World Fertilizer - January/February 2024

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Our technology makes the difference New leaching process for tackling Magnesium

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The Best Of Both Worlds


When Melamine Goes Green

Kevin De Bois, Prayon, Belgium, describes the innovative technologies used to remove magnesium from phosphate rock.


Catalysing The Energy Transition


Opportunities In Fertilizer Prilling


A Calculated Approach To Catalysts


Overcoming Production Bottlenecks


Housekeeping For Better Handling


Blending In Style


Decarbonising Through Technology Diversity

03 05 10


Comment News Analysing The Global Phosphate Market

Timothy Evans, Argus, UK, highlights the current themes and potential price disruptors across the global phosphate market.

Removal From The Rock

Kilian Schnoor, Kreber, the Netherlands, explores how prilling is helping to adapt, change, and innovate fertilizer production. Maxine Schuetz, RHEWUM, Germany, considers how a rapid increase in potash production efficiency could mitigate an impending food crisis. Brett Binnekade, Bagtech, South Africa, explains why fertilizer blending is a key driver in agricultural productivity and sustainability.

Rob van Oijen, Fenner Dunlop, the Netherlands, explains how fertilizer producers can increase the working lifetime of conveyor belts, whilst decreasing their cost. Stefano Sassi, Eurotecnica, Italy, discusses how the melamine and ammonia industries are maximising plant dependability to move towards a more sustainable future. Mads Feddersen, Topsoe, Denmark, explores new developments in more sustainable syngas production methods. Juergen Neumann, Sabin Metal Corporation, USA, explores the history and progression of gauze manufacturing in the fertilizer industry. Greg Bierie, Benetech, USA, discusses new technologies in the fertilizer industry that could be set to improve the production and safety of bulk materials handling. Antoine Hoxha, Fertilizers Europe, Belgium, considers how the European fertilizer industry can continue its journey towards a climate neutral future, with the help of technology, investment, and collaborative efforts.

Antoine Hoxha, Fertilizers Europe, Belgium, considers how the European fertilizer industry can continue its journey towards a climate neutral future, with the help of technology, investment, and collaborative efforts.

Brett Binnekade, Bagtech, South Africa, explains why fertilizer blending is a key driver in agricultural productivity and sustainability.


n the dynamic arena of modern agriculture, the challenge of maximising crop yields while conscientiously minimising environmental impact stands at the forefront. At the heart of this equilibrium lies the precise and efficient application of fertilizers. The introduction of blending technology has given way for a new era in the fertilizer industry, ensuring uniform fertilizer blends and simultaneously facilitating the coating of both the complete mixture and individual raw materials. The process is conducted with the utmost care to maintain the integrity of the fertilizer granules. In this article, Bagtech discusses the critical importance of fertilizer blending technology, delves into the nuances of the continuous blending process, and highlights how the system is reshaping the agricultural landscape.

Understanding fertilizer blending

Fertilizer blending is a critical process that involves the meticulous combination of various fertilizer components

to formulate a custom blend, tailor-made to suit the specific requirements of a given field or crop. The foundational elements of these blends are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), collectively known as the NPK ratio. Additionally, secondary and micronutrients such as sulfur (S), calcium (Ca), and boron (B) are often incorporated, tailored to the specific needs based on soil and crop analysis.

Decarbonising through technology diversity T

he European Union (EU) is set to be climate neutral by 2050 and the European fertilizer industry is committed to playing its part. As a cornerstone of the continent's agricultural sector, fertilizer production is vital for food security and strategic autonomy. Therefore, to align with the goals of the European Green Deal, Fertilizers Europe, which represents around 80% of nitrogen fertilizer producers in Europe, put forward ambitions to be met by its member companies and policy asks on policymakers to make the transition possible. In addition, the industry has recently developed, with the support of the external consultancy Guidehouse, the EU fertilizer industry decarbonisation roadmap. The study explores the various ways that different technologies can be employed to decarbonise the production of mineral fertilizers and showcases two main scenarios. So far, European fertilizer producers have set an international example for sustainable practices by abating NO2 emissions, and in doing so, halving greenhouse gas emissions. Producers have also embraced low-carbon and renewable production processes, by taking investment decisions on decarbonisation projects. Although the European fertilizer industry already has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of the global sector, there are significant

hurdles still to be overcome on investments, market stability, robust regulation, access to low-carbon and renewable energy, and remaining competitive in the international markets.

Progress and challenges

As a consequence of the implementation of the EU's emissions trading scheme (ETS), the continent has already started confronting, accounting and drastically reducing its industrial emissions. From 2005 – 2020, the European fertilizer industry made significant strides in cutting its Scope 1 and 2 emissions, reducing them by 49%. The substantial proportion of these reductions were attained through N2O abatement, a greenhouse gas with around 300 times the warming potential of CO2, which is normally emitted during the production of nitric acid, a fertilizer precursor. Such changes have placed European industry as the lowest emitter of the global sector. These accomplishments underscore the industry's commitment to reducing the carbon intensity of fertilizer production. Nevertheless, with increased ambitions and the end goal of zero net emissions, there are even more challenging operational changes to be made. This transition will require

The importance of fertilizer blending technology

Fertilizers are the linchpin in modern agriculture, supplying vital nutrients essential for plant growth and development. However, the challenge lies in delivering these nutrients in the correct proportions and at the optimal time. Incorrect application of fertilizer can lead to overuse, resulting in nutrient runoff, groundwater contamination, and environmental degradation. Conversely, insufficient application can result in








Angola’s Agricultural Transformation

Lindsay Reed, Minbos, Australia, discusses the importance of agriculture and the fertilizer industry in Angola.


Our technology makes the difference New leaching process for tackling Magnesium



As part of Prayon Group, Prayon Technologies enjoys unlimited access to all improvements and lessons learned from its phosphoric acid production facilities. The company’s dedicated team of experts provide bespoke solutions to ensure a seamless, efficient, and timely project delivery. Discover Prayon’s new cutting-edge solution for chemical beneficiation.

Cover_WorldFertiliser_Mg_Prayon_3.indd 1

08-01-24 18:06:52

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n recent years, plastic has earned itself a fairly damning reputation. Responsible for contributing towards pollution, climate change and the demise of wildlife and ecosystems, what we once saw as a beneficial property of the material – its durability and robustness – has now become a threat to the future of the planet. It is understandable, therefore, that the idea of ‘microplastics’, tiny pieces of plastic debris resulting from the breakdown of industrial and consumer material, makes many of us feel uncomfortable. Smaller than a speck of dust, microplastics can be transported through a wide range of environmental media, with fragments being discovered globally within drinking water and within the foods we consume, as well as products like cosmetics. A new study by researchers with Ocean Conservancy and the University of Toronto found that microplastics were present in nearly 90% of protein food samples they tested, which included pork, chicken, beef, and plant-based alternatives.1 An average litre bottle of water was also found to contain on average 240 000 ‘nanoplastic’ fragments,2 with American adults estimated to be consuming at least 11 000 pieces of microplastic per year.1 It is no surprise that these statistics have led to apprehension, and beg the question – just how concerned should we be? Newspaper headlines would lead us to believe that microplastics are a valid cause for unease, both in terms of their environmental and human health impact. In late 2023, an article in The Guardian discussed the possibility that microplastics found in the clouds could affect the weather and global temperatures, whilst other publications have debated their potential carcinogenic properties.3 Author and Chief Scientist at Ocean Conservancy, George Leonard, however, has claimed that “people shouldn’t be panicking about the concentration of plastics in their food… yet.” He concluded, “we need to do a lot more science.”1 With research still in its infancy, there appears to be much to learn in the sphere of microplastics. From the clouds above Mount Fuji to the freshly fallen snow in Antarctica, microplastics have been discovered everywhere, and our agricultural soils are no exception. A longstanding experiment dating back to 1843 has recently revealed an increase in microplastic in agricultural soils treated with fertilizer between 1966 and 2022, signifying that fertilizer has been a large contributor to microplastic pollution over time.4 Researchers believe that direct applications of plastic to soil, such as crop covers, plastic mulch films, and polymer-coated agrochemicals are to blame, as well as non-biodegradable polymers used in controlled release inorganic fertilizers. As a result, crop quality has been impacted, as well as soil properties and yield, which is only set to worsen as microplastic levels increase. While complete removal of plastic from agriculture may be unfeasible, with huge repercussions for global food security, there are regulations currently in place to restrict the use of microplastics that are intentionally added to products, such as polymers used in fertilizers. According to Fertilizers Europe, from 2026, only polymers meeting the new biodegradability requirements outlined in the new Fertilizing Products Regulation will be allowed on the market.5 It is hoped that more stringent requirements such as these will lead to exciting new developments within the industry, making microplastics a micro problem. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5.


Perfect separations for fertilizers Screening machines for high product purities at maximum throughput thanks to direct excitation sieving with extreme acceleration.

WORLD NEWS EGYPT Tecnimont (MAIRE) is authorised to start engineering works for KIMA fertilizer

project in Egypt


urther to the award of a nitric acid and ammonium nitrate plant project by KIMA, MAIRE has announced that Tecnimont has received the advance payment and the authorisation to start engineering works, while the notice to proceed with full engineering procurement and construction (EPC) activities is expected by the end of June 2024. The EPC contract was awarded to a Tecnimont-led consortium for an overall value of US$300 million, of which approximately US$220 million pertains to Tecnimont. The plant will replace the older units for the ammonium nitrate at site, significantly reducing the present greenhouse emissions thanks to state-of-the-art abatement systems improving overall energy efficiency and environmental standards. Once in operation in 2026, this plant will also allow the utilisation of the upstream ammonia production facility, recently built by Tecnimont and successfully started up in 2020, in the same industrial site, located in the Aswan Governorship, in upper Egypt. This will improve the economic return of the complex. The ammonium nitrate will be used as a fertilizer both employed by local farmers to boost the productivity of their fields and will be exported on the international markets. Alessandro Bernini, MAIRE CEO, commented: “We are glad to start this strategic project, which is important for the industrial plans of KIMA as well as for the development of the agricultural activities in the whole region.”

USA CHS to build new fertilizer hub in Minnesota


HS is set to build a new fertilizer hub which will increase storage in the area by 20 000 t, helping to provide crop nutrients to CHS customers. The plant is expected to open in the spring of 2025 and will be located on the same property as the CHS canola plant. “CHS is dedicated to investing in the cooperative supply chain on behalf of our ag retail farmer-owners,” says Rick Dusek, Executive Vice President, “This new facility will help our producers grow their businesses by increasing the speed and space of our assets while connecting with the global crop nutrients supply chain.”

USA Biden-Harris Administration invests US$207 million in clean energy and domestic

fertilizer projects


S Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary, Tom Vilsack, has announced that the USDA is investing US$207 million in renewable energy and domestic fertilizer projects to lower energy bills, generate new income, create jobs, and strengthen competition for US farmers, ranchers and agricultural producers. Many of the projects are being funded by President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, the nation’s largest investment in combatting the climate crisis. The announcement was made by Secretary Vilsack at the 105th annual American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. This funding will advance President Biden’s ‘Investing in America and Bidenomics’ agenda to grow the nation’s economy from the middle-out and bottom up, and is hoped to create jobs and spur economic growth in rural communities by increasing competition in agricultural markets, lowering costs, and expanding clean energy. The department is awarding US$207 million in 42 states for projects through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) and the Fertilizer Production Expansion Program (FPEP). Projects financed through FPEP will help US farmers increase independent, domestic fertilizer production. The investments include US$50 million in seven projects in seven states. President Biden has committed up to US$900 million through the commodity credit corporation for FPEP. Funding supports long-term investments that will strengthen supply chains, create new economic opportunities for American businesses, and support climate-smart innovation. For example, ARE Properties LLC in Nebraska will build a fully automated fertilizer facility designed to manufacture custom products based on the results of plant tissue and soil samples. All equipment in the facility runs on natural gas with the long-range strategy to retrofit the facility for alternative energy sources in the future. JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024| WORLD FERTILIZER | 5


Farmers reminded to show photo ID for AN fertilizer Fertiberia accelerates its biotechnology business

UK AIC reminds farmers to use inhibitor when applying

urea fertilizer


armers in England preparing for the busy spring season must remember to use an inhibitor when applying urea fertilizers to avoid further government restrictions and help improve air quality, the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) has warned. The agri-supply trade association is reminding farmers and growers that the agricultural supply industry and farming unions are committed to working in partnership to deliver substantial ammonia emissions reductions from the use of both solid and liquid fertilizers containing urea from April this year. An industry voluntary approach agreed last year means that farmers and growers must use ammonia abatement treatments and inhibitors to counter the risk of the government seeking to further restrict the use of urea fertilizer with tough regulation, a potential move driven by the urgent need to cut ammonia emissions in the UK. AIC has worked with farming unions and the industry to find and implement a voluntary solution which ensures farmers’ access to vital fertilizers while helping to meet the UK’s legally binding air quality targets for ammonia emissions. Jo Gilbertson, AIC’s Head of Fertilizer, said: “The industry’s collective agreement with the government to use inhibitors, and therefore avoid the very real threat of an outright ban on urea fertilizers, was hard won last year.” “It is imperative that the entire farming industry maintains its clear commitment to support this arrangement in the face of the ever-present threat of regulation, which is driven by the UK’s legal obligations to cut ammonia emissions as part of international air improvement treaties.”

Nitrogen fertilizer production at Grupa Azoty Group remains stable

friendly mineral fertilizers in Asia

Petrobras signs contract with Unigel


Visit our website for more news:

JAPAN Cinis Fertilizer aims to produce environmentally

inis Fertilizer has signed a letter of intent with the Japanese ITOCHU Corporation, a company active in a wide range of fertilizer products, raw materials and other related materials, for a collaboration to expand the market of environmentally friendly mineral fertilizers. ITOCHU has developed a supply value chain in agriculture, chemicals, batteries, pulp, energy, apparel, finance, and various other industries. The companies will cooperate on the sale of Cinis Fertilizer’s products, potassium sulfate and sodium chloride among others, as well as on the purchase of potassium chloride and sodium sulfate, inputs used in Cinis Fertilizer’s production. The letter of intent includes seeking a location for a production facility in Asia. “We are still at an early stage in this collaboration; however, we have quickly found that ITOCHU is a committed and reliable partner. I see great opportunities to jointly achieve good results through our know-how in combination with ITOCHU’s network and financial resources. There is great potential for our environmentally friendly potassium sulfate, and with a partner like ITOCHU we should be able to quickly establish our circular business model in Asia,” said Jakob Liedberg, Founder and CEO of Cinis Fertilizer.


