Wever, IA — OCI

UPDATED: 11/14/2017 — see Change Log.

OWNER: Iowa Fertilizer Company (OCI NV / Orascom)
PROJECT: Greenfield nitrogen fertilizer plant[memberful does_not_have_subscription=”1314-ammonia-industry-annual-subscription,1311-ammonia-industry-monthly-subscription,3338-ammonia-industry-30-day-subscription”]

COST (reported): $3.0 billion
JOB CREATION (reported): 200 permanent, 3,500 construction — see Job Openings [LINK]
START-UP DATE (reported): 2017

Ammonia 875,000 mtpy [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 presentations. Sources: linked below.
[3] [Membership required]. Sources: linked below.
[4] [Membership required]. See Methodology.


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OCI announced the start-up of the ammonia plant in April 2017 but, while the site is mechanically complete and all the downstream plants are capable of production above nameplate capacity, the ammonia plant had trouble ramping up and OCI only acknowledged “Provisional Acceptance” of the project in mid-October. Despite OCI’s first-mover advantage, the Wever plant is now two years delayed and more than a billion dollars over budget. OCI wanted to do mergers and acquisitions but didn’t have much success: it failed to merge with CF Industries in 2016 and failed to buy out its subsidiary, OCI Partners, in 2017.

COST: “Over” $3.0 billion, originally $1.4 billion
JOB CREATION: 200 permanent, 3,500 construction — see Job Openings [LINK]
START-UP DATE: Q2 2017, originally mid-2015
LIKELIHOOD: Done — see Methodology

Ammonia 2,200 mtpd
770,000 mtpy MAX
185,000 mtpy NET
2,400 mtpd 876,000 mtpy GROSS
192,929 mtpy NET
2,200 mtpd 803,000 mtpy GROSS
1,200 mtpd
420,000 mtpy MAX
252,000 mtpy NET
1,320 mtpd 481,800 mtpy MAX
262,800 mtpy NET
Nitric Acid 1,700 mtpd 620,500 mtpy GROSS
UAN 4,300 mtpd
1,505,000 mtpy MAX
1,013,000 mtpy NET
4,730 mtpd 1,726,450 mtpy MAX
1,056,414 mtpy NET
DEF 900 mtpd
315,000 mtpy MAX
60,000 mtpy NET
900 mtpd 328,500 mtpy MAX
62,571 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 presentations and Quarterly Engineer Construction Monitoring Reports via EMMA. NET represents estimated product mix. Sources: linked below.
[3] Iowa DNR air permit documents. Sources: linked below.
[4] Adjusted Capacity is in metric tons per year assuming operations for 365 days per year; MAX capacity based on permitted capacity; NET capacity based on company disclosures. See Methodology.

FEEDSTOCK: Natural gas
END PRODUCTS: Ammonia, Urea (granular), UAN, DEF


Fort Madison Daily Democrat: Crowd celebrates IFC’s start of production, 04/20/2017
In April 2017, Iowa Fertilizer Company (IFC) and its parent OCI NV held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the start-up of its “over $3 billion” world-scale nitrogen fertilizer plant at Wever, IA.

While a ceremony is always nice, the site was not fully operational, as I explained in my April 2017 update on Wever: only the ammonia plant had actually started up. Five months later, in my September 2017 update on Wever, I pointed out that the ammonia plant still hadn’t been able to ramp up properly and, while OCI was in charge of operating and managing the site, it still hadn’t formally taken control of the plant from the EPC firm (“project acceptance”).

In mid-October 2017, OCI finally took “Provisional Acceptance” of its new plant from the EPC contractor. I’m still waiting to see evidence that the plant – upstream and downstream – is operating as intended for significant periods without interruption. A long list of design and construction problems had previously dragged the project down.

According to the a disclosure for bond-holders, published the same day as the ribbon-cutting in mid-April 2017, the “downstream plants have been declared mechanically complete and the various downstream production units are preparing for start-up utilizing IFCo-produced ammonia.” It was some months before production of urea, DEF, and UAN began in earnest. As of September 2017, all the downstream plants have able to produce at rates above nameplate capacity. However, the raw material they need – ammonia – keeps being curtailed as the ammonia plant suffers one outage or another, severely limiting downstream production.

