Tuscola, IL — Cronus Chemical

UPDATED: 10/02/2018 — see Change Log

OWNER: Cronus Fertilizers (Cronus Chemicals LLC)
PROJECT: Greenfield ammonia plant[memberful does_not_have_subscription=”1314-ammonia-industry-annual-subscription,1311-ammonia-industry-monthly-subscription,3338-ammonia-industry-30-day-subscription”]

COST (reported): $1.6 billion reported in 2017
JOB CREATION (reported): 200 permanent, 1,500 to 2,000 construction
START-UP DATE (reported): 2021

Ammonia 2,300 mtpd [Membership required] [Membership required]
Units: stpd, stpy, mtpd, mtpy = short/metric tons per day/year.
[1] United States Geological Survey (USGS) Mineral Yearbook, Nitrogen gives capacity in metric tons per year, calculated as “engineering design capacity adjusted for 340 days per year of effective production capability,” rounded to three significant digits. Source: most recent year, Table 4: Domestic Producers of Ammonia, http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/nitrogen/.
[2] Company website.
[3] [Membership required]. Sources: linked below.
[4] [Membership required]. See Methodology.


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SUMMARY STATUS: Financing phase
In October 2018, Cronus announced that it had awarded an EPC contract, with revised project scope. Awaiting financial close, before construction can begin; no groundbreaking yet. In August 2017, Cronus had also announced a reconfigured project, with a reduced capacity, lower capex, and a more realistic schedule. Also in 2017, its original air permit expired, after many extensions, and Cronus must now apply for and receive a new air permit before construction can begin. This project has been repeatedly postponed over the years.

COST: $1.7 billion; was $1.6 billion (2017), $1.9 billion (2016), originally $1.2 billion
JOB CREATION: 200 permanent, 1,500 to 2,000 construction
START-UP DATE: 2022 estimate, earliest possible
LIKELIHOOD: Possible — see Methodology

Ammonia 2,300 mtpd
800,000 mtpy
839,500 mtpy
Urea None (was 730,000 mtpy NET)
Units: stpd, stpy, mtpd, mtpy = short/metric tons per day/year.
[1] United States Geological Survey (USGS) Mineral Yearbook, Nitrogen gives capacity in metric tons per year, calculated as “engineering design capacity adjusted for 340 days per year of effective production capability,” rounded to three significant digits. Source: most recent year, Table 4: Domestic Producers of Ammonia, http://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/commodity/nitrogen/.
[2] Company website / company reps.
[3] Air permit documents. Sources: linked below.
[4] Adjusted Capacity is in metric tons per year assuming operations for 365 days per year; gross capacities based on air permit documents, net capacities based on company announcements. See Methodology.

FEEDSTOCK: Natural gas

October 2018 Announcement: EPC award to ThyssenKrupp
Cronus Chemicals has awarded the EPC contract for its 2,300 metric ton per day ammonia plant in Tuscola, IL, to ThyssenKrupp Industrial Services (TKIS). The greenfield site will no longer include a urea plant, although I suspect that the engineering design will leave space for one to be added later.

Cronus’ contract with TKIS … is the result of an extensive review process between the two companies that began in 2017. The Cronus team is continuing work on the project and the facility is on track for groundbreaking in the 2nd quarter of 2019 …

With the capacity to produce 2,300 metric tons of ammonia per day, the Cronus plant will be a major new source of fertilizer for farmers throughout Illinois and the Midwest. The plant’s strategic location will allow area farmers to access locally produced ammonia that will primarily replace the need for imported products.
Cronus announcement, Cronus Fertilizers Executes EPC Contract with thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions for Illinois Fertilizer Project, 10/01/2018

The announcement does not mention the fact that the project has no air permit, and cannot begin construction without one. The site had been fully permitted in 2014 and 2015, but those permits have now expired. Nonetheless, project representatives tell me that the Cronus team thinks it can complete all the necessary permitting by Q2 2019.

This schedule might be optimistic and, especially given that every previous schedule announced by Cronus has proven to be optimistic, future delays would not be surprising. To achieve a Q2 2019 groundbreaking, Cronus would need to submit new permits almost immediately (it hasn’t yet done so), and arrange for an expedited permit review process, which, at best, will still take 4-6 months.

Project reps confirmed to me that TKIS has been awarded the ammonia technology license, as well as the EPC contract.

Despite removing the urea plant from its (immediate) plans, project capex has actually increased since 2017. The new total, $1.7 billion, presumably includes owner’s costs, over and above the size of the EPC award.

August 2017 Announcement: MOU with ThyssenKrupp
In August 2017, Cronus Chemicals announced its new agreement with engineering firm ThyssenKrupp (TKIS), disclosing a revised project scope (a bit more ammonia, much less urea), and a more realistic schedule.

