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Publication > Issue > Articles

Biodiesel: implications for ­fertilizer ­- onsumption

Summary

In this, the third of his articles reviewing the outlook for biofuels, Ken Gilbert assesses biodiesel. This can be produced from oilseed crops, notably rapeseed and soya. At first sight, the drive to develop biodiesel represents a positive opportunity for ­fertilizer producers, but several pitfalls remain before the product can gain wider acceptance. Also noteworthy are the different routes being taken by Western Europe and the United States over the wider use of biodiesel.

Abstract

The small village of Greussenheim in Bavaria has a combined heat and power (CHP) plant consisting of an adapted diesel engine that runs on cold-pressed rapeseed oil. The plant is 85 % efficient, with heat accounting for 55 % and electric power for 30 % of the available energy. The plant burns 90,000 litres of rapeseed oil (about 82.4 tonnes), the yield from 85 ha of land, and it supplies 30 homes in the village with electricity. It is claimed that this system reduces carbon dioxide emissions by around 1,000 t/a. This is a small example of a growing movement to use renewable, and largely carbon neutral, fuels in place of non-renewable fossil fuels.

In FI 404 (January/February 2005), we reviewed the main factors bearing on the use of fuels derived from plants and we speculated on the possible impact of such fuels on the consumption of fertilizers. In FI 406 (May/June 2005), we focused on a key biofuel, ethanol, which is suitable for use in transportation fuels for spark-ignition engines. In this article, we focus on the history, present status, production technology and future of another specific fuel, biodiesel. This is suitable for use in transportation fuels for compression-ignition (diesel) engines.

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How to prevent ­segregation: ­standardise the ­granulation

Summary

While blended fertilizers have made substantial inroads in markets around the world, they are acknowledged to have one major disadvantage over other forms of multinutrient fertilizers. That is, the tendency for blended product to segregate. This can cause numerous problems in the course of ­production, storage, distribution as well as application, and the crop may ultimately fail to receive a proper balance of nutrients. Recognising this problem, Prof. Dr. Hermann J. Heege, of the University of Kiel, Germany, and President of the European Blenders Association (EBA), proposes a radical ­measure: standardise the granule size distribution. The argument is a compelling one...

Abstract

The blending of raw materials is an economically competitive method for the production of multinutrient fertilizers. Compared with the manufacture of complex fertilizers, blending allows the required nutrients to be shipped on shorter routes to the farming areas. Furthermore, blending provides for a high flexibility in nutrient ratios – a prerequisite for fertilising by prescription. But concerns remain over the quality of blended fer­tilizers. In particular, can segregation be prevented?

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A look at the basic principles

Summary

The search for greater efficiency not only requires continuing investment in production facilities, but also in handling, storage and distribution. Record freight rates for dry bulk vessels now provide a further spur to invest in the distribution chain.

Abstract

In order to maximise economies of scale, fertilizer producers and distributors endeavour to handle both finished product and raw materials in bulk throughout the manufacturing and distribution chain, right up to the point of final delivery to the end-user. In order to meet the specific needs of the fertilizer industry, specialised technology has been developed to facilitate the ease of handling, while ensuring that the product quality is in no way diminished, and safety and environmental criteria are met in full measure.

The handling of fertilizers and associated raw materials in bulk is characterised by continuous-flow operations, involving materials in aggregate form. The fertilizer materials can assume flow characteristics com­parable with those of fluids. (Pneumatic Con­veying & Bulk Solids Handling Resources, Ehsan Ghafoorian. Website: www.geocities.com/ehsan_ghafoorian) Elements of a typical fertilizer bulk handling system are:

  • Bins, silos and hoppers for storing the material
  • Discharge devices and feeders
  • Conveyors
  • Shiploaders and unloaders
  • Other flow-aid devices, as required.

 

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Converting promise into results

Summary

There are many agronomic arguments that favour the development of controlled-release and stabilised fertilizers (CRFs), but their use has for the most part remained confined to speciality areas. Nevertheless, progress continues in devising fertilizers that can offer an improved nutrient use efficiency (NUE), and CRFs remain the best hope in this respect. The growing commercialisation of urease inhibitors in particular provide a new route to more cost-effective CRFs.