At the end of April 2017, local news warned that “residents can expect to see orange emissions” venting to the atmosphere for a couple of days while the plant starts up its UAN production train (those same orange clouds were the tell-tale sign that all was not well at US Nitrogen’s plant in Tennessee).

At the end of December 2016, the plant was 98% complete and start-up processes were expected to begin “over the next few weeks” – about 18 months behind schedule. By February 2017, the plant was still “getting closer to full operating capacity following the initial start-up last fall … every day the facility is moving closer to full production.” But by early April, when OCI released its Monthly Construction Report for March 2017 to its bond-holders, the plant was still only inching forward, with start-up frequently stopping for repairs.

As of April 2017, therefore, all units were mechanically complete, according to the monthly report, and the ammonia plant was “in the commissioning and start-up phase. All units are currently running and we have commenced the reduction of the ammonia converter catalyst. We expect the production of on-spec ammonia early next week.” For the other, downstream, plants, only small quantities (200 tons) of urea solution had been produced before that unit had to be shut down for repairs. The nitric acid and UAN plants “will be ready for startup in early April.” That schedule can, presumably, be taken with a pinch of salt but the downstream units should be ready within the next few months.

The delays appear to come from a long and unfinished list of problems that keep being discovered. For example, in the latest Quarterly Engineer Construction Monitoring Report, posted in February 2017, we learn that “an issue with welding (only on the nitric acid plant) was discovered … X-rays have been performed on 15,000 welds and it was found that 800 needed repair.” In case it needs to be said, a 5% failure rate on welds on a nitric acid plant is almost indescribably unacceptable.

For other recent updates, please see my posts on the Wever plant (rising costs, mergers and acquisitions, bond refinancing, no start-up yet) from November 2016, and the proposed merger between OCI NV and OCI Partners LP from December 2016.

OCI is now in “a phase of consolidation,” and “may also seek disposal of non-core assets and / or seek partnerships in certain stakes.” The consolidation of OCI’s assets in the US, especially given the all-stock structure of the proposed transaction, seems to make sense for a company seeking a stronger negotiating position for future partnerships, which could involved a sale or partnership for Iowa Fertilizer Company.

In August 2015, OCI and CF Industries announced that they planned to merge, which would have cemented CF’s dominance of the North American market despite becoming a Dutch company, but the OCI-CF merger was terminated in May 2016, following the US Treasury’s action against tax inversion deals. For now, Iowa Fertilizer Company remains a subsidiary of the Dutch company, OCI NV.

Iowa Fertilizer Company (IFCo) was “first envisioned” in November 2011 by an Egyptian company, Orascom Construction Industries, which was in the process of becoming a Dutch company, called OCI NV.

The world-scale greenfield nitrogen complex at Wever received its air permit in October 2012, broke ground in November 2012, and was expected to be “completed by mid 2015,” at a cost of $1.4 billion. Since then, however, the project has been hit with serious delays and cost overruns.

The project had been on schedule for a 2015 start up as recently as June 2015, when OCI’s corporate presentation described construction progress as “on Schedule: c.88% complete as of 31 Mar 2015.” Since then, progress has been painfully slow: 91.8% complete at the end of September 2015, 94% complete in February 2016, and 94.3% complete at the end of March 2016.

According to CF Industries’ February 2016 investor presentation and OCI’s 2015 Earnings Report from April 2016, Wever was then expected to be operational in Q3 2016, “in time for fall application season.” At that time, I estimated that capex had risen to $2.25 billion, at a minimum.

In May 2016, local news reported that “the plant is 95% completed with construction,” and provided an update on start-up timing, quoting the new President of Iowa Fertilizer Company:

“If you look at our schedule, right now our schedule projects ammonia in the September, October time frame, and the downstream products to follow that in one to two months …

“We’re beginning to permission areas with steam blows and water washing and that sort of things. Then we’ll move from that right into our operators stepping in and starting the commission phase.”
Larry Holley, IFCo President, quoted by KHQA, 05/17/2016

At the end of December 2016, I estimated the project had a revised total capex of very nearly $3 billion. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony in April 2017, Iowa’s Governor Branstad said: “Now we find that IFC has invested over $3 billion and … will invest an additional $50 million annually for employees and maintenance.”

