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Publication > Issue > Articles

Are biofuels really an economical ­alternative?

Summary

As escalating crude oil prices give a further boost to the search for alternative fuels, a recent paper by David Pimentel and Tad W. Patzek provides a thought-provoking counterblast. Industry analyst Ken Gilbert assesses the authors' arguments.

Abstract

The subject of biofuels is one of the hottest topics in technology. Biofuels impact on agriculture, land usage, chemistry, energy economics and the environment. The main driver of the interest is the last named. In particular, a deep concern about global warming and its predicted effects is behind an unbridled enthusiasm for anything that appears to hold out a hope of salvation. Salvation might be an appropriate word in these circumstances as many of the protagonists of biofuels have a simple but deeply held faith in their ideas. Anyone suggesting that the economics of biofuels production is questionable is likely to be treated in the same way as those who question that mankind is entirely responsible for global warming. Open-minded scientists should welcome debate on the value of biofuels, and both sides should be encouraged to argue their corners with vigour and scientific honesty.

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Narrowing the perceived quality gap

Summary

Blending has become well established throughout Europe, having in many respects diverged well away from the US prototype. By meeting important ­criteria in the use and handling of ­ingredients, the perceived gap in ­quality between blends and granular NPKs is also being bridged.

Abstract

The relative advantages the two distinct types of compound fertilizers have been regularly reviewed in the pages of Fertilizer International. Complex fertilizers containing at least two of the nutrients N, P or K are generally produced by chemical reaction, offering the advantage of having each of the compound nutrients in every granule. The granules of these fertilizers are of a uniform size range and have a defined composition. They consequently avoid the risk present with blended fertilizers, which are prone to segregation.

Blended fertilizers are produced by the dry mixing of granules or particles of two or more intermediate fertilizer materials. In good-quality blends, the component particles are precisely matched in respect of size and other physical characteristics. If the components are not correctly matched, they can segregate during handling, transport and spreading. This can result in uneven distribution on the field. (Commercial and Technical Aspects in the Production of Compound Fertilizers and Bulk Blends, K. Clasen, K+S Asia Pacific Pte. Ltd. Paper presented at IFA Regional Conference for Asia and the Pacific, Auckland, New Zealand, December 2004.)

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Keeping the ship steady

Summary

Fertilizer consumption in France totalled 10.6 million tonnes during the 2004/05 fertilizer year – a third successive year of stability. This total masks some fundamental changes that are under way in the sector, which provide some challenging opportunities, as described here.

Abstract

The French fertilizer industry generated revenues of around m1.7 billion in 2004, supplying approximately 10.6 million tonnes of fertilizers in all forms. This was on a par with the previous year, helped by favourable weather conditions, which allowed exceptional outputs of winter cereals and oilseeds (wheat, barley and rapeseed). In 2004, cereal output was up by 27% over the previous year and 11% higher than the average of the previous five years. The rapeseed output was 14% higher than the average of the previous five years. (Table 1)

The first indications are that 2005 has not matched the results achieved in the previous year. The wheat harvest in the Vendée region of western France is some 5-10% down on 2004, while barley output may be down by a similar percentage. Output is sharply down for certain vegetable crops, notably peas (a shortfall of between 30-50%), but oilseed crops have enjoyed a significant boost, helped in the case of rapeseed by increased demand for the production of biofuels. French farmers are committing further acreage to the production of oilseed rape, and more processing plants are coming on stream as France, in common with other EU countries, seeks to reduce its dependence on crude oil and other fossil fuels. Much of the increase in biofuel crop production has been authorised on mandatory set-aside areas, and industrial development of biofuel production is planned for the years to come.

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The Indian scenario

Summary

The scenario for India's industrial phosphates sector is one of rapid change and growth. This review by N. K. Uppal, National Head – Key Accounts & Exports, Tata Chemicals Ltd., is based on his presentation at the Phosphates 2005 Conference.

