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Issues in the natural gas industry

Summary

With the bulk of ammonia and methanol produced from natural gas, the future of the gas industry has a big impact on product pricing and siting of new plants. The natural gas industry is in a period of structural change. What will the impact be on the ammonia and methanol industries?

Abstract

Natural gas is the energy source with the fastest rising consumption globally. According to the US Energy Information Administration, consumption of natural gas worldwide is projected to increase by an average of 2.8% annually from 2001 to 2025, compared with projected annual growth rates of 1.8% for oil consumption and 1.5% for coal. Natural gas consumption in 2025, at 4.4 tcm, would thus be nearly double the 2001 total of 2.5 tcm.

This is a mixed blessing for gas-based petrochemical industries. On the one hand it ensures a plentiful supply of feedstock for ammonia and methanol production. On the other hand, as gas becomes a more popular fuel choice, so it is no longer available as cheaply as was once the case.

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New granulation process makes its debut in two major urea projects

Summary

Uhde GmbH has won the contracts for two major ammonia/granular urea installations in Egypt. The two identical plants will incorporate the first full-scale embodiment of the new Stamicarbon urea granulation process.

Abstract

Uhde’s relationship with the Egyptian fertilizer industry dates back to the end of the 1970s, when the company designed, engineered and constructed a nitrogen complex (Abu Qir I) comprising a 1,100-t/d ammonia plant and a 1,550-t/d prilled urea plant for Abu Qir Fertilizers Co. (AFC) just outside Alexandria. It was commissioned in 1979 and, thanks to impeccable operation and maintenance as well as its inherently good design and construction, is still running well today.

Gas for Abu Qir I came from what was then thought to be a small gas field a few miles offshore in the Mediterranean Sea, but subsequent exploration showed this resource to be considerably bigger than first thought, making it possible for a second Uhde-built complex, this time comprising 1,000 t/d ammonia, 1,800 t/d nitric acid and 2,300 granular ammonium nitrate, to be added alongside the first plant in 1990. Ammonium nitrate was chosen in preference to urea on that occasion because it gives better results than prilled urea in the sandy, irrigated environment of the increasing areas of reclaimed desert on the western and eastern fringes of the Nile Delta1.

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Taking the heat off

Summary

Some of the process gas coolers in an ammonia plant have to withstand very severe operating conditions. Even the best can have problems.

Abstract

One of the hallmarks of the integrated single-train ammonia process is the heat recovery system, which is designed to recover both combustion waste heat from the reforming furnace and reaction heat from the process gases by raising the plant’s steam requirements and preheating air and feedstock inputs. Much of the art of ammonia process design lies in arranging the heat recovery system to match the grade and quantity of available heat to the energy requirements of the various machines and unit processes in the process flow scheme.

There are various options for certain of those unit processes – for example, between conventional steam reforming, gasification, autothermal reforming or combined reforming and gasification to generate the raw synthesis gas, and between a chemical solvent, physical solvent, cryogenic or pressure swing adsorption (PSA) carbon dioxide removal process. The choice can influence the whole structure and balance of the heat recovery system, to the extent that it may determine where in the process the main source of steam can be located and how much and what grade of steam it produces. That, in turn, can affect the choice of drive type for main machinery.

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The changing face of the US nitrogen and methanol industries

Summary

Natural gas price spikes that cause a significant section of the US nitrogen and methanol industry to shut down now seem to be becoming ever more common. Does this mark the end of the US nitrogen industry as we know it, or will the falling dollar come to the rescue?

Abstract

The US nitrogen and methanol industries have had an interesting couple of years. High natural gas prices have once again turned them into natural gas traders rather than fertilizer producers; PotashCorp say they made $90m out of selling gas hedges in 2003. Meanwhile the falling dollar has served to make them more competitive globally, although not by the kind of margin that can cope with the swings in natural gas prices that have been seen in recent years. So where is the US gas-based petrochemical industry going?

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