The original budget was $1.4 billion. In November 2014, this increased by $100 million and, by 2015, it had risen to $1.9 billion. In August 2015, CF Industries published its CF-OCI merger presentation, disclosing another increase in project cost and, for the first time, the delay in start-up: “Expected commissioning and production start-up in Q1 2016 … ~$1.7B of capex has been spent to date, out of ~$2.0B of total estimated capex.” Since then, CF has disclosed a series of further delays: by December 2015, start up had been pushed back to the second quarter of 2016 and, by March 2016, to the third quarter of 2016.

OCI disclosed another cost increase in its full year 2015 earnings, at the end of April 2016, saying that the delays have caused “extra costs estimated to be up to $350 million.” OCI did not, however, specify what number the extra $350 million is above. Conservatively assuming it’s on top of the last number OCI announced, $1.9 billion, the total project cost stands at $2.25 billion. If, however, OCI is counting from the $2 billion more recently disclosed by CF, total capex would stand at $2.35 billion.

In explaining the extra $350 million, OCI cited “several challenges during 2015, including slow construction progress and adverse weather conditions.” In any case, only $150 million of this latest cost increase will be borne by OCI, because the EPC contractor bears financial risk for certain cost over-runs. The EPC contractor is OCI’s sister company, Orascom Construction and Engineering (OEC), which is now suffering considerable losses from cost increases beyond those covered under their contract: originally, a $1.216 billion lump sum turnkey agreement, with subsequent approved increases through change orders, acceptable claims, and “accelleration dollars,” according to OCI’s Full Year 2015 earnings call in May 2016.

OEC gave scant additional detail in its full year 2015 earnings report but, at least, implies that this latest cost increase should be the last one:

In the U.S., a non-recurring negative impact related to the construction of Iowa Fertilizer Company (IFCo) led to a consolidated net loss of USD 347.8 million for the Group. The estimated future loss was identified and booked, as the revised cost to complete exceeded the contract value including change orders. The Group has worked to mitigate challenges faced at IFCo, such as productivity levels as well as higher labor and subcontractor costs, to avoid future losses at this project.

Remembering that OCI was, until very recently, a private, family-owned Egyptian company, it is no surprise that the majority owners, CEO Nassef Sawiris and his father and brothers, take these financial hits to both their companies (OCI and OEC) personally. In the Risk Management section of OCI’s 2015 Annual Report, published late April 2016, I sensed a certain wrath behind the calm corporate-speak describing how OCI would mitigate the risks pertaining to its “Ability to execute large greenfield projects on time:” “Completion … is subject to intense monitoring by OCI N.V.’s senior management.”

It may not be a coincidence that IFCo has seen a recent personnel change at the top. In February 2016, IFCo appointed a new president to finish the job, politely saying that “IFCo made significant progress during [the previous president’s] tenure and the company wishes him … the best.”

The details of exactly what went wrong at Wever are beginning to become public, thanks to a lawsuit that’s just beginning to warm up between OEC and Maintenance Enterprises LLC (MEI). According to court documents available via the US Court system’s electronic document service, PACER (registration required), MEI was working as OEC’s subcontractor to build the ammonia plant, and was later asked to build the urea plant as well (the documents do not say who was originally working on the urea plant, nor why they were replaced in Q1 2015, so late into construction).

MEI claimed, in its February 2016 complaint, that OEC owes it $50 million in unpaid invoices. It also alleges that OEC locked it out of the construction area, essentially confiscating whatever property it had left on site.

OEC responded at the end of April 2016 with what appears to be a blanket denial of wrongdoing, rebuttal of MEI’s allegations, and a $65 million countersuit. Among other things, OEC alleges that MEI is responsible for significant cost overruns and project delays.

To illustrate one detail, the documents appear to say that, in April 2015, MEI agreed to take over construction of the urea plant (“Downstream Scope”), aiming to complete it by September 2015 at a cost of about $85 million. By December 2015, the work was neither completed nor on budget: MEI’s new schedule was for completion in May 2016 at a cost of roughly $140 million.