According to the update on the Cronus website, the revised schedule called for groundbreaking in “late 2018,” and start-up “during the 4th quarter of 2021.” Cronus would have had to work quickly to have any hope of that: its permit to construct expired in October 2017 and it would have needed to begin the months-long process anew, which could take six months even if they expedite it. There will be no groundbreaking without a permit to construct.

Moreover, the August 2017 announcement was another example of a misleading developer press release: Cronus did not have an EPC agreement, but only an agreement to work on an agreement (this is presumably why there was no mention of Cronus on the TKIS website).

This agreement will enable the companies to execute an EPC contract on a fixed price, lump-sum turnkey basis, and puts the proposed Cronus Fertilizers plant on track to start construction in 2018 …

“With this agreement in place, project development will now accelerate,” said Erzin Atac, CEO of Cronus Chemicals.
Cronus Chemicals press release, 08/23/2017

Cronus’s previous EPC agreement, announced in March 2016, would have seen the plant built by a joint venture between KBR and Tecnimont; I have no information on why that agreement fell apart.

Hopefully, Cronus’s new relationship with TKIS will unfold smoothly and result in a plant being built, unlike the experience of nearby Midwest Fertilizer, which saw its EPC contract with TKIS derailed by a corruption scandal last year.

According to the 2017 announcement, the downsized project “will focus more on ammonia production,” which is another way of saying that the urea capacity had been cut in half. From somewhere, Cronus and TKIS had found a $300 million saving, reducing the projected capex from $1.9 billion down to $1.6 billion. This may have been due to the reduced urea capacity or to the engineering partner switch to TKIS from the previously announced KBR-Tecnimont joint venture. By the 2018 EPC announcement, the urea plant had been entirely cancelled but the total capex had risen to $1.7 billion, now including owners costs.

In February 2017, local news had said “they’re still making progress … It’s taking longer than they expected.” The local sanitation district, UCSD, would extend the existing contract to supply Cronus with water, at a rate of 6 million gallons per day; by guaranteeing the water supply, local developers hoped to “give Cronus officials more stability when they talk with bankers,” helping Cronus to reach financial close.

Cronus has not yet secured financing for the project … they are requesting the Board consider extending the period that UCSD would not terminate the contract … This would confirm the availability of a water supply for Cronus, while they attempt to finalize their funding for the project.
Rick Manner, Urbana-Champaign Sanitary District, Board Meeting documents, 02/02/2017

According to an earlier news report, from November 2016, the delays were caused by the complexity of negotiating a multitude of contracts:

We’re finally about to make some major progress. The big issue has been resolving a number of contracts and putting this into one final deal …

We’re very close to this being a $2 billion project at this point. The scope and detail we’ve been involved in is just unbelievable. I feel very confident that we’re about to make this happen … The leadership at Cronus has been determined from day one, hasn’t faltered in any way. They’ve had some challenges they’ve had to get over. That’s the case with a lot of these large projects. But they’re a very determined group and it looks like they’re just about to cross the finish line.
Brian Moody, Tuscola Economic Development, quoted in The News-Gazette, 11/18/2016

Proposed dates for the project start are poor predictors of the future, if history is any guide: Cronus has expected to break ground every year since 2014. In February 2017, we were told that “they hope to start this summer [2017] and be up and running three years later [2020].” In March 2016, local news quoted company reps saying that “the project is on track, and we’re looking to break ground in 2016.” I could go on.

That 2016 announcement accompanied the news that Tecnimont had formed a joint venture with KBR to share EPC responsibilities for Cronus, under which the two companies will “leverage strategic synergies between their respective areas of expertise,” as the two technology licensors for the plant: KBR for the ammonia line, and Tecnimont for urea.

In August 2017, project capex was reduced to $1.6 billion, according to local news reports. Previously, in the Spring of 2016, Cronus had updated its website with new information, presumably gleaned from the KBR-Tecnimont work, increasing capex to “approximately US $1.9 billion,” from the prior estimate of $1.5 billion (originally $1.2 billion). At that time, local news had quoted Cronus reps explaining the capex increase: “the larger figure reflects finance costs … construction costs have not increased.” As of September 2017, all capex information has been removed from the Cronus website.

The start-up date has been pushed back by two years, from “the 4th quarter of 2019” (according to the 2016 website update) to “the 4th quarter of 2021.” Start-up was originally scheduled to take place in 2017. The construction schedule remains unchanged at 37 months: the August 2017 engineering agreement “puts the proposed Cronus Fertilizers plant on track to start construction in 2018.”

Early project development
Project Cronus has been delayed many times, but not stopped. Previously, in April 2015, local news had quoted Cronus reps saying that they expected to break ground “sometime this year” [2015], with the greenfield plant becoming “fully operational sometime in 2018.” By November 2015, this schedule had been pushed back, and “the final financing phase … will start around the first of January and will be done at the latest by late spring,” 2016.