Abstract

With the exception of rice cultivation in Japan (see Box), the use of controlled-release fertilizers (CRFs) globally would at first sight appear to have reached an impasse. The total amount of 562,000 tonnes of CRFs used worldwide in 2001 represented only 0.15 % of the world’s total mineral fertilizer consumption. (Controlled-Rel­ease and Stabilised Fertilizers in Agri­culture, Dr. Martin E. Trenkel, IFA [2001].) Trenkel observed that CRFs have significantly higher production and distribution costs compared with conventional fertilizers, and this has limited their use to high value crops, specific cultivation systems and such non-agricultural sectors as professional horticulture, nurseries and golf courses. He noted that with no technical breakthrough in sight that would bring down these costs, CRFs would be unlikely to gain more widespread use on low-value agricultural crops or make much impact on world food production in the foreseeable future.

By contrast, nitrification and urease inhibitors are used almost exclusively on agricultural crops, and by improving the efficiency of N use, their application has resulted in higher and more consistent yields of agricultural crops, or reduced N application rates. The amount of N applied can be reduced by 15-20 % without reducing the yield level. Since Trenkel assessed the overall CRF market, this sector has posted some significant advances. By 2003, SRI had estimated that total consumption of CRFs in the United States, Western Europe and Japan amounted to 625,000 tonnes – an increase of 10 % on Trenkel’s estimates of a couple of years before.

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EU gives Bulgaria the green light

Summary

Bulgaria is set to join the European Union (EU) in January 2007. The country's agriculture and ­associated fertilizer industry have undergone over a decade of tribulations since the demise of ­communism in 1989, but there are heartening signs that a progressive and modern industry is ready to meet the challenges of EU entry.

Abstract

On 24 April 2005, the European Union (EU) signed an accession treaty with Bulgaria and Ro­mania, paving the way for the second phase of enlargement to embrace the former communist countries of Eastern Europe. The two Balkan states will join the EU on 1 January 2007, but they each face a tough remit meanwhile, as entry is conditional on their implementation of further reforms to root out corruption and inefficiency, strengthen judicial and administrative systems and revise their rules on state aid to industry. If they do not, the membership of Bulgaria and Romania could be put back to 2008.

The welcome that Bulgaria and Ro­mania will receive from existing EU members, especially the founder members of Western Europe, will thus be a guarded one as the two countries will become locked into the EU’s zone of prosperity and they become recipients of billions of Euros in aid to repair delapidated infrastructures, modernise outmoded industries and clean up the environment.

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Chiyoda keeps a place in the sun

Summary

Japan's Chiyoda Corporation has faced major challenges in enhancing its profitability in the highly competitive market for process technology and international engineering contracts. David Hayes visited the company's head office in Yokohama to find out more.

Abstract

Since the mid-1990s, most licensed process technology companies and international engineering contractors serving the fertilizer industry have been forced to undertake cost-cutting exercises to improve their global competitiveness. Although the large size of ammonia/urea plants has meant that fewer companies are capable of constructing the latest plants with trains of 3,000 t/d or more, those firms still competing in the business need to be selective in their choice of markets to avoid potential project finance problems that may affect other segments of their global business activities.

Japanese engineering and licensed process technology companies competing in the international plant construction market are saddled with high domestic costs, so developing new business strategies is of major importance – especially in the wake of an overall decline in domestic business opportunities over the past decade. Japan’s big three players – Chiyoda Corpo­ration, Toyo Engineering and JGC Corpo­ration – all appear to have adopted a more added-value approach when competing overseas, emphasising their broad experience to clients and being willing to form joint ventures with other companies, if needed, to win contracts in markets where each partner can offer complementary strengths.

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Adding value to the waste

Summary

At the recent Phosphates 2005 Conference in Paris, John Sinden of J S Ltda. addressed the important issue regarding the potential use of some of the waste by-products from phosphate production. We have pleasure in publishing his paper in full.

Abstract

As energy costs have increased and environmental legislation has become stricter, the production of elemental phosphorus in the majority of world markets has been reduced to the minimum necessary for the production of a limited number of chemicals which cannot be produced from phosphoric acid. These include but are not limited to: PCl3, POCl3, PCl5 and P2S5. The major markets and use for these products are the preparation of organo-phosphorus compounds, which are the active ingredient of many herbicides and pesticides. The most important of them are the glyphosates used in no-till agriculture.

The only country which still produces elemental P for the production of conventional value-added phosphates is China. This is also set to change as energy costs rise. The major problem apart from the environmental aspects of the production of elemental P is the cost, principally in terms of energy. In a modern plant in the United States, the production of one tonne of yellow elemental P requires 16 MWh of electrical energy or its equivalent.

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