Whatever the facts, which probably sit somewhere between what each party claims, this case is likely to roll on for some time, but it explains some of the news reports that had been coming out of Iowa for a while now. In early 2015, “1,480 of the workers were laid off in mid-April when the fertilizer company dismissed a subcontractor,” causing strife with unions before a new subcontractor was found and workers could be rehired. And, in February 2016, “the construction community [was] rumbling with rumors of a complete shutdown … a large contractor has told workers that if it doesn’t get paid, it will pull out of the site.”

Iowa Fertilizer Company still claims that Wever will be “the first nitrogen fertilizer plant built in the United States in nearly 30 years.” Given the delays, however, it is highly likely that that title will be claimed by CF’s Donaldsonville, LA, brownfield instead.

Nonetheless, the project enjoyed a “first mover advantage” which has allowed it to capture lower costs than other, later projects. For comparison, CHS’s plant in Spiritwood, ND, confirmed in September 2014 and cancelled in August 2015, would have cost more than $3.0 billion, from a starting cost of “between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion” when announced in September 2012. And even CF’s expansions at Donaldsonville and Port Neal, IA, have seen budget over-runs, of about 20%.

IFCo was originally financed with $572 million of equity from its parent company and $1.194 billion of debt, issued through the Midwest Disaster Area tax-exempt bond program. The bond was oversubscribed (“3x”) and “has an average interest rate of 5.12%.” Additionally, the project received state incentives, providing “tax relief in the order of $100 million,” as well as more recent incentives. The 2012 bond was eventually refinanced with a 2013 bond, which led, in late 2016, to an IRS examination of the legitimacy of the bond’s tax-free status – which was resolved “with no change” in April 2017.

The “fixed turnkey” EPC contract was awarded to IFCo’s sister company, Orascom Engineering and Construction, which has “more than 15 years of fertilizer plant construction experience and … successfully completed six fertilizer companies in Egypt and Algeria, including our own greenfield assets.”

The ammonia plant will use the KBR Purifier Process; the plant design is based on Yara’s Burrup plant in Australia, which was built in 2006 (note that Yara cites annual ammonia capacity at Burrup of 850,000 metric tons per year).

The urea process will be licensed from Stamicarbon, whose parent company, Maire Tecnimont, is also providing engineering and procurement services for the ammonia line. Uhde, now part of ThyssenKrupp, provided the plants for urea granulation, nitric acid, ammonium nitrate, and UAN, as well as providing engineering and procurement services for the urea, DEF, and UAN lines.

IFCo awarded to The Weitz Company “a civil works contract … with a value of $1 billion” in 2012; in the same year, the 160-year-old Weitz was purchased outright by OEC. Stanley Consultants was providing engineering for the balance of plant, buildings, and utilities; McAninch Corporation had the earthworks contract; and Matrix Service was providing storage tanks on a $60 million contract.

According to OCI’s website, the facility has storage capacity for 100,000 metric tons of ammonia, 40,000 tons of urea, and 120,000 tons of UAN.

TransCanada’s ANR Pipeline Company will provide the plant with natural gas feedstock at a rate of 81,000 MMBTUs per day, building a 1.34 mile, 16″ pipeline at a cost of roughly $15 million.

This project used to boast a number of records, though I’m not convinced any still stand:

  • IFCo will be “the first world scale natural gas-based fertilizer plant built in the US in nearly 25 years.” (Dyno Nobel’s Waggaman, LA, brownfield won that race.)
  • The $1.1941 billion bond issuance was “the largest non-investment grade transaction ever sold in the US tax-exempt market.” (If/when Midwest Fertilizer Company finally sells the bonds for its greenfield at Mt Vernon, IN, that $1.259 billion transaction will prevail.)
  • Equal with the 2008 AUM plant in Point Lisas, Trinidad & Tobago, the IFCo plant “with a daily production capacity of 4,300 tonnes will be the largest single-train UAN plant in the world.” (CF Industries’ Donaldsonville, LA, brownfield has beaten IFCo on this: CF’s new UAN plant, with nameplate capacity of 5,050 stpd, appears to be performing well above capacity, even hitting daily “rates north of 5,800 tons.”)

