US Nitrogen start up, in violation

US Nitrogen hasn't publicly announced that its new ANSOL plant is operational, yet, but it has advised regulators that the plants have started up. Its reps are telling the local press that it will be operational by "the end of summer."

In the meantime, the team is rectifying a newly-identified spate of permit violations and deficiencies - which is a little awkward, because regulators are presently considering its permit renewals, which met with great resistance from the local community during the public comment period.

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West Terre Haute, IN — Phibro

West Terre Haute-IL-Phibro

UPDATED: 08/02/2016 — see Change Log

OWNER: Philipp Brothers Fertilizer (Phibro LLC / Energy Arbitrage Partners)
PROJECT: Ammonia plant conversion

SUMMARY STATUS: Planning Phase
In January 2016, investors announced plans to re-establish Phibro, the storied commodities trader. Five months later, in May 2016, Phibro purchased the gasification units of a decommissioned "clean coal" power plant, and announced plans to produce ammonia from petroleum coke.

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CF-OCI merger cancelled

CF Industries terminated its proposed merger with OCI this morning.

"The Treasury announcement on April 4, 2016 materially reduced the structural synergies of the combination. Since that time, both companies have worked together collaboratively ... However, the companies were unable to identify an alternative acceptable to both parties and, therefore, agreed to terminate the combination."

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Waggaman update: on schedule, on budget, expected Q3

Source: Incitec Pivot Limited, IPL 2016 Half Year Results Presentation, 05/10/2016

It's refreshing to write an update for a plant where construction is on schedule and on budget, which appears to be the case at Dyno Nobel's ammonia brownfield at Waggaman, LA.

Recently, we've seen delays, cost-overruns, and lawsuits aplenty for projects like US Nitrogen at Greenville, TN, OCI at Wever, IA, and LSB Industries at El Dorado, AR.

But Dyno Nobel's parent company, Incitec Pivot, described progress quite differently during this week's earnings call:

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LSB Industries is selling its climate control business

LSB Industries will soon be a pure-play nitrogen producer. It announced this morning that it "has entered into a definitive agreement to sell the Company's Climate Control Business."

Although separating its two businesses has been an explicit possibility for some time, and this sale makes a lot of sense, the timing is noteworthy. LSB has been forced into making deals to stay afloat since the costs of its El Dorado expansion spun out of control in 2015.

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OCI’s Wever greenfield: capex up, lawsuit, and intense monitoring

There's plenty of new news about OCI's Iowa Fertilizer Company and its world-scale greenfield nitrogen plant at Wever, IA.

In the last two weeks, we've had earnings reports both from OCI and from the project's EPC contractor, Orascom, which is OCI's sister company. Plus, we had a response and countersuit in the ongoing lawsuit between Orascom and one of the project's subcontractors.

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Introducing TopChem, Investimus Foris subsidiary for Pollock

Pollock-LA-TopChem

Investimus Foris has yet to make any announcements about its ammonia plant retrofit at Pollock, LA, but it has clearly made significant progress over the last few months.

The Lithuanian company established its US operating subsidiary, TopChem Pollock LLC, in October 2015. It assumed ownership of the plant site in December 2015, inheriting the unpaid environmental permitting fees of the previous owners. And it submitted its air permit application to LDEQ in March 2016.

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PotashCorp: downgraded, capex reduced, but new urea brownfield

Source: PotashCorp, BAML Global Agriculture & Chemicals Conference, 03/02/2016.

In a move that might appear contrary to its "Disciplined Approach" of "Matching Supply to Demand," PotashCorp is quietly planning a potential new urea plant at Geismar.

More details of the brownfield project, which received its air permit in December 2015, are in my Research Note for Geismar, LA. The new urea plant is an addition to PotashCorp's existing plans for a major ammonia expansion.

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Ammonia production causes 1% of total global GHG emissions

I often come across this statistic: the ammonia industry is responsible for 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Where did this "1%" number come from?

If you look at the footnotes, you realize that the sources for this statistic are decades old; most citations lead to Vaclav Smil's Enriching the Earth, published in 2000. Nonetheless:

The statistic holds true today - the number is closer to 1.024%, as I'll demonstrate.

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US Nitrogen lawsuit describes problems during construction

Austin Powder's new $225+ million ammonium nitrate plant was supposed to begin operations in March 2014. Now, more than two years late, the US Nitrogen plant at Greeneville, TN, is still in start-up mode.

Yes, there has been a lot of local opposition. Yes, permit revisions and all the appeals have slowed progress. But there were also technical, engineering causes for the ongoing delays.

US Nitrogen has just made some of these problems public.

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Urea production is not carbon sequestration

To make urea, fertilizer producers combine ammonia with carbon dioxide (CO2), but when farmers apply that urea to the soil, an equal amount of CO2 is emitted to the atmosphere. No CO2 is permanently stored or sequestered through the production of urea.

This is a statement of the obvious, I'm told, but it's worth stating for three reasons. First, not everyone knows it. Second, there was zero data in the academic literature supporting the fact, until now (see below). And third, next generation ammonia-urea plants with "zero-emissions" are becoming a reality, despite some of these new technologies relying on fossil fuel feedstocks.