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WORLD NEWS DIARY DATES Phosphates 2024 Conference & Exhibition 26 – 28 February 2024 Warsaw, Poland home

Nitrogen + Syngas 2024 Conference & Exhibition 04 – 06 March 2024 Gothenburg, Sweden nitrogenandsyngas/home

Nitrogen + Syngas USA 2024 15 – 17 April 2024 Oklahoma, USA home

ACHEMA 2024 10 – 14 June 2024 Frankfurt, Germany

ANNA 2024 29 September – 04 October 2024 Montréal, Canada

NORWAY Técnicas Reunidas to execute design engineering

for large green ammonia plant


ortescue, a green technology, energy and metals company, has selected Técnicas Reunidas to execute FEED (the front end engineering design) for the Holmaneset project, which consists of the development of a green hydrogen and ammonia production plant. Fortescue is a multinational company specialised in metal mining and green energy projects. The Holmaneset project is part of its strategy to become a key supplier of green hydrogen and green ammonia. The project, to be implemented off the coast of the Nordgulen fjord in the western part of Norway, includes a 300 MW hydrogen production plant consisting of multiple electrolyser modules, a green ammonia synthesis plant with a nominal capacity of 675 tpd, facilities for ammonia storage, and water treatment and marine infrastructure, including an import-export port and a water subsea pipeline. It is estimated that Técnicas Reunidas will execute more than 70 000 hours of chemical engineering with high added value. The Spanish company will deliver a FEED together with a binding proposal for the transition to an EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) contract for the execution of the project. This project reitterates the intensification of the energy transition and decarbonisation activities that Técnicas Reunidas has undertaken in recent years.

CANADA IFA publishes its industry position statement on



n the first anniversary of the approval of the Kunming-Montreal Biodiversity Framework at the biodiversity COP in Montreal (COP15), the International Fertilizer Association (IFA) published an industry position statement on biodiversity. The statement sets out the industry’s commitment to responsible environmental stewardship in nature protection. The biodiversity position statement is the culmination of a major piece of work conducted through consultancy-led workshops with IFA members from all major companies in the industry. The IFA-supported Scientific Panel of Responsible Plant Nutrition provided the scientific background for this work, through the Achieving Nature-Positive Plant Nutrition paper. The industry’s approach includes expanding the adoption of existing science-based solutions, based on good agronomic principles, while developing and driving the implementation of new solutions. This includes developing a comprehensive understanding of the multiple impacts, dependencies, risks and opportunities for biodiversity, which arise from the production of fertilizer through to the management of nutrients in farming. IFA CEO and Director General, Alzbeta Klein, said, “The fertilizer industry recognises how vital the UN Global Biodiversity Framework is to the protection of habitats and ecosystems worldwide. We will continue to prioritise soil, land and water protection through our sustainability efforts, along with taking proactive steps to reduce the industry’s biodiversity footprint and limit or reverse any negative impacts.” In addition to setting out the industry’s ongoing commitment to biodiversity, the paper also outlines the work undertaken so far in the areas of achieving nature-positive plant nutrition and developing solutions to reduce fertilizer production’s environmental impact. The industry is also taking a lead in understanding the key biodiversity issues associated with nutrients and fertilizer use through investment in scientific research.


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Analysing the global phosphate market Timothy Evans, Argus, UK, highlights the current themes and potential price disruptors across the global phosphate market.


he phosphate market has undergone significant price volatility in recent years. Supply chain disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by elevated energy prices and fertilizer security concerns in the wake of the Russian-Ukraine war, caused phosphate prices to surge across 2021 and the first half of 2022. Both phosphate rock and downstream phosphate fertilizers achieved record price levels in either 2Q or 3Q of 2022. Since May 2022, downstream phosphate fertilizer prices have gradually declined, and despite more resilient Moroccan rock prices maintaining a premium on a P2O5 basis, these are expected to follow suit over the next 12 months. Although phosphate prices have softened to be more in line with historical levels over the past year, Argus expects that there has been a structural shift in market fundamentals and that they will not return to pre-pandemic levels going forward. As a result, this has incentivised a series of potential producers globally to enter into or expand phosphate supply. There are several factors that could, and in some cases have, caused abrupt price deviations away from cyclical pricing norms in the phosphate market. In this article, Argus aims to highlight some current market themes and potential price disruptors that are ongoing or that may materialise in the future.

End product affordability

In 2022, the Russian-Ukraine conflict was an upward driver of both crop and fertilizer prices. The war pushed up fertilizer production costs and was compounded by an increasing desire around the world for food security, amid continued concerns of a global food crisis, especially as stocks remained relatively low. Fertilizer prices outpaced crop prices, which led to Argus’ affordability index dropping to a company-recorded low in 2022 (Figure 1). In 2022, phosphate consumption, on a P2O5 basis, fell to its lowest point when compared to the last decade, as surging phosphate and fertilizer prices induced affordability hurdles that developed into demand destruction. Crop prices have fluctuated through 2023, but overall remain more resistant relative to declining fertilizer prices, meaning that affordability has significantly improved in 2023. Fertilizer production costs have fallen, allowing phosphate and fertilizer prices to 11

soften through almost the first three quarters of 2023. Phosphate demand also recovered, as producers competed to service major importing regions where the appetite for phosphate

remains healthy or has recovered more quickly, such as India and Brazil. Despite an increase in phosphate prices in recent months, because of uncertainty around global supply in 1Q24, improved affordability will better insulate phosphate demand, and Argus expects demand will continue to recover in 2024.

Sanctions and a two-tier pricing system

Figure 1. Argus fertilizer affordability index.

Figure 2. DAP two-tier pricing system 2020 – 2023.

Sanctions can result in a short to medium-term disruption to supply and trade flow patterns. Following the Russian-Ukraine conflict, although there are no imposed sanctions against phosphate products originating from Russia, pockets of self-sanctioning areas remain committed to sourcing phosphate from alternative origins. Russian phosphate supply (mainly finished ammoniated phosphate fertilizer) has concentrated more into major importing regions. To absorb a larger market share, a two-tier pricing system emerged. Within three weeks of the initial invasion, Russian DAP was trading US$307/t below Morocco DAP free on board (fob). This divergence was bolstered by Morocco’s OCP, seemingly targeting DAP sales to markets that could provide the best netbacks, such as Europe, from where Russia had been all but cut from the supply chain. In 2022, the Russian DAP price maintained a discount of at least US$50/t to Moroccan fob prices, but mainly in excess of US$100/t, and an average discount of US$70/t to Chinese DAP. But in 2023, despite still existing, the discount narrowed as alternative trade flows and partners cemented and phosphate prices softened (Figure 2). The average discount for Russian tons compared with Moroccan product has been US$35/t, while the discount to China has averaged at US$9/t, and on occasions, Russian fobs have sat above Chinese fobs. The larger discount has been maintained when it comes to Morocco as OCP has again continued to target premium markets for DAP sales to support higher netbacks. Meanwhile, Russia and China have been competing for the same markets in South Asia for sales and China’s export availability has continued to be stifled. There is some market expectation that in the short-to-medium term, as geopolitical tensions and Russia’s war against Ukraine continues, Russia’s DAP fob price will trade at a discount to other key benchmarks, but it is clear that the discount is narrowing.

Protectionism Figure 3. Timeline of US countervailing import duties

(January 2020 – March 2021).

Figure 4. Timeline of US countervailing import duties (January 2021 – January 2024). 12 | WORLD FERTILIZER | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024

Protectionism is the practice or theory of shielding domestic industries from foreign competition and can take many forms. The US imposed import duties on Moroccan and Russian-origin phosphates in March 2021, which resulted in removing two of the US’ biggest suppliers of DAP and MAP from the supply chain. Figure 3 provides an initial timeline from Mosaic’s petition to impose duties to the final enforcement decision. From the day of Mosaic’s petition to the date of enforcement, prices for both DAP and MAP at Nola increased as key suppliers were removed from the market. Russian and Moroccan-origin MAP have accounted for up to half of the merchant market and for 77 – 94% of US MAP imports during the five years before 2020. In this time frame, MAP prices increased by 109%. The duties were imposed for five years, and new trade routes have been formed to temper the loss of Russian and Moroccan product. It is challenging to separate the exact effects of overall rises in commodity and fertilizer prices between 2021 – 2022, and the specific effect duties have had. However, it is clear that the MAP

premium over Nola DAP is a direct result of a diminished pool of MAP suppliers and the US has increased its imports of DAP over MAP, because of the greater availability of alternative DAP suppliers. Figure 4 shows a continuation of the timeline, and in 2023, the Department of Commerce confirmed revised duties. Duties will rise to 28.5% for Phosagro, effectively bringing Russian MAP supply to a halt, and duties on Moroccan products have been dropped to 2.12%. If OCP were to resume shipments to the US, it could offset the potentially lost Russian supply, but participants’ outlook for Morocco-US trade flow has been mixed. Argus expects that unless Moroccan trade normalises, it Figure 5. Chinese DAP export and domestic pricing trend. is unlikely the MAP premium will disappear entirely.

Fertilizer export restrictions

China has historically imposed taxes to help reduce exports in hopes of shoring up domestic phosphate supply to keep prices reduced. However, given the extent of surging phosphate prices, the government imposed restrictions on 13 October 2021, which slowed down export volumes. Quotas remained ongoing in 2022, and by February 2023, 1.45 million tpy of DAP and 1.7 million tpy of MAP capacity were offline because of poor demand outlets and weak production economics (Figure 5). Despite a period of substantial exports between May and October, China’s NDRC suspended export inspections for new cargoes of DAP, MAP or TSP in November, with no timeline for the resumption of export inspections. The limitations that will be enforced in 2024 are unknown, but the market is waiting eagerly for news, and some forms of restrictive measures are anticipated. The extent of restricted export availability from China is expected to drive the global phosphate fertilizer balance in the coming months, and has significant potential to impact phosphate prices.

Indian subsidy mechanisms

The Indian phosphate industry is heavily subsidised by the government. The subsidy does not simply incentivise production and imports, it is also necessary to prevent loss-making operations. The Indian government sets the maximum retail price (MRP) for DAP, which preserves affordability for farmers, but also caps revenue for producers and retailers, typically well below production or import costs. Given the sheer magnitude of Indian phosphate demand and its aversion to relying too heavily on any particular raw material, India instead distributes its DAP procurement methods across producing, via rock, phosphoric acid or imported finished product. This also allows importers to exploit arbitrage opportunities and reduce the risk of price shocks, during periods where the unit value of P2O5 in rock, phosphoric acid or DAP diverges. This can materially re-weight the portion of imports to production and lead to elevated or diminished DAP imports year on year, potentially impacting phosphate prices. Additionally, the extent of economic support provided by the subsidy will inevitably affect affordability levels and overall phosphate demand. Despite a substantially healthy subsidy regime between April – September 2023, a 31% cut for October 2023 – March 2024 has generated uncertainty about the emergence of phosphate demand in the coming months. Argus expects there will be adequate support for imports and

domestic production, even if a revision to the subsidy is needed, as the Indian government will want to avoid any concerns over securing sufficient DAP for kharif and prevent stocks from depleting much further.


The phosphate market will inevitably be guided by business cycles which last from three to seven years, and this should drive prices long-term. On an annual basis, Argus expects phosphate prices will track marginally lower in 2024, followed by a more notable drop in 2025 as new supply comes online. However, by 2028 onwards, phosphate prices will begin to recover as demand growth catches up. The different factors laid out have the potential to introduce significant price volatility and distort price developments within the current business cycle over a more short-term forecast horizon.


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Removal from the rock R

ecently, there has been a significant increase in the price of high-grade rocks (MER < 0.08) used for phosphoric acid production. Consequently, the industry has been forced to turn to low-grade rocks, complicating phosphoric acid production and compromising its quality with regard to impurities. Phosphate rocks contain two types of impurities. The first type affects the quality of the final acid or phosphogypsum, including heavy metals like Cd, As, Cr, Pb, Hg, radioactive elements, and those limiting the range of applications, such as fluorine. The second type impacts the process of phosphoric acid and fertilizer production, with major impurities being magnesium, aluminium, and iron. The minor element ratio (MER), defined as MER = (MgO + Al2O3 + Fe2O3) / (P2O5), gauges the proportion of these impurities compared to P2O5 content in the rock, with a MER above 0.08 posing a challenge for phosphoric acid production.

Kevin De Bois, Prayon, Belgium, describes the innovative technologies used to remove magnesium from phosphate rock.


This article focuses on magnesium removal from phosphate rock. Despite magnesium being crucial for healthy plant growth, it creates trouble in phosphoric acid production and fertilizer plants. Excessive magnesium in phosphate rock can: n Increase phosphoric acid viscosity. n Reduce P2O5 yield. n Hamper gypsum crystal growth. The primary impact of magnesium is on viscosity, affecting slurry filterability. The higher the MER, the higher the filtration surface required in the phosphoric acid production process to obtain a desired plant capacity. Additionally, magnesium affects P2O5 yield, precipitating as pyrophosphate magnesium during phosphoric acid concentration, leading to losses. Magnesium also hampers the mechanical strength and granulation ability of fertilizer granules like MAP, DAP, NPK, and NPS. Lab and pilot tests confirmed that an increase in MgO in phosphate rock results in reduced filtration and decreased chemical yield, emphasising magnesium's multifaceted challenges in phosphoric acid production and fertilizer granulation. Prayon and Eurochem have developed a chemical beneficiation process called magnesium leaching. Low-grade ore from the Karatau basin in Kazakhstan, whose deposit is in part owned by EuroChem, was used as an example. This beneficiation step will be possible to insert between the mechanical beneficiation and the


phosphoric acid plant. The aim of this step is to remove the magnesium from the phosphate rock before it enters the phosphoric acid plant. The magnesium leaching process for phosphate rock beneficiation involves dissolving carbonaceous impurities using sulfuric acid. This process aims to selectively react with carbonates, such as dolomite (CaMg(CO3)2), while leaving the phosphate minerals intact. The result is the production of gypsum (CaSO4·2H2O), magnesium sulfate (MgSO4), and CO2 gas. After leaching, a filtration and optional washing step separates the beneficiated solid rock from the dissolved carbonates and acid solution. The beneficiated rock without magnesium continues its journey to the phosphoric acid plant. The acid solution obtained is further processed to precipitate magnesium as magnesium hydroxide (Mg(OH)2), followed by solid/liquid separation to recover a residue containing the precipitated hydroxide and a water filtrate (Figure 1). A semi-industrial test was conducted at Technophos along with the management from both sides and participation of specialists; the chemical composition of the phosphate rock used for this test is detailed in Table 1. Following an extensive optimisation process, where critical parameters such as residence time, sulfuric acid quantity, temperature, and solid content were fine-tuned, the magnesium leaching study of phosphate rock delivered promising outcomes. Notably, the quantity of sulfuric acid used for magnesium removal was approximately 0.5 t per t of P2O5. It is important to emphasise that this does not represent actual acid consumption since the sulfuric acid used can be deducted from the acid needed for phosphoric acid production.