In December 2014, Cronus began the unexpectedly long process to secure local easements for the water pipeline, to supply cooling and process water to the plant. By August 2015, the easements were still not resolved, because there were four hold-outs. Press reports described the project as “inching ahead,” with construction pushed back to 2016, “to start in the springtime.” The sanitary district began talking about using eminent domain to force through the pipeline, but this wasn’t necessary in the end and, by January 2016, all easements were in place.

Also in January 2016, the Illinois EPA issued to Cronus its final NPDES permit, approving the plant’s plans for water discharge.

In December 2014, the Italian firm Maire Tecnimont announced that it had signed a MOU, “which will be converted into an EPC contract” to build the plant. This announcement included a newly increased project cost of $1.5 billion (was $1.4 billion), and confirmed that the project would use ammonia technology from KBR and urea technology from Tecnimont’s subsidiary Stamicarbon. In February 2015, Cronus announced that the parties had executed the full EPC agreement. I have no information to explain why Tecnimont’s role as EPC contractor was amended a year later to include the joint venture with KBR.

In October 2014, Cronus Chemicals finally announced that it had chosen a location: a 235-acre site in Douglas County, just west of Tuscola, IL. In April 2013, 18 months prior, it had said that the site selection announcement would arrive “within the next few months” – the arduous process apparently “included 76 sites in nine states.”

In 2006, the same Tuscola site had been shortlisted for the US DOE‘s FutureGen “clean coal” project (LINK / PDF). It is now a CSX Select Site, which means it is “certified [for] access to rail services, proximity to highways, workforce availability, natural gas, electricity, water, and wastewater, environmental and geo-technical standards.”

In May 2014, the Illinois EPA issued a draft air permit for the plant, known at that time as Project Cronus, suggesting that Tuscola, IL, was the preferred location for the plant (Mitchell County, IA, was also a contender, but I found no documents to suggest that Cronus ever submitted an air permit application for that site). The Illinois EPA approved the air permit in September 2014 and, because air permits generally require construction to begin within 18 months, it approved a permit extension in December 2015, giving Cronus until October 2017 to begin construction.

Cronus Chemicals launched its website in early 2014 with scant project details. It included the statement that “commencement of operations … is expected to be during the 1st quarter of 2017,” following a 32-34 month construction and commissioning schedule. In Tecnimont’s December 2014 announcement, this schedule was pushed back considerably, and now “completion is expected to occur within 37 months after the EPC contract enters into force.” In its February 2015 announcement, Cronus had said that construction “is expected to begin in the summer of 2015 following financial closing.”

The air permit specified that, while most of the ammonia will be used to make urea, up to 25% of the ammonia produced may be sold to meet direct application demand in the Spring and Fall; at that time, however, Cronus reps confirmed to me that “most if not all of the ammonia will be converted to urea.” However, given that urea capacity has been cut in half in the 2017 project downsizing, it seems highly likely that significant quantities of ammonia will be available for sale at Cronus.

After accounting for the CO2 that would have been used in the urea process, the original air permit allows the plant greenhouse gas emissions of over 1.3 million tons of CO2e per year. It isn’t immediately clear whether Cronus will need to get a new air permit: while project downsizing would normally reduce emissions, the urea process consumes CO2 and so a reduced urea capacity means higher CO2 emissions – unless Cronus has other plans, which could include industrial CO2 sales.

In October 2014, the Governor of Illinois, Pat Quinn, announced the Tuscola site selection. This announcement revealed slight cost increases: the plant’s capital cost was then given as $1.4 billion, although a month later this had risen to $1.5 billion; initial reports had quoted $1.1 to $1.2 billion. Governor Quinn also announced an incentives package valued at over $52 million, including “an estimated $35 million in tax exemptions,” “$12.3 million for road improvements,” “an estimated $3.9 million in credits against the company’s state income tax liability over 10 years, a $1 million grant for public infrastructure and job training grant of $78,500.”

Project Cronus is reported to be backed by Swiss and Turkish investors, however, apart from the nationalities of its core team members, Cronus has provided no details about project finance. In June 2016, a local news report quoted the local economic development officer as saying “the owner’s group is putting in a large equity piece, and that’s really what’s driving it forward and making it a desirable project.”