Although IFCo “will sell its products domestically,” it is very much an international project, conceived “to capitalize on the country’s shale gas revolution.”

IFCo is wholly owned by OCI NV, which is based in The Netherlands and owns fertilizer plants in The Netherlands (Geleen), Egypt (EFC and EBIC), and Algeria (Sorfert Algerie), as well as the recently restarted ammonia-methanol plant at Beaumont, TX.

The ultimate owners are CEO Nassef Sawiris, his brother Samih Sawiris, and their father, Osni Sawiris, the company’s founder and patriarch of “Egypt’s wealthiest family” (the other brother, Naguib, took over the telecoms side of the business). The Sawiris collectively owned “54.98% as at 31 December 2014,” according to OCI’s 2014 Annual Report. By early 2016, after a series of capital infusions, the Sawiris’ ownership had risen to 63.88%, according to data at Euronext.

Interestingly, Bill Gates also owns 6.31% of OCI as of early 2016 (his holding was ~10% before more stock was issued); his investment was reported to be around $1 billion.

Orascom’s expansion into fertilizers was impressive: in 2008, it owned only a minority interest in one Egyptian fertilizer plant. By 2012, however, Orascom produced almost 7 million metric tons of fertilizer, putting it “among the world’s largest nitrogen‐based fertilizer producers.” In 2013, Orascom staged an inverse takeover, becoming owned by its Dutch subsidiary – beyond following its new asset base, this relocation may have been driven to some extent by the ongoing political upheaval in Egypt (the Sawiris family has a Coptic Christian background and was not fond of the Mohamed Morsi regime).

In March 2015, OCI completed the “demerger” of its construction and fertilizer businesses. The Dutch company produces nitrogen fertilizers, and the Egyptian company is focused on construction.

Orascom Construction Industries started in the 1950s and grew into “Egypt’s most valuable publicly-traded company.” After the demerger, it is now called Orascom Construction Limited, and its subsidiaries include Contrack, which built US military bases in Afghanistan, BESIX, which built the world’s tallest building in 2004, and now the Weitz Company, which is building the Wever plant. [/memberful]

View larger map with all ammonia plants.

ADDRESS: 180th Street & State Highway 61, Wever, IA 52658, United States

WEBSITE: https://iowafertilizer.com/ (US)
WEBSITE: http://www.oci.nl (The Netherlands)


  • USGS: Minerals Yearbook, Nitrogen [RECENT / ARCHIVE]
  • PSD Construction permit documents: Iowa DNR, PSD Construction permit search [LINK]
  • Stock Exchange listing: Euronext Amsterdam [LINK]
  • Legal Proceedings: Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) [LINK, registration required]
  • EMMA (Electronic Municipal Market Access): Iowa Fertilizer Company Project municipal bond documents [LINK]