Table 1. Comparison between raw phosphate rock and beneficiated phosphate rock. Name


Raw phosphate rock

Beneficiated phosphate rock

















AI203 react












Figure 1. Mg leaching flowsheet. 16 | WORLD FERTILIZER | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024

The initial phase of magnesium extraction from the phosphate rock exhibited great efficiency, with over 60% removal of magnesium and minimal P2O5 losses, below 5%, (and as a rule, around 2%), as illustrated in Table 1. The results presented in the table demonstrate the feasibility of treating rock with high magnesium content (1.9%, equivalent to 3.1% MgO). Without this technology, the use of this rock for phosphoric acid production would not be viable. To separate the beneficiated rock from the magnesium leaching liquor, a highly efficient vacuum filtration process was employed. A carefully selected cloth with notably high air permeability effectively retained larger rock particles, sand, and the gypsum formed during the acidulation reaction. This strategic selection of filter ensured a uniform distribution of the resulting cake, enhancing both filterability and drying efficiency. The outcome was beneficiated rock with an impressively low average moisture content of less than 15%. The moisture content of the beneficiated rock translates into a water consumption of 1 t of water per t of P2O5. Regarding the magnesium leaching module, once the residence time, pH, and temperature parameters were optimised, the magnesium precipitation module also demonstrated highly positive results. It effectively precipitated P2O5, magnesium, and sulfate, resulting in water of a standard quality suitable for recycling in the leaching process. The results highlighted the significance of temperature in this module. Operating at temperatures above 60°C led to a substantial increase in the consumption of calcium hydroxide required for magnesium precipitation without a commensurate improvement in module efficiency. During the semi-industrial test, hydrated lime was employed for logistical purposes, but industrially, the use of quicklime is recommended to enhance operational expenditures (OPEX). The slurry generated in the neutralisation section was directed to filter presses to ensure effective separation. The filterability of this slurry proved to be exceptionally efficient for a filter press, and future investigations into alternative filtration methods (under vacuum) are under consideration. The resulting cake consists of gypsum dihydrate and magnesium oxide, making it suitable for reintroduction into the fertilizer plant to enhance the magnesium content of certain fertilizers. By operating these two modules in a loop, an efficient process is established. This process generates minimal residue, with the beneficiated rock being directed to the phosphoric acid plant, and the residue from the neutralisation module being valourised in the fertilizer plant or as needed. The water used in the process is entirely recyclable, with no discharge required. Water bleed takes place on the cake’s moisture. This test was conducted in conjunction with a pilot using the Di-Hydrate Mark IV Prayon Process. The results indicate that 75% of the Mg equivalent ratio (MER) from the beneficiated rock pass on the phosphoric acid. Phosphoric acid production remained stable, with filterability rates slightly lower than those observed with low magnesium phosphate rock. The produced acid was used to


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manufacture standard-grade fertilizers, such as NPK 15-15-15 and MAP, which exhibited mechanical strength (above 15 MPa) and granulation without any issues. The magnesium leaching process offers several key advantages: n High magnesium removal: the initial phase of magnesium extraction from the phosphate rock exhibits remarkable efficiency, achieving over 60% magnesium removal. n High P2O5 yield: P2O5 losses are minimal, below 5% (and as a rule, around 2%), as detailed in Table 1. This high efficiency is essential for optimising the quality of the beneficiated rock. n Feasibility of treating high-magnesium rock: the results in Table 1 underscore the feasibility of processing rocks with high magnesium content (1.9%, equivalent to 3.5% MgO). Without this technology, such rocks would be unsuitable for use in phosphoric acid production. n Low operational costs: the process demonstrates cost-effectiveness, with raw material consumption limited to water (1 ton per t of P2O5) and quicklime (0.15 t per t of P2O5). n Efficiency in the filtration process: given the importance of filtration in the fertilizer industry, the use of vacuum filtration for the Mg leaching module and filterability in the neutralisation module provide confidence in easy industrialisation. n Sustainable process: operating both the magnesium leaching and magnesium precipitation modules in a loop establishes a sustainable process. Minimal residue is generated, with the beneficiated rock being directed to the phosphoric acid

plant, and the residue from the neutralisation module suitable for valorisation in a fertilizer plant. Furthermore, the water used in the process is entirely recyclable, with no discharge required. n Validated for fertilizer production: the semi-industrial test was complemented by a pilot test using the Di-Hydrate Mark IV Prayon process. The acid produced was successfully used to manufacture standard-grade fertilizers, such as NPK 15-15-15 and MAP, which exhibited mechanical strength (above 15 MPa) and granulation without any issues. n Easy integration into existing plants: the Mg leaching process can be integrated into existing plants as a key step between mechanical beneficiation and phosphoric acid production, requiring only minor operational changes. EuroChem and Prayon signed a licensing and patenting agreement for this joint process and a joint international application has been submitted. As per the terms of this agreement, Prayon has the right to license and replicate this process worldwide with certain limitations.


The semi-industrial test demonstrates the viability of the magnesium leaching process for phosphate rock beneficiation, and highlights its potential for industrial application and the production of high-quality fertilizers. The optimisation of key parameters and efficient processes contribute to a more sustainable approach within the phosphoric acid industry.

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OPPORTUNITIES IN FERTILIZER PRILLING Kilian Schnoor, Kreber, the Netherlands, explores how prilling is helping to adapt, change, and innovate fertilizer production.


ccording to legend, a plumber named William Watts from Bristol, UK, had an intriguing experience. One night he found himself near a church, where he had contributed to renovating the lead roof. Exhausted and ruminating on his wife's disappointment at his late return, he went to sleep on a bench. In his dream, his wife's anger manifested, and she poured molten lead down the church tower, shaping it into perfect spherical droplets that rained upon him. Awakening, he realised it was merely rain falling on him.1 Curiosity piqued, he and his wife ascended the church roof the next day. With a drilled cooking pan and molten lead, they replicated the dream scenario. Just as in the dream, the lead formed spherical droplets, which solidified into the first perfectly round lead prills. In 1782, these became known as patent lead shot, enhancing shotgun ammunition. Convinced of his method, Watts constructed the world's first prilling tower on top of his house a few years later.2 Since then, prilling has seen many innovations which have matured it into an industrial scale production technology that allows tons of prills to be produced each hour. Now, prilling provides great control of process parameters, product shape and size. Through prilling technology, fertilizers, but also plastics and fine chemicals (Figure 1) benefit from these advantages. Prilling provides fertilizer production with an easy-to-use and stable finishing technology that can operate in a wide range and results in a free-flowing product with a narrow particle size distribution.


Challenges today are very different from those in 1782, when the first prilling technology was patented. How will prilling adapt, change and innovate fertilizer production as well as upcoming technologies and production processes to continue to be a prosperous solution?

Growing healthy crops

Fertilizers help overcome deficiencies that crops face today. They also help the plant to obtain an adequate supply of nutrients to promote their growth and development. Without fertilization, the plants' productivity and fertility decrease, which leads to stunted growth, death of plant tissue, or yellowing of the leaves. This affects agriculture through reduced crop yield or plant quality. Nutrient deficiency also aggravates the reduction of biodiversity. Fertilizer prills supply two classes of nutrients to plants: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are the building blocks of crucial cellular components like proteins and nucleic acids. Nitrogen, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium are some of the most important macronutrients. Micronutrients, including iron, zinc, manganese, and copper, are

Figure 1. Sample of prills from left to right: sulfur, urea, ammonium nitrate, polylactic acid, and benzoic acid.

Figure 2. Fertilizer prills with potassium additive, from left to right; 70 w/w-% urea, 80 w/w-% urea, 90 w/w-% urea.

required in smaller amounts. Nutrients are usually obtained from the soil through plant roots. Over the last years and decades, many nutrients have decreased, are not available in sufficient amounts in the soil, and need to be added to allow viable plant growth and crop yields.3 To ensure continuous nutrient supply, fertilizers also need to meet the requirements of a changing climate, being more resistant to higher humidity, higher temperatures, more intense rainfall, and stronger winds. By understanding the challenges and developing strategies with the right finishing technology and fertilizer mixture, it will be easier to cope with these obstacles now and in the future.4

Regulations and changing climate

Through agriculture, 10.3% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the EU are emitted because of the use of fossil energy in the value chain, with 70% coming from non-CO2 GHG emissions, mainly nitrous oxides and methane. The European Commission (EC) has commited to reducing GHG emissions by 55% (compared to 1990) in 2030 and by 100% in 2050. To reduce the environmental impacts of fertilizer overuse, the EC will set new rules. As a result, fertilizer companies must comply with increasingly stringent environmental regulations, which influence production costs and limit the availability of certain types of fertilizers. Organic fertilizer use has been identified as an attractive alternative that has been formally adopted under EC’s green deal. Reduction of nitrogen use from 100 kg/ha to 20 kg/ha is an estimated goal for more sustainable farming. With effective and innovative fertilizer management, sustainable farming can reach average crop yields of conventional farming while using significantly less nitrogen fertilizer.4,5 Urea prills are one of the most common nitrogen fertilizers; unfortunately they have a lower field-yield efficiency and a higher carbon footprint when compared to other nitrogen fertilizer products. The agricultural outlook of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN projects that a fertilizer price increase caused by higher fossil energy prices will lead to a direct price increase of agricultural products. This will mainly influence the growth and wealth of developing countries where household spend is up to 25% on food and people cannot afford a further price increase. In contrast, there will be an estimated growth in food consumption by 1.3% over the coming decade.4 For the fertilizer industry, this means that fertilizers need to be produced without fossil energy from renewable resources and without GHG emissions. In parallel, fertilizer prills will meet stricter environmental regulations, increased demand, higher productivity and higher product quality. The fertilizer prill of the future will be more efficient by releasing nutrients directly to the plant and over longer periods, contain less nitrogen to meet sustainable farming guidelines, and be applicable in less industrialised countries to support growing economies.4 5 Figure 2 shows urea fertilizer prills with reduced urea content and potassium additive.

Around the world Figure 3. The Kreber pilot plant in the Europoort, Rotterdam, from a bird’s eye view. 20 | WORLD FERTILIZER | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024

All over the world, agriculture is struggling with a changing climate. In many industrialised countries, the challenges of a changing climate are being tackled through new and better fertilizing procedures which are engineered through better


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formulation and finishing technologies. In developing countries, mechanisation and automatisation of agriculture is still low, making these countries more vulnerable. Industrial fertilizer products will become more important through increased mechanisation and automatisation of agriculture in these countries. They can profit from technology, infrastructure and training related to fertilizer in the coming years to help the agricultural sector reach increased productivity.4

Helping to make the first prill

With a changing fertilizer market, innovating new products or entering a new business area can be a task governed by uncertainty. Through a tight network, many fertilizer producers try to leverage synergy from the fertilizer community by finding enablers and guides to stir the projects in the right direction. Many pitfalls can be avoided through the exchange of information which benefits fertilizer finishing, formulation and production as a whole. Through large consortia, Kreber is involved in the evaluation of the feasibility of stakeholder projects by comparing results to current industry standards and patented technologies outside of the fertilizer business. The main challenge remains the decomposition of complex questions and finding solutions with academic partners and engineering institutes to make the newest technologies available to the fertilizer industry.

Continuous improvement of prilling technology

Kreber has developed a closed loop prilling tower which will likely become more common due to stricter environmental regulations, increased demand, higher productivity and product quality. What started as an initiative to meet tighter emission regulations has become a tool for tackling increased energy prices and meeting customer requirements for prills. Smart integration of the closed loop technology into existing prilling towers enables continued production when open loop systems are under pressure of legislation, as well as heat and energy to be regained through improved heat exchange. In the market, fertilizer producers can benefit from this technology, by identifying the freedom to operate within operational windows. Driven by increased energy prices, fertilizer producers can make themselves more resilient for changing markets by incorporating adaptable prilling and formulation processes. This includes additive systems, to increase the nutrient portfolio or reduce the nitrogen content, optimised ventilation and filtration systems, or more efficient collection systems. The revision of existing prillers to increase product quality, the installation of additional prillers to increase throughput, or the increase of the tower's efficiency, are improvements where there is a lot of potential.

Leaping forward

New technologies are not developed overnight, and proper planning and preparation is the key to success. The feasibility of new technologies should be tested, assessed and only then continued through to additional technological development stages, industrialisation, equipment design and manufacturing. Changes in formulations, feed stream or process parameters strongly influence the final product quality, as well as the availability of the prilling equipment. Feasibility studies, 22 | WORLD FERTILIZER | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024

confirmation of literature data or evaluation of the developed hypothesis should be carried out first. For fertilizer prill material analysis, standard analytical equipment should be used. This includes but is not limited to viscometers, X-ray powder diffraction and differential scanning calorimetry. Process analytical technology (PAT) and machine learning (ML) will find their way into the fertilizer industry soon. PAT is used to gain more information on chemical composition and distribution, including but not limited to mid- and near-infra-red spectroscopy, Raman spectroscopy, solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance, and ML-enhanced picture analysis. These analysis results are used through modelling and simulation to estimate process scale up to reach final product quality and quantity. Such information can be used as input to identify the next steps. Changes to the industry occur frequently, and to reduce time-to-market, small or pilot scale equipment can be used (Figure 3). Here, high product quality and comparable process parameters are the most important values to benchmark new developments and products. For small scale trials, batches of up to 1000 kg are a suitable size to either probe the market or carry out studies in the field. Production rates of 100 kg/h or less are suitable when it comes to up-scaling of lab developments. Down-scaling is being seen more frequently, where batch sizes or production rates are being reduced to increase product quality, adapt to niche markets or investigate large scale challenges under smaller, more controlled conditions without interrupting current production. It addition, down-scaling reduces the cost of experiments or helps outsource the process in general. This can lead to the development of smaller equipment which can also be tailored to meet new regulations or specifications.

Going beyond

Prilling technology has come a long way since its development. It has found application beyond the fertilizer industry by leaving the fertilizer comfort-zone and continuously adding new materials to the portfolio. To tackle the coming challenges of technology and nature, prilling will develop further. The challenges ahead are greater than the challenges of the past, and we cannot predict all applications where prilling will overtake established technologies. In the future, simple energy efficient equipment will gain more traction which also puts prilling in the spotlight to help meet the climate targets of nations around the world, while ensuring food security. This not only means the prilling of more complex products, but also helping to develop these products and identifying services from the fertilizer industry, for the fertilizer industry. This may include the prilling of pure substances, dispersions, slurries with up to 30% solid content, and polymers and fine chemicals under ATEX conditions. Efficient and high-quality equipment plays a crucial role in tackling future challenges and building a resilient future today.

References 1. 2. 3.

4. 5.

HARRISON, D., Dream Lead to Invention. Bristol Times, 26 November 2002. WATTS, W., Small Shot. 1347 United Kingdom, 10 December 1782. MORGEN, J.; CONNOLLY, E. Plant-Soil Interactions: Nutrient Uptake, Nature Education 2013. OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2023. HULSBERGEN ,KJ; SCHMID, H; CHMELIKOVA, L; RAHMANN G; PAULSEN, H; KOPKE, U;, Umwelt- und Klimawirkungen des ökologischen Landbaus, Weihenstephaner Schriften Ökologischer Landbau und Pflanzenbausysteme, 01 2023.