In June 2016, the Cronus CEO was quoted in a local report, which also described the project as being in a “holding pattern,” describing the project backers’ sunk costs:

Cronus has invested well in excess of $10 million to date on the Tuscola project. We continue to invest, and we’re committed to bringing this project across the finish line. We look forward to sharing exciting new details in the very near future.
Erzin Atac, CEO of Cronus Chemicals, quoted in The News-Gazette, 06/11/2016

Cronus Chemicals LLC’s CEO is Erzin Atac (who is Swiss), the former president of Transammonia. Its sponsor is Seref Surmen (who is Turkish), the managing partner and owner of Nokta Yatirim Holdings, in Istanbul, who also has experience in the ammonia industry. As of June 2014, the Nokta Holdings website describes the group’s investments in Chimpex, Romania’s only urea export port, and Azomures, a nitrogen fertilizer plant in Targu Mures with a 600,000 metric ton per year capacity from two ammonia lines (it should be noted, however, that Ameropa purchased and delisted Azomures back in June 2012, which makes me question the accuracy of information from the Nokta Holdings website).

Cronus’s stated goal is to make “locally produced fertilizers for Midwestern farmers, while reducing reliance on imported nitrogen products.” It describes its “strategy” as involving “a direct capital investment and a grassroots development effort in the U.S. grain belt.” There’s not yet any information about what, exactly, this might mean. [/memberful]

View larger map with all ammonia plants.

ADDRESS: 785 East Highway 36, Tuscola, Illinois, 61953

WEBSITE: http://cronuschem.com


  • USGS: Minerals Yearbook, Nitrogen [RECENT / ARCHIVE]
  • Construction Permit: Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Cronus Chemicals LLC Construction Permit, 2014 [PDF] / draft documents [LINK / PDF]
  • NPDES Permit: Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Cronus Chemicals LLC NPDES Permit, 2016 [PDF]


  • 10/01/2018: Cronus press release: Cronus Fertilizers Executes EPC Contract with thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions for Illinois Fertilizer Project [LINK]
  • 08/23/2017: Cronus press release: Cronus Fertilizers Announces New EPC Contractor and Significant Project Updates [LINK]
  • 08/23/2017: The News-Gazette: Timeline set for long-delayed fertilizer plant in Douglas County [LINK]
  • 06/11/2017: The News-Gazette: Cronus Chemical ‘in a holding pattern’ [LINK]
  • 06/11/2017: The News-Gazette: Cronus Chemical: The road to nowhere — yet, anyway [LINK]
  • 03/09/2017: CU-Citizen Access: Delays at proposed Tuscola fertilizer plant put tax breaks at risk [LINK]
  • 02/01/2017: Illinois Homepage: $1.9B Cronus fertilizer plant construction delayed again [LINK]
  • 11/18/2016: The News-Gazette: Cronus update [LINK]
  • 11/04/2016: The News-Gazette: Cronus update [LINK]
  • 06/10/2016: Herald & Review: Cronus delays fertilizer plant construction near Tuscola [LINK]
  • 06/10/2016: The News-Gazette: Plant over budget, behind schedule [LINK]
  • 06/09/2016: CU-Citizen Access: Construction of Cronus fertilizer plant delayed as costs soar [LINK]
  • 03/04/2016: The News-Gazette: ‘Significant milestone’: Cronus contractor deal being finalized [LINK]
  • 01/25/2016: The News-Gazette: Everything flowing smoothly [LINK]
  • 11/27/2015: The News-Gazette: Cronus update [LINK]
  • 08/21/2015: The News-Gazette: Cronus site inching ahead [LINK]
  • 07/07/2015: The News-Gazette: Final land agreements for Cronus plant pipe expected to be in soon [LINK]
  • 04/27/2015: The News-Gazette: Future Cronus plant site sees planting of last crop [LINK]
  • 02/23/2015: Cronus press release: Cronus Fertilizers Signs EPC Contract with Maire Tecnimont for Illinois Fertilizer Plant [LINK]
  • 12/01/2014: Maire Tecnimont press release: Maire Tecnimont expands its fertilizer business in the USA with Cronus Chemicals’ Illinois plant [LINK]
  • 10/29/2014: Illinois Governor’s Office press release: Governor Quinn Announces Cronus Has Chosen Illinois for New $1.4 Billion Fertilizer Plant [LINK]
  • 10/23/2014: The News-Gazette: Tuscola optimistic about $1.2 billion plant [LINK]
  • 02/05/2014: Mitchell County Press News: Company says fertilizer plant still on track [LINK]
  • 01/29/2014: The News-Gazette: Proposed wastewater sale up for discussion again [LINK]
  • 01/28/2014: Urbana & Champaign Sanitary District meeting documents: Draft Contract with Cronus Chemicals, LLC [LINK document archive / PDF]
  • 10/14/2013: Sioux City Journal: Iowa, Illinois may not be alone in competing for fertilizer plant [LINK]
  • 07/26/2013: East Central Illinois Economic Development District news article: Lawmakers hope incentives will lure fertilizer plant [LINK]
  • 04/08/2013: Farm Futures: $1.2 Billion Fertilizer Plant May be Sited in Midwest [LINK]

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