  • 04/26/2017: Fort Madison Daily Democrat: Residents can expect to see orange emissions from IFC [LINK]
  • 04/20/2017: Fort Madison Daily Democrat: Crowd celebrates IFC’s start of production [LINK]
  • 04/19/2017: Des Moines Register: Is Iowa’s new $3B fertilizer plant worth $110M in state subsidies? [LINK]
  • 04/19/2017: Office of the Governor of Iowa press release: Branstad, Reynolds celebrate historic Iowa Fertilizer Company opening world-class fertilizer plant in Wever, Iowa [LINK]
  • 04/19/2017: Orascom Construction press release: Orascom Construction Announces the Start of Production at Iowa Fertilizer [LINK]
  • 04/14/2017: OCI press release: OCI N.V. Terminates Negotiations to Acquire All Publicly Held Common Units of OCI Partners LP [LINK]
  • 03/27/2017: Yahoo Finance: OCI NV Q4 2016 earnings call transcript [LINK]
  • 02/17/2017: Fort Madison Daily Democrat: IFC tells citizens what to do in an emergency [LINK]
  • 02/13/2017: Fort Madison Daily Democrat: IFC to hold informational meeting Thursday night [LINK]
  • 12/28/2016: IFCo press release: Iowa Fertilizer Company Reaches Major Milestone [LINK]
  • 12/27/2016: Fort Madison Daily Democrat: Fertilizer plant 98% done with start-up activities this week [LINK]
  • 12/06/2016: OCI Partners press release: OCI Partners LP Receives Buyout Offer from OCI N.V. [LINK]
  • 11/21/2016: OCI press release: OCI N.V. Trading Update [PDF]
  • 11/21/2016: The Bond Buyer: Iowa Fertilizer Project Seeks Tender Amid Delays, IRS Review [LINK]
  • 09/06/2016: OCI press release: OCI N.V. H1 2016 RESULTS [LINK]
  • 06/01/2016: Daily Gate City: IFC plant firing up boilers [LINK]
  • 05/17/2016: KHQA: Iowa Fertilizer Plant employing workers as production looms [LINK]
  • 05/17/2016: KBUR: Fertilizer Plant Officials Cut Ribbon On New Road, Discuss Plant Status [LINK]
  • 05/02/2016: The Des Moines Register: Orascom: ‘Defective’ work delayed Iowa fertilizer plant [LINK]
  • 04/29/2016: OCI press release: Full Year 2015 Results Report [LINK]
  • 04/27/2016: The National: Dubai-listed Orascom Construction in $334m Q1 loss [LINK]
  • 02/23/2016: Fort Madison Daily Democrat: COMPANY SUES FERTILIZER PLANT [LINK]
  • 02/22/2016: The Des Moines Register: Lawsuit: Payment stopped on Iowa Fertilizer Co. project [LINK]
  • 02/19/2016: Daily Gate City: IFC responds to candidate’s comments [PDF]
  • 02/2016: CF Industries presentation: Investor Presentation Spring 2016 [PDF]
  • 12/21/2015: CF Industries presentation: CF/OCI Combination Update [PDF]
  • 11/12/2015: OCI press release: Q3 2015 TRADING UPDATE [LINK]
  • 08/06/2015: OCI presentation: OCI-CF merger [PDF]
  • June 2015: OCI presentation: June 2015 [PDF]
  • 06/19/2015: The Globe Gazette: Fertilizer plant receives $25 million more in state incentives [LINK]
  • 05/04/2015: The Des Moines Register: Construction unions seek state help to get Iowa fertilizer plant jobs back [LINK]
  • 12/15/2014: Daily Gate City: Fertilizer plant needs $100M more [LINK]
  • 12/10/2014: Bloomberg: Iowa Fertilizer Bonds Drop as Junk Deal Needs Extra $100 Million [LINK]
  • 11/14/2014: OCI NV press release: Q3 2014 Trading Update [LINK]
  • 09/2014: OCI NV Corporate Presentation, September 2014 [PDF]
  • 04/29/2014: OCI NV 2013 Results Presentation [PDF]
  • 09/30/2013: Federal Register notice: ANR Pipeline Company; Notice of Request Under Blanket Authorization [LINK]
  • ONGOING: TriStates Public Radio: local news about Iowa Fertilizer Company [LINK]
  • 05/01/2013: Orascom press release: Iowa Fertilizer Company LLC Issues $1.2 Billion of Bonds in the US Tax-Exempt Market [PDF]
  • 11/19/2012: Orascom press release: Orascom Construction Industries Announces the Start of Construction Work on Iowa Fertilizer Company [PDF]
  • 10/11/2012: ThyssenKrupp press release: ThyssenKrupp plans to engineer one of the world’s largest liquid fertilizer plants [LINK]
  • 09/10/2012: KBR press release: KBR to Provide Purifier Technology Package for First World-Scale Ammonia Plant in United States in Nearly 25 Years [LINK]
  • 09/06/2012: Maire Tecnimont press release: Maire Tecnimont Lands in the United States with a double award [LINK]
  • 09/05/2012: Orascom press release: OCI Fertilizer Group Selects Iowa for its New US$ 1.4 Billion Greenfield Nitrogen Fertilizer Plant in the United States [LINK]

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