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Overcoming production bottlenecks Maxine Schuetz, RHEWUM, Germany, considers how a rapid increase in potash production efficiency could mitigate an impending food crisis.



t first glance, the connection between a food crisis and potash may seem unclear, but a look at history shows the crucial role of this mineral in the development of modern agriculture. Towards the middle of the 19th century, the first fertilizer factories were established in Germany, and mainly produced phosphate and superphosphate. Only with the discovery of potassium-containing salts in Stassfurt (Saxony-Anhalt) in around 1856, and the construction of the world's first potash mines, this raw material became available in significant quantities. Shortly afterwards, farmers began to use potash as an effective mineral fertilizer, which, together with phosphate and nitrogen, increased their harvest yields enormously. Thanks to the use of potash, food security was strengthened and a crisis was averted. Consequently, the importance of potash as an essential component of modern agriculture should not be underestimated.1 According to FAO statistics from 2018, questioning the state of the global food situation is of immense importance, since 821 million people worldwide suffer from hunger and 2 billion people suffer from malnutrition.

During the next 30 years, there could be 10 billion people on the planet due to population growth. Consequently, the already alarming situation will likely continue to worsen. Furthermore, increasing consumption of meat is boosting the demand for feed, which is further complicating the situation. In addition, climate change is causing more droughts and extreme weather events, leading to harvest failures. Moreover, the continuous decline in globally available agricultural land per capita is also contributing to the aggravation of this crisis. Given these obstacles, it is becoming evident that prioritising sustainable and efficient agriculture is crucial to guaranteeing food security for the global population.2 While global agriculture faces significant challenges, intelligent solutions exist to surmount these obstacles. In Germany, for example, one farmer was feeding 10 people in 1950, whereas in 2016 it was 148. In the USA, one farmer can even feed an average of 168 people. There is still potential to increase efficiency in many emerging and developing countries by improving agricultural infrastructure, agricultural technology, education and other measures.3 In this context, the importance of fertilizers takes a crucial position in the successful supply of food. In fact, the use of mineral fertilizers is already vital for half of the world's population, which shows that potash plays a decisive role in the world's food supply.4

War between Ukraine and Russia leaves potash missing

The largest potash producers in the world market over the past ten years have been Canada, Russia and Belarus. 25

However, the conflict with Russia and Belarus and the resulting sanctions and import bans have created major challenges in the global market. While it can be assumed that potash capacities from Russia and Belarus will find their way onto the market, the instability of supply chains and high prices are causing massive problems in downstream industries. As a result, there is a risk that the successful expansion of mineral fertilization, to which potash also contributes, will come to a standstill due to price increases and lack of availability, and therefore further tighten the already strained situation in food supply.5 Although forecasts predicted a peak in potash prices and a decline thereafter, potash producers could realise considerable additional revenues. These resources could be used for investments in the expansion of their production capacities.

This strategic decision aims to reduce dependence on Russia and Belarus in the potash market as well as price stability on the global market.6

Quick ways to increase production capacity

Since there are limited commercial opportunities for Belarus and Russia on the world market, the available amount of potassium fertilizer is likely to decrease by 10 – 15%. This situation raises not only humanitarian, but also economic issues, and causes major challenges for the known market players. One option could be building a new mine. However, this is not very attractive due to the construction period of 24 – 36 months and additional permitting and financing phases taking longer than desired in some countries. Therefore, for humanitarian and economic reasons, the only real option is to increase the production output.7

Potash and screening machines

Figure 1. Distribution of space for food production on Earth’s total surface area.

Figure 2. Potash producing countries.

At the beginning of the extraction process, screening machines are used to crush and pre-classify the mineral that has been extracted from the mines. Later in the processing chain, screening machines are also needed in other areas, e.g. compacting, granulate screening, loading, wet classification and dewatering. A short-term opportunity for this challenge is expanding the existing production processes by means of so-called de-bottlenecking. By implementing this quickly, it should be possible to increase production output by up to 20%. However, the time it takes to complete the process is crucial. An example of how output can be increased is seen in the granulation circuit, which is typically situated just before the final product is ready for sale. The granulator and the screen are the key components in this particular stage of the process. The product is fed into the circuit where it undergoes compaction and, if necessary, is crushed into smaller pieces. The usable grain sizes are then separated through screening and fed into the next stage of production. The remaining oversized particles are crushed, while the undersized particles, or dust, are recycled and granulated again. The pressed powder, known as flakes, is crushed once more to extract the final product, while the remaining material goes through the same series of steps. It is important to note that this cycle requires a significant amount of energy. An improved selection of screen surfaces, the adoption of appropriate screening technology and optimal operation of the granulator can lead to a decrease in circulation numbers and an immediate increase in output. This increase in production output ultimately translates into higher profits. These recommended enhancements to the current circuits can be implemented within a span of six months.

Projects from practice

Figure 3. RHEWUM screening machine. 26 | WORLD FERTILIZER | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024

Several potash producers around the world are looking for solutions to increase their production capacities. Where does this approach come from? As frequent bottlenecks in potash production are primarily attributable to the performance limitations of existing screening machines, e.g those used in granulation processes, many manufacturers have consistently failed to

Phosphorus is essential for life Did you know that Prayon Technologies also provides processes for animal feed phosphate production?


Figure 4. Mass flow diagram of an example screening plant. achieve their intended production targets. Thereby, a significant increase in capacity of 20 – 30% per line or 100 – 150 tph can be expected using a suitable screening machine. To solve the described production limitation of the plants, RHEWUM considers two possibilities: n Replacement of the small screening machines by sufficiently larger ones. n Creation of an additional screening area by using screening machines upstream or downstream in order to relieve the overloaded ones. The driving principle of the RHEduo® is based on the use of two unbalanced motors with different speeds. The motor with the lower speed and greater centrifugal imbalance is mounted on the inlet side, while the one with the higher speed and low vibration amplitude is installed on the outlet side. At the inlet, the product is loosened and mixed by the large oscillation amplitude. In the overflow section, the high acceleration of the additional motor leads to more frequent interactions between the grain and the sieve mesh, which results in a higher screening efficiency, especially for products that are typically difficult to screen. The screen has dimensioned inlets and outlets that extend over the entire width of the screening machine. Consequently, the capacity of the existing plants can be increased significantly without any overload. The extraction of dust is facilitated through the use of the undersized hopper. This demands a slightly more complex design, yet it holds a significant advantage: coarse particles do not carry fines along, preventing contamination of the coarse fraction, that often occurs when using extraction systems located on the screen cover. In addition, the small recess of the fines hopper has a positive effect on the performance of the screen. A further advantage for the producers arises from the static housing and therefore completely dust-tight design of the screening machine. At the inlet and outlet of the machine, there are no flexible connections. Through this design, dust generation, a common by-product of potash production, is significantly reduced, which minimises product losses and improves working conditions in the plant. Moreover, this leads to a significant reduction regarding 28 | WORLD FERTILIZER | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024

production downtimes and wear of components, while at the same time increasing the profitability of the company. The screeners use a robust chain cleaning system instead of bouncing balls to clean the screen mesh. The chain cleaning system consists of moving robust steel chains that are driven by pneumatic cylinders or geared motors over the screen mesh. These chains are constantly in motion, preventing clogging of the screen meshes and ensuring that the entire screen surface is thoroughly cleaned. However, bouncing balls lose their effectiveness due to wear, and need to be replaced every three months due to the abrasiveness of production. Additionally, the external vibration motors have another advantage – these machines can be used for product temperatures of up to 450°C and more without any problems.

Why is the industry hesitant?

It would be advisable to continue improving existing production facilities in an agile manner, in order to meet the increased global demand for potash and to take advantage of the currently disrupted supply chains. Only a few potash producers take this opportunity by becoming active and trying to improve their market position through de-bottlenecking. Many companies continue to produce at the same level as before the war and have only benefitted from the peaked market prices. There are opportunities to promptly relieve the shortage through suitable and dedicated measures, while at the same time improving a company’s market position. Additionally, there are economic incentives, as well as a humanitarian obligation to fulfil. Even if a larger quantity of potash is available on the world market, it will not fundamentally change the situation, yet it will form an important component in securing the global food supply for every human.

References 1.







WAKEELl, A/ISHFAQ, M (2021): Potash Use and Dynamics in Agriculture, 2nd edition, Singapore. Singapore: Springer Nature Singapore. FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO (2021): The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2021. Transforming food systems for food security, improved nutrition and affordable healthy diets for all, FAO, [online] [visited at: 10.03.2023]. FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO (2020): The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020. Transforming food systems for food security, improved nutrition and affordable healthy diets for all, FAO, [online] html#chapter-2_1 [visited at: 10.03.2023]. ELFERNIK, M/SCHIERHORN, F (2016): Global Demand for Food Is Rising. Can We Meet It?, Harvard Business Review, [online] https://hbr. org/2016/04/global-demand-for-food-is-rising-can-we-meet-it [visited at: 10.03.2023]. WAX, E/BRZEZINSKI, B (2022): ‘Enormous’ fertilizer shortage spells disaster for global food crisis, Politico, [online] article/fertilizer-soil-ukraine-war-the-next-global-food-crisis/ [visited at: 10.03.2023]. DE SOUZA, A/ GEBRE, SAMUEL/TRELOAR, S (2022): Yara to Further Cut European Ammonia Production Due to Gas Spike, BNN Bloomberg News, [online] [visited at: 10.03.2023]. FRIEDMANN, G (2023): Nutrien ramping up production as Ukraine conflict creates 'room in the market': CEO, Financial Post, [online] [visited at: 10.03.2023].


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Brett Binnekade, Bagtech, South Africa, explains why fertilizer blending is a key driver in agricultural productivity and sustainability.


n the dynamic arena of modern agriculture, the challenge of maximising crop yields while conscientiously minimising environmental impact stands at the forefront. At the heart of this equilibrium lies the precise and efficient application of fertilizers. The introduction of blending technology has given way for a new era in the fertilizer industry, ensuring uniform fertilizer blends and simultaneously facilitating the coating of both the complete mixture and individual raw materials. The process is conducted with the utmost care to maintain the integrity of the fertilizer granules. In this article, Bagtech discusses the critical importance of fertilizer blending technology, delves into the nuances of the continuous blending process, and highlights how the system is reshaping the agricultural landscape.

Understanding fertilizer blending

Fertilizer blending is a critical process that involves the meticulous combination of various fertilizer components 30

to formulate a custom blend, tailor-made to suit the specific requirements of a given field or crop. The foundational elements of these blends are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), collectively known as the NPK ratio. Additionally, secondary and micronutrients such as sulfur (S), calcium (Ca), and boron (B) are often incorporated, tailored to specific needs based on soil and crop analysis.

The importance of fertilizer blending technology

Fertilizers are the linchpin in modern agriculture, supplying vital nutrients essential for plant growth and development. However, the challenge lies in delivering these nutrients in the correct proportions and at the optimal time. Incorrect application of fertilizer can lead to overuse, resulting in nutrient runoff, groundwater contamination, and environmental degradation. Conversely, insufficient application can result in suboptimal crop yields, undermining the goal of


food production. Fertilizer blending technology addresses these challenges by enabling the creation of customised fertilizer blends that are specifically suited to the varying requirements of different crops and soil conditions. This technology ensures an equitable distribution of nutrients across the field, preventing areas of excess concentration and avoiding nutrient deficiencies in others.

Best practices in fertilizer blending Before delving into the more advanced blending technologies, it is essential to understand the foundational best practices in fertilizer blending:

Soil and crop analysis

n Comprehensive soil testing and analysis of crop nutrient requirements are pivotal before embarking on blending. This information forms the bedrock for devising an optimal fertilizer blend.

n Continuous soil testing and monitoring are crucial for adapting blends as soil conditions evolve.

Ingredient quality control

n The quality of raw materials used in the blending process is paramount. Contaminants or impurities can adversely affect the performance of the fertilizer. n Regular inspection and maintenance of blending equipment are crucial to prevent cross-contamination.

Precision blending equipment

n Investment in high-quality blending equipment that can accurately mix ingredients to achieve the desired NPK ratio is of utmost importance. n Computerised systems offer advanced control and data logging, contributing to the consistent quality of the blends.

Safety measures

n Safety protocols are essential to protect workers and the environment, as fertilizers can be hazardous if not handled properly. n Training personnel in the safe handling and storage of fertilizer components is vital for maintaining a safe work environment.

Quality assurance

n Quality control procedures to verify the accuracy and consistency of the blended fertilizers are a standard practice in the industry. n Regular testing ensures that the final product adheres to the intended nutrient content specifications.

'Zero shear' dosing technology

Figure 1. Liquid coating system installed in-line with macro hopper 1 on a continuous blending plant in Winterton, South Africa.

Figure 2. Zero shear dosing valves in action on a 4-hopper continuous blending plant in Harare, Zimbabwe.


In the realm of continuous fertilizer blending, the blend controller's role is not limited to controlling the total amount of fertilizer dosed, but also extends to regulating the dosing rate. This necessitates a variable rate dosing mechanism, exemplified by an auger driven by a variable speed motor. The rotation speed of the auger directly influences the fertilizer dosing rate. These dosing methods, originally developed by the bulk handling industry, are not always ideally suited for the unique properties of granulated fertilizer. 'Zero shear' dosing technology addresses several critical aspects of the blending process: efficiency, accuracy, preservation of fertilizer granules' integrity, and minimising dust formation. Some key aspects include: n Granule preservation: traditional dosing methods, such as augers or rotary valves, often subject fertilizer granules to shear force, potentially causing damage. The zero shear dosing method employs a servo-driven mechanism that remains largely stationary during dosing, minimising the impact on the granules and preserving their integrity. n Dust reduction: shearing of fertilizer granules can lead to the creation of dust particles, posing challenges for worker safety, environmental concerns, quality control, and maintenance. n Accuracy: the gate component in zero shear technology is driven by a servo motor, enabling

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extremely precise control of the dosing rate, adjustable to increments as small as 0.003 mm. Dosing technology marks a significant milestone in the fertilizer blending industry and agriculture at large, enhancing product quality, promoting environmental sustainability, improving operational efficiency, and leading to lower maintenance costs with its mechanical simplicity.

Fully integrated control systems

Despite the simplicity of dosing technology, the control systems required to manage such devcies are complex, surpassing the mere variation of motor speed. Servo motor technology, which has been around for decades, was traditionally perceived as expensive and technically challenging. However, with the advent of economies of scale and significant advancements in software and electronics, servo motors have become a common feature in automation industries. Nevertheless, they require sophisticated, integrated control systems for effective operation. These systems enable communication between all devices in a blending plant via a high-speed network, either directly or through the main control unit. Unlike standalone, process-specific controllers that manage each process independently, a fully integrated control system oversees the entire operation. This system enables customised configurations of blending plants, allows for future expansions and upgrades, and offers levels of diagnostics. Bagtech has helped elevate the safety and efficiency of its latest blending plant installations by integrating safety systems into the overarching control network. These safety systems are not just a precautionary measure; they are key to the operational process, poised to halt the entire operation in a split second to protect life, limb, or equipment. By harnessing the power of digital safety systems and connecting them to the plant's control system, the company has enabled digital communication down to the level of individual safety sensors. This integration has unlocked the potential for precise diagnostics and flexibility in operations. The plants are now segmented into distinct safety zones at the software level, an approach that ensures that the operation in one zone can continue unhindered even when another zone enters a safe mode. This strategic segmentation not only enhances safety, but also minimises downtime, propelling blending plants into a new era of operational efficiency and safety.

