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Publication > Issue > Articles

Fuel of the future?

Summary

The first ever conference devoted solely to dimethyl ether (DME) was held at the Sofitel Porte de Sevres, Paris, from October 12thĖ14th 2004.

Abstract

Dimethyl ether (DME) is a compound that has been garnering increasing interest in recent years. New, lower-cost methanol processes have unlocked the ability to produce DME at considerably lower cost as well, and this has opened up a variety of new applications for the product. At present it is used almost exclusively as an aerosol propellant, and global demand amounts to only 150,000 t/a or so. However, it is a viable substitute for diesel fuel or LPG, and it is the fuel uses which have begun to attract interest. Such is the interest in DME at present that over 120 delegates attended this first conference on the subject, and more than 40 papers were presented. As well as the International DME Association (IDA), which organised the conference, the Japan DME Forum and Korea DME Forum were in attendance, as well as vehicle companies interested in DME technology such as Volvo, oil and gas companies involved in DME development like BP and Total, and engineering and technology companies like Haldor Topsøe, Lurgi and Snamprogetti.

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Keeping it safe and serious

Summary

A recent all-day meeting of the International Fertiliser Society considered safety in nitric acid plant operations, the problem of N2O (laughing gas) emissions and the implications for the industry of legislation and greenhouse gas credit trading.

Abstract

The International Fertiliser Society’s annual one-day meeting on technology and operations took place at the Geological Society in Piccadilly, London, on 21 October. This year it was devoted to nitric acid and mainly to two issues: the perennial one of safety and the contemporary environmental concern of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) emissions.

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Coming of age

Summary

After extensive testing in two commercial revamp projects, Stamicarbon's new fluidised-bed urea granulation process has been selected for three sizeable projects in Egypt.

Abstract

Until the 1970s virtually all commercial plants producing urea for fertiliser use converted the concentrated urea solution into particles by prilling, in which droplets cast into the top of a high empty tower solidified in free fall against an upward draught of cooling air, landing at the bottom of the tower as smooth spherical pellets (prills). That procedure has the merit of simplicity and relatively low cost, but it has a number of disadvantages, too.

The chief drawbacks of prilling concern the product quality. Because of the way in which the urea, which is essentially a crystalline substance, solidifies from the outside of the droplet inwards, the individual prills are not very dense and are susceptible to breaking by impacts during handling and by crushing during storage. Also, the maximum permissible droplet size, and therefore the ultimate particle diameter of the resultant prills, is around 2 mm because droplets above that size tend to become distorted as they fall, giving rise to non-spherical prills. These non-spherical particles are even more susceptible to damage, increasing the dustiness of the product, impairing its handling characteristics and increasing its tendency to caking (consolidation) in storage. But, ideally, fertiliser particles applied to the land by modern mechanical spreading equipment need to be somewhat more massive; the granular particles of phosphates and potash are usually mostly in the size range 2–4 mm.

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Trinidad's mega plants

Summary

Trinidad has become the first place in the world where the new generation of 'mega' methanol plants has been constructed, with not one but two such plants coming on-stream this year or next. Nitrogen & Methanol looks at the backgrounds to the projects and the prospects for the future.

Abstract

Trinidadís methanol industry dates back to 1984, when the government-owned Trinidad and Tobago Methanol Company (TTMC) started up its first plant at Point Lisas. It was the first attempt by the government to monetise its natural gas resources and ease the islandís economy from its dependence upon oil. However, after TTMC1 the emphasis switched to ammonia, with a joint venture with Norsk Hydro, and it was not until 1994 when part of the governmentís holding in TTMC was sold to German companies Ferrostaal and Helm AG to help provide funding that a second methanol plant, TTMC2 was begun. Ferrostaal also owned about one quarter of the Caribbean Methanol Company, which was Trinidadís first private venture methanol plant, starting up in 1993. The remainder of the shareholding was held by local finance company Colonial Life (CL) Financial, owned by local entrepreneur Laurence Duprey, and there was also a 10% stake for global methanol giant Methanex, which also had an agreement to purchase up to 500,000 t/a of the plantís output.

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The market for methanol

Summary

Overcapacity looms in the methanol market as demand remains stagnant while numerous new large-scale plants come on-stream.

Abstract

The methanol market is currently in a period where demand has shrunk slightly due to the US MTBE phase-out, while a massive new tranche of new capacity is coming on-stream. The move to higher plant sizes has made methanol competitive in a variety of new applications, and new end-use technology like dimethyl ether and methanol to olefins is now available. With these various structural changes working their way through the system, which way will the methanol market go?

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