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Agrium’s Kenai restart – at least three years away

Kenai AK SFC hearing

Over the last few years, Agrium has said very little about the potential restart of its export oriented ammonia-urea plant in Kenai, AK, except that we shouldn't expect any "imminent" announcements.

However, this week's hearings on a tax incentive bill by the Alaska Senate Finance Committee are accompanied by a raft of new documents, showing the project is very much still on the table - it just needs gas (financial incentives would be nice, too).

[Update 03/18/2016: Alaska passed Agrium's tax incentive bill yesterday.]

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Honeywell spin-off or sale of caprolactam unit

Bloomberg News ran an article last week suggesting that Honeywell was "considering exiting its business that makes chemicals for manufacturing nylon," which would include its ammonia plant at Hopewell, VA.

Honeywell is working with financial advisers on options for the caprolactam unit, which could be spun off or sold, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans aren't public. The business earmarked for divestment generates an estimated $150 million to $200 million in profit, according to one of the people. It could fetch about $1 billion, a separate person said.

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What does “capacity” mean?

US Ammonia Capacity

Capacity can be a confusing word, with different meanings for different users: it can be a guarantee of minimum design, an estimate of maximum production, a benchmark for performance appraisal, or a valuation tool.

Many users of this site contact me to ask how to interpret capacity data. I'm grateful to a handful of industry leaders who kindly contributed their interpretations of "capacity" to the following discussion, to help me illustrate different approaches to the idea.

Additionally, I've just published over 50 years of raw data, courtesy of USGS, which may help for those looking for historical production, consumption, and capacity data.

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Download: Salient Ammonia Statistics (USGS)

This download contains selected raw data from 57 years of US Geological Survey reports, specifically Mineral Yearbook, Nitrogen (1958 - 2013) and Mineral Commodity Summaries (1996 - 2016), with a focus on "Table 1: Salient Ammonia Statistics."

The excel file (.xlsx, 60KB) contains unbroken data series (57 years) for US annual ammonia production, consumption, imports, and exports, as well as total global ammonia production.

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Rentech has merged with CVR

East Dubuque EDNFLogo

CVR Partners closed its merger with Rentech today, giving birth to a new subsidiary, East Dubuque Nitrogen Fertilizers, LLC, which will now operate the nitrogen plant in East Dubuque, IL.

CVR Partners previously ran just one nitrogen plant, the Coffeyville, KS, ammonia-UAN plant, which gets its pet coke feedstock from its sister refinery (owned by CVR Energy, the parent company of CVR Partners).

So, this merger "provides the partnership with an expanded geographical footprint, diversification of its raw material feedstocks, wider customer reach and greater potential for cash-flow generation."

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HECA withdraws application for “clean coal” ammonia plant

Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) has withdrawn its application for certification from the California Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission - essentially shelving the project indefinitely.

The proposed "clean coal" (actually, 75% coal and 25% pet coke) project was to have produced 300 MW net power, and 2,080 stpd ammonia using technology by Casale, most of which would have been upgraded to 1,700 stpd urea and 1,400 stpd UAN.

Full details are in my Research Note for HECA in Kern County, CA, but the project's main problems were:

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Ammonia plants in the pipeline. Will they, won’t they?

While we wait for the current slate of new ammonia plants to start up this year, here's a reminder of the projects that are still in development across North America.

More than a dozen major ammonia plants are in various stages of planning or financing. None of these have started construction yet. Some have been stuck in limbo for years, while others keep making progress. The project pipeline represents a potential investment of over $20 billion and additional ammonia capacity of more than 9 million tons per year.

Obviously, not every project will move ahead - in fact, conventional wisdom says none will - but new trends are emerging that may influence their success or failure.

A list of the biggest projects follows below, summarizing their evolving costs, pushed-back schedules, and changing EPC contractors.

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Fatima’s Midwest Fertilizer Co awards EPC to ThyssenKrupp

Midwest Fertilizer Company announced yesterday that it had awarded the EPC contract for its world-scale nitrogen fertilizer complex to ThyssenKrupp.

This is the first real progress for the project in over a year: in Spring 2015, the previous EPC contract negotiations with Tecnimont collapsed. In the meantime, Midwest's sponsor, Fatima Fertilizer Company, has been busy wrangling regulatory issues with its equity raise in Pakistan, the $1.259 billion bond has been retired and reauthorized maybe a half dozen times, and the air permit has been extended until June 2017.

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Kern County, CA – Grannus

Kern County-CA-Grannus

UPDATED: 04/21/2016 — see Change Log

OWNER: Grannus LLC
PROJECT: Greenfield polygeneration plant

SUMMARY STATUS: Planning phase
Grannus has been working to commercialize its polygeneration "Eureaka Process" since 2013, when it was a runner-up for Sustainability at the Cleantech Open. In 2015, the company closed its Series A financing, to fund engineering and feasibility work on its commercial-scale demonstration plant in California. In 2016, Grannus awarded the engineering design contract.

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