Liquid coating on-the-fly

Liquid coating of granular fertilizers is a technique that enhances nutrient efficiency and environmental sustainability. This process involves applying a specifically formulated liquid coating, which can include nutrients, pesticides, or conditioners, to fertilizer granules. The primary advantage is the controlled release of nutrients, which reduces leaching and runoff, particularly in areas with high rainfall or irrigation. This slow release also decreases the need for frequent fertilizer applications, saving labour and time. A notable advantage of liquid coating is its ability to amalgamate multiple nutrients or additives into a single 34 | WORLD FERTILIZER | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024

granule, streamlining the application process for farmers. This method not only optimises plant growth, but also reduces environmental impact by minimising nutrient runoff, therefore safeguarding nearby water bodies from eutrophication and promoting more efficient resource utilisation. Additionally, liquid-coated fertilizers possess enhanced physical properties, such as reduced dust generation and improved flowability, which facilitates handling and application. The coating also protects the fertilizer from environmental factors, extending its shelf life and maintaining its efficacy. Overall, the liquid coating of granular fertilizers presents a beneficial approach in agriculture, offering improved nutrient delivery, environmental benefits, and ease of application. Bagtech has observed a marked increase in demand for liquid coatings, with an influx of suppliers introducing their liquid coating products. A significant effort has been dedicated to developing systems to accurately dose and coat these liquid products, a challenging task due to the varying compositions of these products, ranging from oil-based to water-based, and from low to high viscosity, and including solids in suspension. The integrated control system plays a pivotal role in managing this complexity. Typically, the liquid coating application is either a pre-blend or post-blend step. Pre-blending involves coating raw materials in bulk before they are blended with other components. Post-blending coating occurs after the blending process, ensuring an even coating on all ingredients in the blend. To enhance efficiencies and reduce handling, coating equipment that integrates into the blending plant has been developed, enabling both pre-blend and post-blend coating in a single continuous production run. A common scenario involves a blend of urea, MAP, and KCL. Initially, the urea requires a coating of a slow-release agent. It is then blended with MAP and KCL in controlled proportions, followed by an even coating of the entire blend with a liquid zinc nutrient additive. Traditionally a three-step process, integrated coating solutions consolidate this into a single continuous operation. This is achieved by incorporating a coating blender into one or more of the raw hoppers, along with variable rate liquid dosing pumps, all meticulously controlled by the integrated control system to match the rate of liquid with the fertilizer rate continuously.


Fertilizer blending remains a cornerstone in the realm of modern agriculture, enabling farmers to optimise nutrient delivery to crops while minimising waste and environmental impact. Dedication to zero shear dosing and advanced liquid coating systems signifies a major leap forward in this field. Innovations have not only contributed to the quality and consistency of blended fertilizers, but have also supported environmental sustainability and operational efficiency. As the agricultural industry continues to evolve, these advancements play a vital role in fulfilling the demands of modern agriculture while minimising its environmental footprint. With appropriate knowledge and practices, fertilizer blending will persist as a key driver in agricultural productivity and sustainability.



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ertilizers, and the processes used to manufacture them, place some of the very toughest demands on rubber conveyor belts. Strangely, despite the serious damage that can be inflicted on them, the continued use of low-grade conveyor belts (that have inadequate resistance to these demands) is widespread, often in an effort to minimise costs. The same applies to heat resistance which is a very short-term and costly mistake. Without adequate heat-resistant properties, high temperatures cause a rapid acceleration in the ageing process of the rubber. Most conveyor operators in the fertilizer industry could and should be using belts that provide at least twice the length of working life compared to what is currently being achieved. In a


surprising number of cases, it can be substantially more than twice the life. The mathematics regarding costs are simple. Belts that last appreciably longer and require less intervention cost much less. To achieve cost-effective longevity, fertilizer conveyor belts need to possess a range of essential properties.

Basic properties

To provide cost-effective longevity, the rubber covers that protect the inner carcass of the belt must have a good standard of at least two basic properties – abrasion (wear) resistance and ozone and ultraviolet resistance. Insufficient resistance to abrasion is one of the biggest reasons why belts need to be replaced much sooner than should be necessary.

Rob van Oijen, Fenner Dunlop, the Netherlands, explains how fertilizer producers can increase the working lifetime of conveyor belts, whilst decreasing their cost.

When conveying material that does not contain oils or chemicals, with a continuous ambient temperature of less than 80°C, then a straightforward abrasion resistant compound should suffice. The DIN Y grade or its closest equivalent, ISO 14890 grade L, is usually perfectly suitable for ‘normal’ service conditions. When comparing figures relating to abrasion resistance, it is important to remember that lower figures represent a higher level of resistance against abrasive wear. The second, and most commonly overlooked basic property, is resistance to the seriously damaging effects of ozone and ultraviolet light. At low altitude, ozone becomes a pollutant and is created by the photolysis of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) from sources such as automobile exhaust and industrial discharges. This is known as ozonolysis.

Exposure is inescapable because even tiny traces of ozone in the air will attack the molecular structure of rubber. It increases the acidity of carbon black surfaces with natural rubber, polybutadiene, styrenebutadiene rubber and nitrile rubber being the most sensitive to degradation. Unless the manufacturer has included sufficient amounts of good quality antiozonants when creating the rubber compound, small cracks will begin to appear in the surface of the rubber at a surprisingly early stage. This is because the process of ozonolysis effectively begins when the conveyor belt leaves the production line. While this process is taking place, ultraviolet light from sunlight and artificial (fluorescent) lighting is also accelerating the deterioration of the rubber covers. Known as ‘UV degradation’, it 37

produces photochemical reactions that promote the oxidation of the rubber surface, resulting in a loss in mechanical strength. One of the many unwanted side effects of rubber degradation caused by ozone and ultraviolet radiation is that the ability of the rubber to resist wear and surface cutting is steadily reduced, thereby significantly reducing the operational lifetime of the belt. A good standard of abrasion resistance, and ozone and UV resistance, should therefore be absolute prerequisites when buying any type of rubber conveyor belt.

Oils and chemicals

Just as there are several different types of fertilizer, there are even more varieties of oils and chemicals, including acids, that are

Figures 1 & 2. Insufficient resistance to abrasion is a prime cause of premature belt replacement (left) and the seriously damaging effects of ozone and ultraviolet light (right).

contained within them or which are used as part of the production process. Many have a seriously damaging effect on the outer covers of conveyor belts and consequently on both their day-to-day performance and life expectancy. When oil penetrates rubber it causes it to soften, swell and distort. The process is relatively gradual but it leads to all kinds of problems. As with ozone and ultraviolet, the first problem is a dramatic decrease in the ability of the rubber to withstand abrasive wear, although unlike ozone and ultraviolet, the signs are not so visually obvious. As the rubber continues to soften, it also steadily loses its tensile strength while at the same time becoming much more prone to ripping and tearing. The next stage is that the rubber begins to swell and distort. This causes steering and handling problems along with a serious reduction in the amount a belt can stretch before it snaps. The technical phrase for this is ‘elongation at break’. A common symptom of this is recurring splice joint problems. There are two distinct sources of oils that damage rubber: mineral and vegetable/animal, each of which has its own particular effects. Despite the difference in effect, most conveyor belt manufacturers only offer one oil resistant rubber cover quality compound, which is usually referred to as ‘MOR’ (moderate oil resistance). Although probably a safe option when dealing with vegetable/animal oil, such a level of oil resistance usually proves inadequate when conveying fertilizers such as phosphates and urea that have been treated with an oil-based coating to prevent the granules sticking together. Experience has shown that rubber covers that contain a higher level of nitrile have superior resistance to mineral oil and provide the best protection when urea formaldehyde (UF) is used as an anti-caking and de-dusting agent. At the same time, rubber that has good resistance to mineral oil usually proves to have good resistance to aggressive chemicals such as nitric acid, ammonia and so forth.

Heat – the ultimate belt killer

Figure 3. Serious distortion – the effect of oil on a flat rubber belt.

Figure 4. Heat is the ultimate belt killer. 38 | WORLD FERTILIZER | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024

The high temperature materials and working environments found in the fertilizer industry create arguably the most destructive forces of all. Heat causes a rapid acceleration in the ageing process of the rubber, causing it to harden and crack. Tensile strength and elongation can be reduced by as much as 80%, effectively destroying the operational strength and flexibility of the belt and seriously weakening splice joints. The covers of the belt wear much faster because the resistance to abrasive wear diminishes considerably. Worse still, if the core of the carcass becomes too hot, then the bond between the covers and fabric layers can separate (delaminate) and the belt will quite literally fall apart. However, as with inadequate resistance to the other life-shortening factors previously described (abrasion, ozone, ultraviolet, oils and chemicals), the quality of resistance to high temperatures is often sacrificed in the pursuit of ‘economy’. The two most critical considerations when choosing the level of heat resistance required are both the temperature range and the granularity of the materials being conveyed. The temperature limits that a belt can withstand are viewed in two ways – the maximum continuous temperature of the conveyed material, and the maximum temporary peak temperature. The combination of temperature and size of the material dictates the amount of energy exposed to the belt cover. The two main classifications of heat resistance recognised in the

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market are T150, which relates to a maximum continuous temperature of 150°C, and T200, which is for more extreme heat conditions up to 200°C.

Combined solutions and cost savings

Figure 5. Delamination – if the inner carcass becomes too hot, the belt will literally fall apart.

Figure 6. Cheaper in the long run – quality belts help maximise productivity.

There are probably more situations within the fertilizer industry that involve combinations of abrasion, oil, chemical and heat resistance than any other. In addition to that, of course, is the question of fire safety, which is a separate subject altogether and not directly related to day-to-day performance and longevity of use. Fortunately, in terms of performance and longevity properties, belts equipped with specialist rubber compounds are available, which are proven not only to withstand multiple demands but also provide amazing levels of life expectancy. For example, there are belts available such as Fenner Dunlop’s BVGT, that have a combined resistance to heat, oil, fire, abrasion, ozone and UV. They may not be available ‘off the shelf’ and they come at a higher buying price. However, selecting a conveyor belt because it is ‘competitively priced’ rather than considering its 'whole life cost’ is almost invariably a very expensive mistake. Experience shows that the bigger the difference in price, the bigger the difference will be in performance and longevity. Thanks to technological advances, the effectiveness and value of modern-day conveyor belts should be measured over several years rather than just a year or two. In the fertilizer industry, there are more and more examples of belts that only last a few months and, in some extreme cases, only a matter of weeks. It is important to never accept that it is not possible for a belt to last many times longer than is currently being achieved. It really is possible to get the best of both worlds.

When melamine goes green Stefano Sassi, Eurotecnica, Italy, discusses how the melamine and ammonia industries are maximising plant dependability to move towards a more sustainable future.


or more than a decade, the fertilizer industry has been exploring ways to decrease fossil fuel consumption to reduce its impact on the production of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Studies and simulations on pilot plants have made green ammonia accessible. Though restricted to small-scale plants at the moment, green ammonia is finding its way forward. This is an important path in an industry where GHG emissions account for around 2% of global carbon dioxide emissions. 41

Figure 1. Typical scheme of Euromel® melamine plant.

Figure 2. Scheme of melamine plant plus zero CO2.

Figure 3a. Green melamine arrangement – option 1.

Figure 3b. Green melamine arrangement – option 2. 42 | WORLD FERTILIZER | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024

The melamine industry is much smaller than the ammonia sector, but it can still contribute to reducing global GHG emissions. Reducing GHG emissions, or going green, is therefore at the top of the list of priorities for fertilizer companies. Eurotecnica has gradually been moving towards the renewable energy sector, having designed and implemented thermal energy storage systems (TES) based on the proprietary ET Sun EnergyTM technology. ET Sun Energy TES systems were originally designed to perform the storage of solar energy for later use when the sun comes down. The recent involvement of the technology in a project in North America for the company Malta Inc. has demonstrated how the technology fits businesses where the storage of energy is required: from the concentrated solar field, photovoltaic fields, windmills or any other sources of renewable energy. This concept is further developed to include a fluctuating surplus of electricity from the national grid. Focusing again on the melamine industry, whatever the technology, the reaction of urea into melamine requires energy, since such a reaction is endothermic. Euromel melamine technology requires bare fuel to operate a plant’s reaction section and does not require any additional fuel to perform the drying. Furthemore, Euromel uses ammonia only, which is fully recovered and not consumed. This means large amounts of energy to treat wastewater and dispose of the resulting polluted mud is saved. The use of ammonia for purification means the technology does not generate any solid/liquid wastes. As Euromel is a native-pollution-free technology, it was a simple next step for the technology to produce green melamine; in other words, it is a green-ready technology. Figure 1 shows the typical arrangement of a Euromel melamine plant, where feedstock is urea melt (but can also be NH3/CO2). The reaction section is where fuel is consumed, and the ammonia recovery section is where most of the steam is used. Fuel is used to heat a heat-transfer-media, which for the reaction from urea to melamine is molten salts, to around 450°C. It is not infrequent to design the molten salts heater to be fed by coal gas, synthesis gas, etc. Another source of energy used in the Euromel plant is steam. Almost all of these plants are designed to utilise steam for the ammonia recovery section. A green plant, as shown in Figure 2, runs only on green electricity,

so a number of inputs and outputs disappear, such as fuel, steam inputs, and flue gas output. Green energy can be sourced in two ways: n It may already be available from certified suppliers of electricity produced from renewable sources (Figure 3a). n It may also be produced on site as part of a larger green ammonia complex. Renewable sources are inconstant by nature, therefore it is essential to equip the complex with an energy storage system to have the electricity continuously fed to the plant (Figure 3b). The TES can accumulate thermal energy during the operating hours of the renewable sources and reconvert it into energy fit for the operation of a chemical plant when renewable sources are offline. Furthermore, the system can be designed to operate on multiple forms of renewable energy, harvesting the electricity produced by photovoltaic systems and windmills and transforming the heat released to the TES for storage. Eurotecnica's melamine process has undergone improvements over time, such as: n Integration with the upstream urea plant thanks to the water-free high-pressure reaction off-gas. n Low energy consumption. n Low CAPEX.

Figure 4. Views of ET Sun Energy™ application for the thermal energy


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chemicals, with the advantage that liquid effluents and solid waste are never generated, since ammonia is recovered by distillation and is recycled back to the purification stage. The utilisation of ammonia in the purification section is the best solution regarding logistics and operations being naturally available within any fertilizer complex. It requires no additional facility nor special operations for handling and storage. Furthermore, the ammonia increases the process yield by minimising the melamine loss due to the side reactions. Ammonia also has a key role in the final product's stability and purity, as it has a high volatility; it is fully removed during the drying stage by evaporation at atmospheric pressure, so the final product is never affected by any foreign substances.

Figure 5. One of the first Euromel melamine plants was implemented in the early 1980s. n Total-zero-pollution, achieved by using ammonia in the purification section (instead of add-on chemicals). n Becoming a fully automated plant: a low number of operators are needed to run the plant.

Advantages of ammonia in purification

Ammonia has an additional and important role for use in the purification section instead of foreign add-on

High on-stream factor

In a capital-intensive industry, such as that of melamine and the related upstream ammonia/urea industries, every day of production added towards the reach of a theoretical 100% on-stream factor can truly contribute towards reducing the specific operating cost. Features, such as reactor bottling-in (e.g. the possibility to keep the plant hot and running at a low regime even during temporary urea plant shutdown), work towards maximum plant dependability.