Abstract

The breakdown of global demand for industrial phosphates is shown in Fig.1. While it would be valid for many developed and developing countries, the situation in India is different, mainly as a result of the following factors:

  • Consumption of speciality phosphates is directly linked to the level of GDP growth, per capital income and urbanisation of a particular economy. As India is a developing economy, these indicators are at present on the lower side. However, as the Indian economy grows by about 7 %/year, these factors will undergo change at a much faster pace, and the demand for speciality phosphates is likely to grow at a much faster rate in the near future.
  • India is predominantly an agrarian economy with a large rural population. Therefore the consumption of phosphates for applications such as bakery products, other food applications and applications such as fire retardants, etc. is rather low.

The bulk of industrial phosphate de­mand in India is thus accounted by non-ferti­lizer agricultural and detergent applications. To understand the Indian market, we can segment the same into the following categories:

  • Detergent applications
  • Pesticides and agrochemicals
  • Miscellaneous applications, including food, water treatment, motor vehicles, etc.

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Happy birthday, ERCOSPLAN

Summary

The ERCOSPLAN Group of companies celebrated its 50th birthday in some style in its home cityof Erfurt, Germany. As well as being a renowned university city, Erfurt is close to Germany's potash heartland – the field in which ERCOSPLAN and its predecessors gained a core expertise as a mining consulting and engineering group. As described here, the celebrations attracted participants from far afield.

Abstract

The university city of Erfurt is the capital of Thuringia – the Green Heart of Germany, and a region famed for thinkers and poets down the centuries. It is also the headquarters of the ERCOSPLAN Group of companies, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in some style of 9 September 2005 in an Honour Symposium that was attended by 120 guests from nine countries.

Thuringia and the adjacent states of Hesse and Saxony-Anhalt have access to a wide range of mineral ores and salts, and the region became a centre of mining in Germany in medieval times. At one time, the number of mines exceeded 3,000. Only a handful remain today, but they are of world-ranking significance, as they comprise the network of potash mines and processing plants operated by K+S Kali GmbH (K+S).

Potash is at the heart of the ERCOSPLAN business portfolio. As the successor to the former Kali-Ingenieurbüro Erfurt, ERCOSPLAN is a specialist consulting and engineering group whose core activities include project management in all aspects of the extraction and processing of industrial potash and mineral salts. ERCOSPLAN enjoys unique expertise in the following fields:

  • Exploration and evaluation of mineral salts and natural brine deposits.
  • Conventional and solution mining of mineral salt deposits and natural brines.
  • Processing of mineral salts and natural brines.
  • Environmental sustainability in modern mines and processing plants.

 

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Which fertilizers are best for oilseeds?

Summary

Oilseed crops offer high returns to growers, but these can only be achieved with a properly balanced nutrition programme, requiring highly specialised fertilizers. The growth potential of these new markets is examined, together with the likely impact on fertilizer demand.

Abstract

Most oil plants are cultivated for the extraction of vegetable oil. Although in principle other parts of plants may yield vegetable oil, in practice, seeds form the almost exclusive source. Vegetable oils are used as cooking oils and for industrial uses. Some types, such as rapeseed oil, cottonseed oil and castor oil, are not fit for human consumption without further processing.

Like all fats, vegetable oils are esters of glycerine and a varying blend of fatty acids, and are insoluble in water but soluble in organic solvents. Some common sources of vegetable oil include:

  • Cashew
  • Castor bean/castor oil
  • Flax seed/linseed oil
  • Grape seed/grape seed oil
  • Hemp (cannabis)
  • Mustard
  • Poppy seeds/poppyseed oil
  • Rapeseed/canola
  • Sesame seed/sesame oil
  • Sunflower.

Other vegetable oils include corn (maize)/corn oil, cottonseed oil, coconut oil, olive oil, palm oils, peanut oil, and soybeans. Fig. 1 shows the estimated worldwide consumption of major vegetable oils. These figures include industrial and animal feed use.

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