spread considerably around the world in the past few years, deficiencies remain all too prevalent. There are eight principal micronutrients that are essential to plant growth and health: manganese (Mn), boron (B), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), chlorine (Cl), cobalt (Co), molybdenum (Mo) and zinc (Zn). Although they are only present in very small quantities, they are all necessary. They occur in crops all over the world, but certain species or varieties are more sensitive to deficiencies than others, and this is proving a potentially limiting factor in making further gains in global food security. Thus, maize can be highly sensitive to Zn deficiency, sunflowers to B, and wheat to Cu. Table 1 shows the susceptibility of certain major food crops to six key micronutrient deficiencies.

Even crops with a relatively low susceptibility to a particular micronutrient can become deficient when its available concentration is very low. (New Ag Inter­national, June 2006, p56.) Thus, in the Middle East, there is widespread Zn deficiency in wheat, even though this crop is considered to be relatively tolerant to Zn deficiency.

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Excellence in safety means excellence

Summary

The international fertilizer industry has worked hard to set up a series of Best Management Practices, but there can be no room for complacency, and at the heart of safe ­working practices must be a fundamental culture of safety throughout the organisation.

Abstract

In the past two decades, the environmental, health and safety sector has undergone a fundamental transformation. It has been said that the most significant change has been one of ideas and culture, whereby previous haphazard attempts to follow good practices have been drawn together to form a core strategy within the entire fertilizer industry’s collective culture. Above all, there is the recognition that Safety Excellence defines Business Excellence: the belief has taken root that an excellent health and safety culture is a prerequisite for success in the competitive global market. (Workplace Safety Management at GPIC: A Case Study Approach. Paper presented by Fadhel Al-Ansari, GPIC, Bahrain, IFA Technical Symposium, Vilnius, April 2006.)

Twenty years ago, Mr. Al-Ansari noted, many companies viewed employee safety and environmental concerns as just another expense that detracted from profits. Today, companies view safety as an investment that enhances profits, and a fundamental commitment to safety draws together all employed in an organisation to work to the common good.

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Getting more than 100% from the plant

Summary

There are many opportunities to increase the efficiencies of processing potash ores and brines. The latest developments are described.

Abstract

According to IFA, global potash capacity is forecast to increase from 64.3 million tonnes of KCl equivalent in 2005 to 71.3 million tonnes in 2010. This additional 7.0 million t/a of new capacity will come primarily from expansions among the established producers in North America, Russia, China and Middle East, along with new tonnage in Asia and potentially in Argentina. These expansions are not expected to have any major effect on overall potash market equilibrium, and IFA estimates that the global supply/demand balance for the period from 2006 to 2010 will show a slowly declining surplus from 6.1 million tonnes K2O in 2006 to 5.2 million tonnes K2O in 2010. Thus, during the next four years, the new capacity is expected to be absorbed by the growth in demand, which is forecast to rise from 27.1 million tonnes K2O in 2006 to 35.2 million tonnes K2O by 2010 – an average annual growth rate of 3.1 %.

In the past two years, a number of potash manufacturers have announced projected expansions of their manufacturing capacities, mainly by opening bottlenecks or expanding existing facilities. Average potash operating rates rose to 85 % of capacity in 2005, the highest level for the past ten years. The possibility of new capacity from greenfield mines is seen as relatively remote before 2009. Table 1 shows the geographic distribution of these expansion projects.

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Bulk blending's ­segregation challenge

Summary

The bulk blending of multinutrient fertilizers becomes ever more sophisticated, tackling issues such as segregation and caking of ingredients. The issue of segregation is addressed here.

Abstract

It is a given that good blending starts with good raw materials, and the quality of the finished blended product is critically dependent on the quality of the inputs. (Introduction to Guidelines for the Production and Handling of Blended Ferti­lisers, S. Pockelé and O. Miserque, Pro­ceedings No. 558, International Fertiliser Society, April 2005.) Two particular aspects of raw material specification must be considered: chemical properties and physical properties.

The nutrient content of each raw material used must be known in order to prepare formulations for the different NPKs required. Not all raw materials can be blended together. For example, urea and AN are incompatible, while TSP is compatible with AN but has only limited compatibility with urea. Problems can arise from the different water content of each ingredient, with the result that mixtures may become sticky and caked.

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