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Mads Feddersen, Topsoe, Denmark, explores new developments in more sustainable syngas production methods.


critical part of confronting the need to combat climate change is the decarbonisation of industrial processes. Hard-to-abate industries, characterised by their substantial carbon footprints and intricate production processes, stand as some of the trickier challenges on the road to achieving net zero emissions. These sectors, vital to modern society, encompass steel, cement, chemicals, and heavy transportation, and their decarbonisation is paramount if climate targets are to be met. In the field of syngas production, various methods are being studied to create environmentally friendly products, categorised as either ‘blue’ or ‘green’. The blue approach involves modifying existing production processes, and utilising abundant natural gas as a feedstock. This method

currently requires less additional infrastructure to be implemented on a large scale. The SynCORTM blue layout, illustrated in Figure 1, captures over 99% of CO2 emissions, and is used across numerous ongoing projects. This article will delve into the catalysts employed in this technology.

Purification of feedstock

In feedstock purification, a notable trend emerges with new blue projects, which boast significantly higher nameplate capacities compared to existing plants. This places specific demands on the catalysts utilised in the feed purification section. These catalysts carry the crucial responsibility of thoroughly eliminating any sulfur compounds present in the natural gas while also necessitating reactors of reasonable size for this section of the plant. 45

In the hydrogenator, full conversion of organic sulfur into H 2S is required in order to protect the catalysts being used in the downstream reforming and shift sections of the plant. Organic-S+H2 → H2S hydrogenation reaction Extensive research and understanding of the hydrodesulfurisation reaction have led to the creation of the TK-261 NiMo-based catalyst. This product demonstrates high and stable activity, ensuring the full conversion of any organic sulfur within the natural gas. This catalyst frequently achieves operational lifetimes exceeding a decade. The high volume of natural gas flowing through SynCOR units necessitates a substantial absorption and removal of sulfur in the desulfurisers. Consequently, the choice of absorbent is key; it must achieve full saturation under operational conditions to maximise the utilisation of available reactor space.

H2S + Zn0 → ZnS + H2O sulfur absorption reaction The copper promoted HTZ absorbents excel in this regard, as the copper plays a pivotal role in facilitating the transfer of sulfur deep into the core of the pellets, as seen in Figure 2. In combination with the high zinc oxide (ZnO) content, exceeding 97%, this synergy guarantees optimal utilisation of the installed absorbent volume and extends the operational cycle times.


In the process, the reforming takes place at a steam/carbon (S/C) ratio of 0.5 – 0.6. This is significantly lower than in traditional designs based on steam methane reforming, where the ratio is typically between 1.8 – 3.0, depending on the feedstock and end product. To accommodate the low steam to carbon (S/C) ratios, a pre-conversion of natural gas occurs in an adiabatic prereformer. CH 4 + H2O → 3H2 + CO reforming reaction CO + H 2O → H2 + CO2 water gas shift reaction

Figure 1. The blue approach involves modifying existing production processes, utilising natural gas as a feedstock.

Figure 2. HTZ Intra pellet sulfur profiles.

Operating at relatively modest temperatures, this step is pivotal in the process. However, at such low S/C ratios, there is an elevated risk of carbon formation in the prereformer. This means employing specialised catalyst formulations designed to withstand these demanding operational conditions. The nickel-based AR-401 prereforming catalyst was developed with this challenge in mind. Employing a distinctive production technique that prioritises achieving a high and stable nickel surface area, this catalyst manufacturing process also includes controlled ex-situ prereduction of the catalyst. The combined effect is a catalyst distinguished by its stability and long operational lifespan, as show in Figure 3. The high gas rates in the prereformer can result in high pressure drops across the reactor. For this reason, the AR-401 is made as small seven-hole particles, keeping the pressure drop at low levels throughout its life.

Auto thermal reforming The autothermal reformer (ATR) is at the heart of the process. It uses pure oxygen to convert the prereformed natural gas into syngas at temperatures of up to 1300°C. CH4 + O2 → 2H2 + CO2 combustion reaction H2 + O2 → 2H2O combustion reaction CH4 + H2O ↔ 3H2 + CO reforming reaction

Figure 3. AR-401 temperature profiles. 46 | WORLD FERTILIZER | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024

CO + H2O ↔ H2 + CO2 water gas shift reaction

W E The high temperatures prevailing in the ATR require a careful selection of the materials being used. This is not only relevant for the refractory and the tiles used as hold down material, but also for the catalysts where a multi-layer loading of RKA-10/RKS-2 and RKS-2-7H is being used. The large size RKA-10 catalyst acts like a protection layer for the catalysts below. With a very high thermostability, its main function is to cool down the gas to a certain degree (using the endothermic reforming reaction) before it enters the RKS-2 layer. In the RKS-2 layer, a further reforming reaction takes place and the relatively large particles have the ability to trap any impurities that may come from upstream, which keeps pressure drop build ups at a controlled and modest rate. Lastly, the gas enters the RKS-2-7H layer where the final part of the reforming reaction takes place and reaches equilibrium at the bottom of the catalyst. All of the catalysts used in the ATR have nickel as the active component.



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Two step shift section

The shift section in the process consists of two steps at different temperature levels. In the high temperature shift, the low S/C ratio implies that traditional iron chromium-based catalysts cannot be used because part of the iron would be transformed into carbide, which would catalyse hydrocarbon byproduct formation via Fischer Tropsch reactions, reducing catalyst strength and consuming valuable hydrogen. 5Fe3O4 + 32 CO ↔ 3Fe5C2+ 26 CO2 Carbide reaction

nCO + (2n+1)H2 ↔ CnH2n+2 + nH2O Fischer Tropsch reaction

Instead, the SK-501 FLEXTM catalyst is used in this reactor. SK-501 FLEX has an alternative formulation compared with other HTS catalysts, as it uses promoted zinc alumina spinel as the active compound. Being chromium and iron free, it has few limitations regarding S/C ratios and can operate in a wide range of conditions (Figure 4). CO + H2O ↔ H2 + CO2 water gas shift reaction The low temperature shift (LTS) reactor is the last process step where hydrogen can be formed in the SynCOR layout. Due to the exothermic nature of the water-gas shift reaction, higher conversion rates are obtained by operating at temperatures as low as possible, as this will result in more hydrogen. This puts certain requirements on the LTS catalysts, especially with regard to high and stable activity. The LK-823 catalyst is designed with this in mind – it has dispersed copper crystals that result in high catalyst activity and low deactivation rates throughout its operational life.

Ammonia synthesis

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The final synthesis of ammonia takes place in a loop which is similar in design to the conventional process. As plant capacities are at higher levels, it puts certain requirements on the robustness of the ammonia converter and the catalyst used. Magnetite based

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Figure 4. SK-501 FLEXTM industrial data.

catalysts have been the preferred choice of the industry for many years due to their long lifetimes and their flexibility in handling the small amounts of oxygenates entering with the syngas. Catalyst replacements are normally a very time and resource-consuming activity requiring highly specialised manpower. Even with the best planning and preparations, there is still a risk that extensive repairs would have to be made to the reactor internals and this could impact future performance. Stable and robust catalyst systems, which can stay in operation for decades without losing significant activity, are therefore desirable. The KM series of catalysts has a long lifetimes in excess of 20 years. An activity profile from one of these industrial installations is illustrated in Figure 5.


Figure 5. KM catalyst activity as function of time.

Considerable effort is being invested in the need to decarbonise the syngas production pathway. The SynCOR process can help enable plant owners and operators to make substantial reductions in their carbon footprint. Each catalyst used in this process has undergone careful selection to optimise both efficiency and longevity. This effort and development signals a promising step forward towards a more sustainable and decarbonised industry landscape.

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A Calculated Approach To Catalysts F

or decades, gauze manufacturers have attempted to differentiate themselves from the competition, which, as a look back at history shows, is only possible to a limited extent due to knitting technology. Flexibility must be offered so that gauze specifications can come closer to the optimum in customer-specific catalyst designs. A real paradigm shift has only occurred since gauze manufacturers began to take responsibility, not only for their product, but also for their performance in the customer process. To do this, however, the gauze producer must have comprehensive knowledge of the process of catalysed ammonia oxidation itself, and develop tools for visualising a wide variety of reaction and flow factors influencing the performance of the catalyst. From this, measures can be derived to improve the catalyst performance in the customer process.

, on ze i t ra gau o p or n of C . tal ressio stry e M rog indu n i p r b Sa and tilize , nn tory fer a um his the e e n N s th ing in e re rg ur Jue explo fact u A, man S U

A brief glance at history

Despite the long history of the Ostwald process for producing nitric acid based on the catalysed oxidation of ammonia, there has only been one fundamental change in catalyst technology to date, which was when knitting technology found its way into catalyst production at the beginning of the 1990s. In the search for a suitable catalyst that was both permeable to gas and offered the lowest possible resistance to the gas flow, wires based on platinum alloys were processed into woven gauzes (Figure 1) 49

Figure 1. Schematic representation of a stack of woven gauzes.1

Figure 2. Weaving technology.

Figures 3a & 3b. Knitting technology (a – left), and

schematic representation of a stack of knitted gauzes (b – right.)1

Figures 4a & 4b. Schematic representation of the

temperature profile of the process gas in a stack of woven gauzes (a – left), and knitted gauzes (b – right.)1


on weaving machines (Figure 2). The catalyst gauzes produced using weaving technology were identical in design, and did not offer the manufacturer any opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition. The lack of technological sophistication meant that the gauze manufacturer ultimately saw itself as simply a finisher of the customer's precious metal. The change to knitting technology (Figure 3a) brought about a fundamental change in this stalemate situation, as the different knitting technologies used brought different competitive advantages. However, this consideration should not obscure the fact that the introduction of knitting technology was based on nothing other than the reduction of production costs and, above all, the precious metal binding, as opposed to the gauze design (Figure 3b) and its operational functionality in ammonia oxidation; the performance advantages of the different knitting patterns were almost non-existent. The gauze manufacturer would traditionally use the knitting patterns inherent in its knitting technology to differentiate itself from the competition, which was not a really sustainable undertaking, but still lasted for many years. The reason for the lack of distinction between the effects of different knitting patterns lies in the knitting technology itself. Knitted gauzes have a significantly higher porosity than that of woven gauzes, and this plays the decisive role in the NH3 conversion behaviour at the gauze layers under the mass transfer limited reaction regime of ammonia oxidation. Figures 4a and 4b show schematically the course of the reaction based on the temperature profile as the process gas passes through a stack of woven and knitted gauzes. Comparing the temperature profiles of the different technologies highlights the significantly lower NH3 conversion rate of knitted gauzes compared to woven gauzes due to their much higher porosity. Only at the beginning of the 2000s did the gauze manufacturer reflect on the flexibility associated with knitting technology and the resulting breadth of gauze specifications while remaining cost-neutral, which represents the actual, fundamental difference compared to weaving technology.

Customised gauze packs

This change ushered in the hour of customer-specific catalyst packages, for which gauze manufacturers used the range of its gauze specifications to adapt the number of gauze layers, and the total weight of the catalyst package to the specific operating conditions of the customer's processes. At the beginning of the introduction of customer-specific catalyst designs, the operating parameters of different plants were compared with each other, and the number of gauze layers were extrapolated. Today, gauze manufacturers use modern computer programmes that provide the necessary information based on the specific process conditions of the individual plant. Since catalytic ammonia oxidation is a process under a mass-transfer limited regime, the probability of NH3 conversion in the different gauze layers can be calculated from the ratio of diffusive to convective flow rate, and from this, the necessary number of gauze layers in the

catalyst package for an almost 100% NH3 conversion are determined. The same applies to the specific precious metal loss, which can be primarily attributed to the process parameters, operating pressure and gauze temperature. Based on the specific precious metal losses, the precious metal installation quantity is adjusted to the targeted service life and capacity of the plant, so that the resulting precious metal losses do not amount to more than 50 – 55% of the precious metal installation weight. With this procedure, the number of gauze layers in the catalyst package and its total installation weight are determined. Gauze manufacturers now have the choice of using the gauze specifications inherent in the knitting technology to distribute the weight with the smoothest possible gradient over the sequence of gauze layers over the catalyst package. In principle, it is this final step that allows the gauze manufacturer to stand out from the competition and generate a competitive advantage that can be attributed to its own knitting technology.

Outside of the box

With the change from weaving technology to knitting technology, and the customer-specific designs of the catalyst packages, gauze manufacturers have left the comfort zone of being simple finishers of the customer's precious metal, and now see themselves as responsible not only for their product, but above all, for their performance in the customer process. The operator of the plant in which the catalyst package is installed needs answers to the questions that result from a possible underperformance of

Figure 5. Correlation of gauze/process gas temperature and NH3 conversion related to the individual gauze layer. the catalyst in order to return their process to normal, or to be able to rule out such a condition in the next campaign. For this purpose, Sabin deploys a number of tools with which the performance of the catalyst under the specific operating conditions of the individual plant is analysed. This primarily includes calculations based on kinetic and thermodynamic rules for the analysis of process deviations, dynamic process simulation (which is applied in particular to analyse and improve the startup procedure), as well as CFD flow simulation for examining the flow distribution in the reactor, the inhomogeny of which often led to brittleness of the gauzes, and even the formation of cracks throughout the entire catalyst package.


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As a result, we continue to be the leading advocates of compliance to EU and UK regulations relating to the use of potentially hazardous chemicals, preparations and substances. This includes the use of any substance of very high concern (SVHC) and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). Sadly, many European manufacturers choose to ignore these legal requirements while manufacturers located outside of EU member states and the UK are not subject to them.

