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Nitrogen 2003 conference report

Summary

The Nitrogen 2003 International Conference and Exhibition, organised by British Sulphur Publishing, was held at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Warsaw, Poland, from Sunday 22nd February to Wednesday 26th February 2003.

Abstract

In spite of the storm of world events circling the fertilizer industry, the mood in Warsaw was surprisingly upbeat. The conference included the launches of two new technologies; one Lurgi and Ammonia Casale’s new MegaAmmonia process, and the other Stamicarbon’s eagerly-awaited granulation technology. A longer treatment of the Mega­Ammonia process is given elsewhere in this issue.

As usual, the conference was fortunate to have attracted generous sponsorship as usual, beginning with a cocktail reception on Sunday, February 22nd, kindly hosted jointly by Synetix and Krupp Uhde, and including a Sud-Chemie sponsored lunch on Tuesday. Conference director and Nitrogen & Methanol publisher John French, opening the conference, commented that while the looming war in Iraq was inevitably the focus of peoples’ concerns, other, longer-term trends were shaping the nitrogen industry and he hoped that the conference would provide a forum for discussion of them.

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The dead zone

Summary

Every summer a large area of the Gulf of Mexico suffers from what is known as 'seasonal hypoxia' as oxygen levels in the water drop. Fertilizers, especially nitrate fertilizers, have been blamed for the condition. Nitrogen & Methanol reports on the state of scientific research and proposals to remedy what has become known as 'the dead zone'.

Abstract

Each summer, a large area of hypoxic or oxygen-depleted water appears in the shallows along the Louisiana shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico. Hypoxia is defined as less than 2 ppm of oxygen in water, as compared to normal oxygen levels in water of 4–6 ppm, and hypoxic waters are effectively uninhabitable to fish, shellfish and other sea creatures, forcing them to seek water with higher oxygen levels or die. The hypoxia begins in late spring, reaches a maximum in mid-summer, and disappears in autumn. After the Mississippi River flood of 1993, the extent of this zone more than doubled, to over 18,000 km2, and it has remained about that size each year through midsummer 1997. The hypoxic zone forms in the middle of the most important commercial and recreational fisheries in the US and could threaten the economy of the region.

Hypoxic conditions were first detected in the Gulf of Mexico during oil drilling in 1978, and have been systematically monitored since 1985. However, there is evidence from sediment layers that hypoxia has been a regularly occurring event for some considerable period of time. Hypoxia is a phenomenon found wherever fresh water from a river flows into salt water. During the summer, the air and water are relatively still, so instead of mixing together the fresh water lays on top of the salt water, forming a seal. This is known as stratification. Nutrients, like nitrogen, carried by the fresh water help spur the growth of plankton and algae. As this organic matter decays and sinks to the bottom, it decomposes, leading to increased availability of organic carbon within the ecosystem, a process known as eutrophication, which uses up oxygen. Oxygen levels in the bottom waters are therefore reduced until weather causes the oxygen-rich surface waters to mix with the oxygen-poor bottom waters.

The next question then is how much of the nutrients carried to sea which result in algal growth are related to fertilizer application and hence nitrogen leaching from the soil. The Missouri-Mississippi River system and the watersheds that feed it account for almost 40% of the area of the entire continental United States. Thus the conjecture was that fertilizer applications in the mid-West were responsible for the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Megammonia® – a mammoth-scale process for a new century

Summary

Details of the awaited fourth jumbo ammonia production process concept were presented at Nitrogen 2003 in Warsaw.

Abstract

In the increasingly competitive contemporary trading environment, and in the absence of any more process improvements which would significantly reduce their energy consumption, ammonia producers have begun focusing their attention on relocating their production capacity out of the major consuming countries to countries which have cheap natural gas. That, in turn, has reduced the emphasis on energy-efficiency but raised the importance of capital productivity.

Lurgi has recently developed the innovative Mega-Methanol® technology, which effectively doubles the size of world-scale methanol plants, and Ammonia Casale is well known for its focus on obtaining the highest possible productivity from each and every item of equipment. Sharing, as they did, a common perception of the ammonia market trend, Lurgi and Ammonia Casale agreed to co-operate in the development of a new approach to ammonia manufacture at production rates much larger than were currently available or appropriate with conventional technology.

Megammonia® is the result of this joint program of study. The name is intended for a single-line ammonia process producing 1.4 million t/a of ammonia or more: in other words, approximately twice the size of the current largest world-scale plants.

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Raring to go

Summary

Though up and running, BP Köln's new Uhde-built azeotropic nitric acid plant has to wait until changes in the user processes on Bayer AG's site next door are complete before it can run continuously at full capacity. Alexander More visited the plant in January.

Abstract

BP Köln may perhaps be more familiar to many readers as EC (Erdölchemie), which was formerly a 50:50 joint subsidiary of BP and Bayer AG. The name changed when BP bought Bayer’s share in 2001.

The company’s site at Worringen, near Cologne, manufactures ethylene, ammonia, acrylonitrile and various other petrochemical intermediates. It also makes nitric acid, which is used on the adjacent Bayer site mainly for nitration of benzene and toluene; these are used in poly­urethane production. Toluene, for example, is converted to dinitrotoluene (DNT), which in turn is converted by hydrogenation to toluene diamine and then to toluene di-isocyanate (TDI) by reaction with carbonyl chloride (COCl2). TDI is a precursor in polyurethane manufacture.

Until recently the site manufactured only high-concentration nitric acid, but in 2001 a new, 1,500-t/d azeotropic-concentration nitric acid plant came on stream. This plant, designed and constructed by Uhde GmbH, is economically and environmentally very advantageous in comparison with the senescent high-concentration acid facilities, which it will eventually replace once Bayer’s nitration plants are fully ready to use it.

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Snow, synthesis gas and ammonia

Summary

Süd-Chemie's synthesis gas catalysts were examined at the company's recent synthesis gas catalyst conference at a Bavarian resort. Snow featured large in the extramural activities. Just a month later, Synetix ran a one-day seminar for its ammonia industry customers the day after the end of British Sulphur's Nitrogen 2003 conference and exhibition in Warsaw.

Abstract

Western synthesis gas chemicals catalyst supply is dominated by the “Big Three”: (in alphabetical order) Süd-Chemie (based in Germany, with subsidiary manufacturing facilities in the USA and Japan), Synetix (based in the UK, with subsidiary manufacturing facilities in the USA) and Topsøe (based in Denmark, with subsidiary manufacturing facilities in the USA). All have world-wide market coverage through well-supported sales offices in strategic countries and a network of agents covering just about all the others.

There are, of course, catalyst producers in other countries – notably China – but, on account of the “Big Three’s” consistency of range and quality, the majority of the ammonia, methanol and hydrogen plants built by Western contractors tend to be designed around the products of these three companies.

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