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Based on kinetic and thermodynamic laws, the selectivities of the NH3 conversion products N2, N2O and NO over the temperature, as well as the temperature of the different gauze layers and their surrounding process gas temperature, is calculated (Figure 5) from which the NH3 conversion rate and selectivity of the individual gauze layers in the catalyst package are computed. The ageing behaviour of the catalyst, as well as significant fluctuations in the operating pressure and NH3 load of the reactor, lead to a shift in the course of reaction in the catalyst package, and therefore a shift in the corresponding curves, which Figures 6a & 6b. Course of temperature and NH3 ratio over time: original campaign (a – left), and optimised campaign (b – right.) ultimately manifests itself in a change in the performance of the catalyst. Using this method, the effects of changes in the process parameters can be predicted and strategies can be developed to return the process to its intended normal state, under the restrictions of individual modes of operation. The main focus of technical support is clearly on the startup process of the new catalyst, as this process has the greatest impact on the performance of the catalyst for the entire campaign. The problems for the plant operator are diverse, starting with the question of efficient preheating of the catalyst package by means of hydrogen combustion, the question of under what conditions the ammonia oxidation reaction on the catalyst is ignited, up to the optimal increase in the ammonia ratio, to avoid a too much of a rise in temperature. Dynamic process simulation makes it possible to answer these questions. Even before the reaction is actually ignited, which visually indicates the temperature-related self-acceleration of the reaction through the glowing of the gauzes, an NH3 conversion takes place with the corresponding release of heat. This, however, is not particularly noticeable, either visually or Figure 7. Startup case study – HNO3 yield development over in terms of measurements. Parallel to the increase in the time: original/optimised startup procedure. NH3 ratio, the heat release and therefore the reaction temperature also increase until these two factors lead to a sufficient self-acceleration of the reaction, accompanied by the ignition of the reaction on the catalyst. Starting from the heat capacities, preheating, NH3 ratio and mixed gas temperature, the conditions and the time of ignition of the reaction on the catalyst can be precisely described by evaluating the masses and energy balances. Based on the heat capacity of the catalyst package and the reactor internals associated with it, the heat flow generated by the reaction can be broken down into the temperature increase of the reactor internals with the catalyst and the process gas, with which the temperature and any increase can be calculated at any point in the startup phase. The dynamic process simulation enables the optimisation of the startup procedure using such an Figure 8. Hotspot at the edge of the catalyst package. approach, which means that any possible impact on the 52 | WORLD FERTILIZER | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024

further performance of the catalyst can be limited to a minimum, and at the same time provides reliable data for safety-related considerations. Figures 6a and 6b show such a case study for optimising the startup procedure, where the problem is defined in the very slow development of the yield over the course of the campaign. In the graphics, the red curves reflect the temperature of the three thermocouples over time; the blue curve reflects the course of the NH3 ratio in the mixed gas for the original (Figure 6a) and optimised (Figure 6b) process. The comparison of the time course of Figures 9 & 10. Regional embrittlement of the catalyst pack (left) and CFD flow simulation –1-3_WldFert_InsertV1.pdf flow load on the surface1 of12/8/23 the catalyst (right). the HNO3 yields of the original and 9:14 AM optimised startup process (Figure 7) shows, on the one hand, the influence of the start-up process on the selectivity development of the catalyst, and on the other hand, also that an optimal adjustment can bring about a significant improvement in the process economy. In addition to the startup process and the correlation of the selected process parameters, the flow characteristics in the reactor can also have a significant impact on the catalyst performance. Signs of such an influence are areas with significantly different colour temperatures and even hot spots, which usually form in the edge area of the catalyst package, as shown in Figure 8. The effects on the catalyst package range from a regionally limited brittleness (Figure 9), up to the formation of cracks throughout the entire catalyst package. The cause of such situations can only be clarified using CDF flow simulation, for which the reactor geometry is first reproduced in a 3D computational graphic and then a flow is applied to it in the simulation. The CFD simulation visualises the flow load on the surface of the catalyst package in terms of both the flow velocity and its vectorial horizontal and vertical flow components, as shown as an example in Figure 10, from which the influence of the prevailing flow characteristics can be directly derived. The solutions that are developed from such a consideration relate primarily to eliminating the fluidic cause of the flow ® inhomogeneity or to a targeted change in the flow routing by changing the piping or the installation of additional components such as porous distribution plates. C







References 1.

JANTZEN, S, NEUMANN, J. “A Novel Multifunctional Product Family of Umicore’s MKS Concept”. Uhde Fertiliser Symposium, Dortmund, Germany, 2006.


Hou seke epin for g bet t er han dlin g T

here are several areas of bulk material handling in the fertilizer industry that can improve both production and safety. New technologies are focusing on common issues faced by mine and mill applications when handling both raw materials and finished product. Some topics/applications include: n Respirable dust and fugitive materials. n Improved housekeeping by minimising need/frequency. n Improved safety by eliminating confined space entry. n Product degradation reduction. n Ease of maintenance to reduce downtime. 54

Mining is responsible for much of the fertilizer production in the world today. Potash, phos-rock and other operations share similar issues in the handling and transport of bulk materials used in the fertilizer manufacturing process. This article focuses on conveyors, transfer points, bins, and storage as related to the above topics. As the newly updated air quality regulations introduced by MSHA are enforced, facilities are looking into new ways to control dust and spillage while also ensuring stronger safety measures are in place. A significant means of addressing these issues is by ‘curing the problem at the source.’ In bulk material

Greg Bi new t erie, Bene te ec indus hnologies ch, USA, d try th i i at co n the fert scusses the p uld ilizer roduc tion a be set to mate nd sa i rials h fety o mprove andlin f bulk g.


handling, induced air, entrained air, and displaced air are primary sources for compliance issues. Generated air from certain crushing operations may also become a factor. A common industry consensus is that 85% of the dust and spillage issues can be attributed to conveyor transfer points, such as crushers, discharges and belt-to-belt transfers throughout the conveyor systems. There can also be areas below bins and hoppers that allow fugitive material to escape, causing serious issues.

Figure 1. Transfer chute before (left) and after (right).

Figure 2. Loading offset before (top) and loading corrected (bottom).

Belt to belt transfer points

The leading contributor to dust and spillage creation at a typical site is belt to belt material transfer points. Historically the traditional approach has been to treat the dust and spillage symptoms with dust collection and manual clean up. Today, better approaches to reduce dust and spillage issues are used, such as, addressing the problem at the source and controlling material flow properly. The main goals for improved belt-to-belt transfer points are to control material flow and to manage air flow. By controlling the material to create ‘laminar flow’ and a tight homogenous material stream, many of the induced and entrained air issues can be drastically reduced. Material surface area is reduced which minimises the induced air while also containing the fine material within the tight material stream. Product degradation can also be reduced significantly by creating laminar flow and minimising material impact which generates degradations. Improved belt to belt transfer points also need to address the proper loading of the material onto the receiving belt. Dust and spillage will be greatly reduced when the material is both softly loaded and centre loaded onto the receiving conveyor. This approach will also extend belt life as a direct result of reduced impact and resultant cover and carcass damage constraints. There are two scenarios that demonstrate how controlled material flow technologies can be applied to the belt to belt transfer point: full engineered transfer chutes, and MaxZone Plus chutes.

Fully engineered transfer chutes The top methodology in the hierarchy of safety and regulatory controls is engineering controls. Instead of a ‘better band aid', fully engineered transfer chutes allow the problem to be addressed at the source. Figure 1 shows a before and after comparison illustrating the improvements that can be achieved using this technology.

Modular transfer chutes

Figure 3. Benetech technology and chutes before (top) and after



In some applications, there may not be enough head room, or proper configuration to employ a fully engineered chute. It is still possible to control the material flow and improve material loading with a ‘retro fit’ installation of the MaxZone Plus system. The technology is an entirely modular system which

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includes vertical and horizontal bolted connections to allow ease of service or change. No hot work is required for installation. This system features a fully adjustable loading spoon to accomplish softer and more centralised loading. The spoon can be adjusted externally, thus eliminating the need for confined space entry. In addition, this technology also employs fully adjustable guide plates on either side beyond the loading spoon to further ensure centralised material loading. Figure 2 shows field applications ‘before and after’ using this technology.

Dust and spillage containment Containment chute work Figure 4. XN liner hopper before (top) and XN liner hopper after (bottom).

Figure 5. Chute with sledge hammer marks (left) and Clean Sweep in action (right).

The final feature of a transfer point is material containment within the load zone. This includes both air and fugitive material control. MaxZone is a modular system that enhances safety and serviceability that can be added to over time if the production rate increases, or if other operation changes require modification. There is no need to tear anything out and start over. A primary feature of this load zone equipment is the XN liner which allows external adjustment of internal wearliners. Liner replacements can be accomplished with minimal manpower and time due to its modular bolted construction. Internal liners ensure maximum belt edge available for sealing, using a dual rubber/urethane seal. Inspection doors are also included for easy inspection. Dual labyrinth seals ensure no leakage of dust or fugitive materials. Internal baffles are placed as needed to control air velocity and accomplish dust settling. Length, height, and baffling ensure material exiting the containment zone contains minimal dust to meet compliance goals. Figure 3 illustrates before and after scenarios using the MaxZone.

Bins and hoppers

Figure 6. Idler simple slide (top) and Idler drop and slide (bottom). 58 | WORLD FERTILIZER | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024

There are also bin and hopper applications that need containment to avoid material leakage between the bin/hopper and the belt. The XN liner system can be used very effectively to address these applications and has the added value of allowing non-confined space access to the liners that save time, reduce spillage, and ensure safety. The modular design also allows simple retrofit installation. Figure 4 illustrates the advantages in before and after comparisons. Another issue that frequently occurs in bins and hoppers which can contribute to spillage and material flow disruption is sticking

and plugging due to excessive build-up on the interior wall surfaces. Since material often accumulates in these areas due to lack of flow or slower flow rates, there is often a need to ensure that sticking and plugging does not occur. At the same time, it is not desirable to create dust while doing so. In the past, hammers and air lances were commonly used to release stuck material from the sides of the bin. This practice damaged the vessels, requiring additional manpower and downtime. Clean Sweep technology ensures proper material flow and eliminates needless man hours and downtime. It can be retrofitted to most applications where required. This air actuated system can be set up as manual or automatic operations on a timed sequence. Material is freed from the hopper walls due to a quick blast of pressurised air that travels along the wall face and ‘slices’ off material with minimal material disturbance or dust. Before and after illustrations are shown in Figure 5.

Below the belt No transfer point is complete without considering the issue of support under the belt at the transfer load zone. Belt sag must be controlled by idlers to prevent spillage and escape of fugitive materials. Although CEMA recommends 24 in. spacing for idlers in the containment area, tighter spacing may be required for maximum effectiveness in many cases. The problem then becomes – how can idlers be easily and safely serviced? This is especially true in the impact zones where a support cradle may not be desirable due to structural interferences making service difficult or near impossible. Impact idlers in that same area may be spaced as close as 9 in. centres depending on the idler footprint. There are solutions that accomplish both safety and performance goals. Figure 6 shows innovative technologies that enhance both performance and serviceability in these situations. Last but not least, it is critical to ensure that the conveyor belt itself is centred on the structure, especially when it pertains to the tail pulley or under the hopper in a load point. Technology that uses both pivot and tilt mechanisms ensure proper belt alignment. Because of the response action of the MaxTracker, no ‘ears’ or side guide rolls are needed. This also extends belt life over alternative methods that can cause belt delamination and premature belt failure. It also avoids personnel safety risks where poorly performing standard tracking idlers are ‘tied off’ to try to keep the belt aligned. As a side note, the practice of tying off tracking idlers is highly frowned upon by OSHA and MSHA and should not be done in the field as it creates a significant personnel safety risk as well as the increased risk of friction created belt fires.

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Production done safely with proper application of new engineering controls can improve the bottom line as well as employee morale. Maintenance and downtime can also be avoided. Housekeeping needs can be drastically reduced, which lessens employee exposure around rolling components. Modular systems can be implemented without the need to ‘start over’. There is no better time than now to explore options and make these value-added improvements using innovative new technologies in the fertilizer industry.

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Antoine Hoxha, Fertilizers Europe, Belgium, considers how the European fertilizer industry can continue its journey towards a climate neutral future, with the help of technology, investment, and collaborative efforts.


Decarbonising through technology diversity T

he European Union (EU) is set to be climate neutral by 2050 and the European fertilizer industry is committed to playing its part. As a cornerstone of the continent's agricultural sector, fertilizer production is vital for food security and strategic autonomy. Therefore, to align with the goals of the European Green Deal, Fertilizers Europe, which represents around 80% of nitrogen fertilizer producers in Europe, put forward ambitions to be met by its member companies and policy asks on policymakers to make the transition possible. In addition, the industry has recently developed, with the support of the external consultancy Guidehouse, the EU fertilizer industry decarbonisation roadmap. The study explores the various ways that different technologies can be employed to decarbonise the production of mineral fertilizers and showcases two main scenarios. So far, European fertilizer producers have set an international example for sustainable practices by abating NO2 emissions, and in doing so, halving greenhouse gas emissions. Producers have also embraced low-carbon and renewable production processes, by taking investment decisions on decarbonisation projects. Although the European fertilizer industry already has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of the global sector, there are significant

hurdles still to be overcome on investments, market stability, robust regulation, access to low-carbon and renewable energy, and remaining competitive in the international markets.

Progress and challenges

As a consequence of the implementation of the EU's emissions trading scheme (ETS), the continent has already started confronting, accounting and drastically reducing its industrial emissions. From 2005 – 2020, the European fertilizer industry made significant strides in cutting its Scope 1 and 2 emissions, reducing them by 49%. The substantial proportion of these reductions were attained through N2O abatement, a greenhouse gas with around 300 times the warming potential of CO2, which is normally emitted during the production of nitric acid, a fertilizer precursor. Such changes have placed European industry as the lowest emitter of the global sector. These accomplishments underscore the industry's commitment to reducing the carbon intensity of fertilizer production. Nevertheless, with increased ambitions and the end goal of zero net emissions, there are even more challenging operational changes to be made. This transition will require


massive investments in renewable and low-carbon technologies, the implementation of effective policies supporting emission

reductions, market creation, maintaining a level playing field and ensuring access to price-competitive low-carbon and renewable energy sources, guaranteeing a sustainable and economically viable transition.

Milestones 2030



Technology neutral pathway

Green Hydrogen pathway

Decarbonise through a combination of technologies, electrolysis, CCU, CCS and Bio-methane

Decarbonise through electrolysis



75% Electrolysis





100% 2050 100%

Other technologies

Figure 1. Targeted GHG reduction of the two

decarbonising pathways.

Figure 2. Wind energy potential (m/s).

Source: Global Wind Atlas (Technical University of Denmark, World Bank Group).

The European fertilizer industry has charted a clear path forward by setting the following milestones: n By 2026, all Fertilizers Europe member companies will adopt a masterplan for the decarbonisation of their assets. n By 2040, Fertilizers Europe members commit to reducing their Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions by 70% compared to 2020. n By 2050, European fertilizer production aims to be climate neutral.

Collaborative efforts and decarbonisation plans

The Roadmap for The European Fertilizer Industry outlines the journey towards a net zero future and the essential steps needed to make this vision a reality. Within the industry's decarbonisation roadmap, two main transitional pathways were explored, each converging in 2050 with the complete elimination of greenhouse gas emissions (Figure 1). n The technology neutral pathway: this approach envisions decarbonisation using various available technologies, including electrolysis, carbon capture and utilisation (CCU), carbon capture and storage (CCS), and bio-methane. The choice of technology is tailored to regional infrastructure and energy resource availability, with considerations for availability of CO2 for urea production. Employing the technologies from across what many call the ‘hydrogen rainbow’, depending on geographical location, is the goal of this pathway. Offering flexibility, this pathway outlines a phased CO₂ reduction strategy: a 35% reduction by 2030, 68% by 2040, and a zero-emission target for ammonia production by 2050. n The green hydrogen pathway: this pathway relies exclusively on using renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBO) to replace hydrogen derived from natural gas. Its success hinges deeply on the availability and cost-effectiveness of renewable energy sources and the necessary infrastructure for producing and distributing green hydrogen – hydrogen produced from the electrolysis of water using renewable energy for power. The roadmap also outlines a phased approach to CO₂ reduction, targeting a 50% reduction by 2030, 75% by 2040, and complete elimination of emissions in ammonia production by 2050.

Challenges and considerations

Figure 3. Photovoltaic potential by country. Source: Global Solar Atlas (Solargis, World Bank Group). 62 | WORLD FERTILIZER | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024

The industry's transition towards decarbonisation is not without its challenges. As important national assets, fertilizer plants are located across EU member states and are strategically located based on factors such as the availability of natural gas, raw materials, logistics infrastructure, and proximity to agricultural markets. To ensure a successful transition, there must be a dependable supply of competitively priced low-carbon and renewable electricity, biomethane, hydrogen, and CO₂ infrastructure. Additionally, proximity to ports, nutrient availability for recycling, and access to water resources are further considerations.

The choice between these decarbonisation scenarios will depend on individual plant needs and the varying availability and cost of energy carriers across Europe. The implementation of a sustainable, climate-neutral nitrogen fertilizer economy will be region-specific and product-specific, necessitating adaptable policies which consider the different circumstances of sectoral players across the continent.


The right technology in the right place

Increasingly, the policy climate is diversifying its approach to climate neutrality and looking towards the practical aspects of the green transition, a positive step for the realisation of a net zero 2050. Legislation needs to consider which countries have the capacity to produce low carbon and renewable electricity, to store this electricity, to transport or to store CO2, to produce biofuels or to get renewable energy from alternative sources to wind and solar. Only through a combined and efficient approach can the needs be met and the transition be achieved. Figures 2 and 3 show the wind and solar potential capacity across Europe. What can be deduced from this is that some regions will have limited potential to produce their own renewable energy. Consequently, it is crucial that harder-to-abate industrial sectors and heavy intensive industries located in regions with minimum or no access to renewable energy are offered feasible pathways for decarbonisation, including through carbon capture and storage (CCS). Having the option to decarbonise using carbon capture in the short-to-medium-term, at least until a RFNBO hydrogen backbone becomes available, will enable industrial players to invest saved capital in renewables when more economically viable, or once hydrogen transport infrastructure is in place. Continued engagement with the relevant stakeholders is essential to make sure that regions that require CCS are supported, together with the upcoming carbon management strategy from the European commission.

The investment landscape

Decarbonising the industry demands significant investment. As an example, if all hydrogen used in ammonia production was produced with offshore wind-driven electrolysers, this would entail an investment of €64 billion for the wind parks, €17 billion for the electrolysers, and €3 billion for a hydrogen pipeline network. This greatly overshadows the current average annual sectoral investment of €1.2 billion. Furthermore, the industry's lead time for such investments can extend to seven years or more.

Future markets and opportunities

As a producer and consumer of roughly 40% of the total European hydrogen, the fertilizer industry has a unique role to play in the EU green deal and the development of a hydrogen economy in Europe. The potential for low-carbon and renewable ammonia extends beyond purely fertilizers for agriculture. Ammonia, a hydrogen-dense molecule, opens up possibilities for decarbonisation by replacing fossil fuels in applications such as power and heat generation, for high temperature heat in industrial process, as a transport vector for hydrogen and, perhaps most promising of all, as an alternative shipping fuel. Indeed, the recent update on the IEA net zero roadmap forecasts that the share of ammonia as a shipping fuel will reach 44% by 2050.1 As such a strategic product for agriculture and beyond, it is essential that the

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policy landscape ensures the continued production of ammonia in Europe.

Prerequisites for success

While the production of renewable and low-carbon fertilizers is attainable and promising, several challenges must be addressed. A supportive regulatory and funding framework should envisage: n Access to low-carbon and renewable energy and feedstock: affordable green and low-carbon energy access is essential to bridge the competitive gap between Europe and competing regions. Europe should continue to expand its renewable energy capabilities, with attention to regional variations on efficiency. n Demand for climate-neutral fertilizers: the demand for climate-neutral EU-produced fertilizers must be supported through mechanisms like a labelling system accompanied by a mandatory purchasing target for all EU nitrogen fertilizer purchasers. In the first instance, a labelling system allows consumers to readily identify products that meet the specific environmental performance criteria. In the second, setting a mandatory consumption target for these products stimulates the demand. This is particularly important when the renewable energy directive requires 42% RFNBO use in industry by 2030. The production target must go hand-in-hand with a consumption target to stimulate the market. n Targeted investment: measures to 'de-risk' early investments are required to close the cost gap between low-carbon and renewable routes and current production processes including accelerating the procedures for public funding. For example, a carbon contract for difference, where governments cover the

difference in low-carbon and renewable energy and the traditional cost of production for a limited time, would de-risk investments. n Prevention of unfair competition: the timely and effective development and implementation of the carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) will be crucial to prevent unfair competitive advantages for non-EU producers importing to Europe. However, there is currently no agreement on an export solution. Concrete safeguards will be required to ensure the continuous competitiveness of the European export-oriented production. Currently, the fertilizers sector is one of the selected sectors taking part in the initial CBAM transitional phase, the results of which will determine the European industry’s future.


The journey of the European fertilizer industry towards a climate neutral future is ambitious but necessary to keep the targets of the Green Deal, reaching net zero emissions by 2050. While the transition pathways of the industry use available technologies, the scale of implementation and financial incentives are underdeveloped. However, with the right strategies, investments, and collaborative efforts, this vision can become a reality, ensuring Europe's food security and strategic autonomy for generations to come. The industry’s drive to climate-neutrality represents a significant step towards addressing the climate crisis while sustaining the vital role of agriculture in the continent's future.

References 1.

IEA, Net Zero Roadmap A Global Pathway to Keep the 1.5°C Goal in Reach, 2023 Update

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Angola's Agricultural Transformation Transformatio n Lindsay Reed, Minbos, Australia, discusses the importance of agriculture and the fertilizer industry in Angola.


ngola is a country with immense agricultural potential, which has overcome internal challenges to embark on a path of recovery and diversification, with agriculture as one of the key sectors to boost growth and reduce poverty. This article will unpack the history of agriculture in Angola, the importance of agriculture to alleviate poverty for smallholder farmers, and the recent agricultural programmes initiated. The article also outlines the mutual suitability of direct application Cabinda phosphate rock to the Angolan soils and climate. The article will refer to the reactivity of the Cabinda phosphate rock, the phosphorus content, pH, and P-sorption of Angolan soils, and the suitability of staple Angolan crops to direct application phosphate rock. Finally, Minbos will forecast the economic impact of developing a fertilizer industry, discussing import substitution, food security and agricultural exports.

The history of agriculture in Angola

Angola is a richly endowed country with fertile soils, a favourable climate, and almost 60 million ha. of agricultural land. Before independence from Portugal in 1975, Angola had a flourishing tradition of family-based farming and was self-sufficient in all major food crops except wheat. The country exported coffee and maize as well as crops such as sisal, bananas, tobacco, and cassava. By the 1990s, Angola produced less than 1% of the volume of coffee it had produced in the early 1970s, while production of cotton, tobacco, and


sugar cane had ceased almost entirely. Poor global market prices and a lack of investment have severely limited the sector since independence. The Angolan Civil War (1975 – 2002) and the consequent deterioration of the rural economy, as well as the neglect of the farming sector, dealt the final blow to the country’s agricultural productivity. During the civil war, most small-scale farmers reverted to subsistence farming. Angola has been dependent on commercial imports since 1977 and remained heavily dependent up to the end of the war. The Angolan economy is the third largest in Sub-Sahara, but it remains a preserved opportunity for agriculture, having been separated from much of the world by linguistic and political impediments which limited the acquisition of agricultural knowhow and methods, while other countries in the southern hemisphere such as Brazil, Argentina, Australia and South Africa exploded into power houses. Even in the SADC region, Angola remains separated from its French and English-speaking neighbours, with most of the population residing near the coast between the cities of Luanda and Lobito, some two days drive from its neighbours DRC, Zambia and Namibia. As a consequence, Angola does not benefit from the interconnection of energy and transport networks like the other SADC countries.

The importance of agriculture

Angola’s agriculture is expanding due to foreign investment in the sector. However, returning to productivity in rural areas could be the real jewel in the agricultural crown. About 90% of farms throughout Angola are smallholders who cultivate very small plots of land with very low agricultural productivity. The majority of sub-Saharan farmers are subsistence and smallholder farmers whose use of fertilizers and improved seeds to increase their agricultural productivity would have a tremendous impact on their yields, and therefore their revenues. Agriculture is a vital sector for Angola’s economy and society. According to the World Bank, agriculture accounted for about 10% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019, and employed about 44% of the labour force in 2020. Agriculture is also a key source of income and livelihood for most of the rural population, which represents about 35% of the total population.

Recent agricultural programmes

The return to productivity in rural areas is proving difficult and slow due to limited functioning infrastructure. However, there are some recent initiatives that aim to improve this situation. For example, under its National Development Plan (NDP) for 2018 – 2022, Angola has prioritised agriculture as one of its key sectors for development. The NDP aims to increase food production by 50% by 2022 through increased investment in irrigation systems, mechanisation, research and development (R&D), seed production, extension services, credit facilities for farmers, and marketing support services for smallholder farmers’ organisations (SHFOs), among others.

Mutual suitability

One of the major challenges facing the agricultural sector in Angola is the low availability and affordability of 66 | WORLD FERTILIZER | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2024

fertilizers, especially phosphorus (P) fertilizers. Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for plant growth, but it is often deficient in many soils, especially in acid soils. Phosphorus deficiency can limit crop yields and quality, as well as increase the susceptibility of plants to diseases and pests. According to FAO, the average P fertilizer consumption in Angola was only 1.4 kg/ha. in 2018, compared to the sub-Saharan Africa average of 14.4 kg/ha. To address this challenge, Minbos and Angola have a unique opportunity to develop a domestic source of P fertilizer, based on the direct application of phosphate rock (DAPR). Phosphate rock is a natural mineral that contains high concentrations of phosphorus, usually in the form of calcium phosphate. Unlike soluble P fertilizers, such as superphosphate or diammonium phosphate, which are produced by chemical processing of PR, direct application PR (DAPR) can be used as an organic P fertilizer when applied directly to the soil. The use of DAPR as a fertilizer has several advantages over soluble P fertilizers: n A lower cost of production and transportation, as it does not require chemical processing or granulation. n A lower environmental impact, as it does not cause water pollution or soil acidification due to excessive leaching or runoff of soluble P. n Longer-term effectiveness, since it releases P slowly and steadily over time, matching the plant demand and reducing the need for frequent applications. n Higher agronomic efficiency, since it can improve soil's physical, chemical, and biological properties, such as soil structure, pH, organic matter, microbial activity, and nutrient cycling. However, DAPR is not suitable for all soils and crops. It works best in acidic soils with low phosphorus content and high phosphorus-sorption capacity. It also works best with crops that have high phosphorus demand and efficient root systems that can access the phosphate rock particles in the soil. Fortunately, these conditions are prevalent in many parts of Angola, especially in the northern and central regions, where most of the agricultural production takes place. But Angolan people have another challenge; much of their soils are characterised by high P-retention, which means that they can bind phosphate ions strongly and reduce their availability for plant uptake. The main reasons for this phenomenon are the presence of aluminium oxides, a soil pH between 5 – 6 , and low organic matter content of the soils. These factors create a high affinity for phosphate adsorption and precipitation, especially in the subsoil layers, where the concentration of iron and aluminum compounds is higher. Due to the high P-retention of Angolan soils, water soluble phosphates, such as mono and di-ammonium phosphate (MAP and DAP), single super phosphate (SSP), and triple super phosphate (TSP), are not very efficient sources of P nutrient for crops. These fertilizers dissolve rapidly in the soil solution and

are quickly fixed by the soil particles, leaving little P available for the roots. Moreover, these fertilizers are more expensive and less environmentally friendly than natural rock phosphates, which is available and cheap in Cabinda. Direct application phosphate rock (DAPR) is a more suitable and efficient source of P nutrient for Angolan soils, as it has a slow solubility and releases P gradually over time. DAPR is a natural phosphate rock that has been ground to a fine powder and can be applied directly to the soil without any chemical processing. DAPR can provide sufficient P for crops in acidic soils, where the solubility of phosphate rock is enhanced by the low pH and the presence of organic acids and carbon dioxide. DAPR can also improve the soil quality and fertility by increasing the pH, calcium, and micronutrient content, and by reducing the P fixation capacity of the soil.

The Cabinda Phosphate Project

The Cabinda Phosphate Project is a mining project under development in the Cabinda province in Angola. The project involves the mining of phosphate rock from the Cácata deposit, and the construction of a beneficiation plant to produce ground, dried beneficiated phosphate rock to be supplied to agriculture users in Angola. The Cácata deposit is a sedimentary phosphate deposit that contains high-grade phosphorus, averaging 30% P2O5 in the ground. The deposit is considered to be reactive because 9% of the P2O5 is readily soluble in acidic soils with high rainfall and releases P for plant uptake. Minbos has commissioned five seasons of greenhouse trials with the International Fertilizer Development Centre in Alabama and 27 field trials with the Angolan Institute of Agronomic Investigations that confirms the suitability of the Cabinda phosphate rock for direct application to the Angolan soils and climate, especially in the highland areas where most of the staple crops are grown. According to FAO, the main staple crops produced by volume in Angola are cassava, sweet potatoes, maize, beans, sorghum, and millet. These crops are mostly grown in rainfed systems on acid soils with low pH values (below 5.5), low organic matter content, low phosphorus content (below 10 mg/kg), and high P-sorption capacity (above 200 mg/kg).

Closing the agricultural loop with Grupo Carrinho

Many programmes to develop the smallholder farmer sector in Africa have failed because of the provision of soil, crop and nutrient knowledge; the availability of seeds, fertilizers and chemical inputs is not enough. The farmers need credit to purchase the inputs and a market to dispose of their surplus. Grupo Carrinho provides both credit and a market for surplus produce from which it recovers the credit. Grupo Carrinho is a player in the Angolan agricultural sector in the port city of Benguela. Since 2017, it has constructed a 1 million tpy grain milling facility, followed by a 1 million t oil seed processing plant, and is now constructing a large sugar crushing facility as Phase 3. The company seeks to make Angola self-sufficient in maize, rice and soybean products by increasing the productivity of 1 million smallholder farmers by 2030.

The arrangement between the IFC and Grupo Carrinho is a partnership to support the development of the agricultural sector in Angola. The IFC is the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group that focuses on the private sector in emerging markets. The partnership aims to help tens of thousands of farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Angola increase their productivity and access to markets. A primary component of the partnership is a training programme for about 300 agricultural technicians from Grupo Carrinho in agronomy and business techniques. The technicians will then support more small-scale farmers in six provinces with training, access to production packages and new crops, such as soya beans. Minbos has agreed to supply Carrinho with the DAPR which is both ideally suited and necessary to increase the productivity of the smallholder farmers. The agreement closes the loop in Angola, providing credit for fertilizer to create a surplus for the Carrinho factories. Now that the loop is closed, it lays the foundation for the rapid development of other agricultural businesses.


The future is bright for Angola, where just an additional 3 million ha. for production with Brazilian efficiency could double the size of its economy, providing food and opportunity for a young population that is also expected to double. * References available on request.


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