The 2019 IFS Technical Conference ‘broke new ground’ in several ways

With presentations on several new topics, a partnership with ESPP to organise the 1st SOFIE conference on organic fertilisers, and its first visit to Brussels, this conference took the IFS and its delegates into new areas.

The 2019 IFS Technical Conference continued our recent travel around Europe, arriving in the centre of Brussels, at the historic Les Ateliers des Tanneurs. The traditional conference dinner was held at the renowned Les Brigittines restaurant, and was clearly enjoyed by all. The energy of the ‘networking’ was impressive to behold!

The varied programme of presentations maintained the high standards that is the hallmark of IFS conferences. Speakers provided delegates with detailed explanations of their topics, and were then in turn subject to detailed questions from the knowledgeable audience.

Excellent presentations

The first paper was by Mudussar Sharif, of the Fatima Fertiliser Company, Pakistan. This was the first paper that the Society has had from Fatima, and we were keen to do so as the papers by the company at ANNA conferences are highly regarded. This paper covered the remedial control measures adopted to avert foaming and overflow in the hot ammonium nitrate (AN) storage tank. AN inflows to the buffer tank are from two sources – by product AN from an NP (Upstream) plant, and AN produced by direct neutralisation of ammonia and nitric acid. AN from the NP plant is preferred for CAN production, while any make up requirement is met from the AN plant. There have been instances in the past whereby the entire volume of the AN storage tank (150 m3) swelled up and substantial amounts of hot ammonium nitrate overflowed, with extensive steam being emitted from the emergency relief hatch, local vent and overflow line.

This was a matter of concern with respect to personnel and equipment safety. To prevent any recurrence, several administrative and engineering control measures were implemented that will be described in the paper.

A new AN Tank was designed in line with EFMA Guidelines (Guidance for the Storage of Hot Ammonium Nitrate Solutions – 2005) and was critically reviewed for compliance during PHAs at various stages of project execution, being found to be compliant. The paper provided a better understanding of ammonium nitrate melt storage and handling, and suggested learning based improvements in the guidelines to avoid recurrence.

The second paper was on the innovative use of thermal imaging to identify flow problems in an AN neutraliser and was presented by Rodrigo Dias Goncalves of Yara Brazil. It described how, after several years in operation, the Neutralisation towers of an atmospheric pressure AN solution plant were replaced during the 2015 maintenance shutdown, due to thickness losses. However, after start-up the plant experienced an unstable operation: level oscillation in the collecting vessel, vibration of AN piping and equipment, intermittent flow and hammer effects in the towers. The plant load could not be increased, and there were signs of iron contamination in the AN Solution.

It was clear that there was a flow problem in the towers, so it was decided to use a thermal camera to evaluate the flow profile. The thermal images showed problems just above the 2nd stage distributor, in the area of the ammonia pipe feed, which enabled the possible causes of the problems to be narrowed down. The towers were opened for examination and comparison with the drawings and the old towers. This revealed that the new towers were not exactly identical to the old ones, as they were supposed to be. This presentation xplained the cause of this problem and describe the solution that was implemented.

Safety, security and health

Safety and security are key aspects of fertiliser production. And so we were most interested to hear from Mark Brouwer of UreaKnowHow.com about the principles and applications of a directory of urea safety incidents, with case studies. In 2018, AmmoniaKnowHow.com and UreaKnowHow.com introduced FIORDA to the fertiliser industry: The Fertilizer Industry Operational Risks Database, a cloud based global set of risk registers for ammonia and urea plants (www.fiorda.eu). FIORDA is a database for fertiliser manufacturers developed by an independent group of engineers and members of AmmoniaKnowHow.com and UreaKnowHow.com.

FIORDA’s mission is to improve safety and reliability performance of fertiliser plants by collecting and exchanging process safety data among the participating companies and acting as focal point for co-ordination and management of process safety data collection within the fertiliser industry.

FIORDA has developed a structured database extracting data from process safety incidents, lesson learned, members projects experience covering a variety of geographic areas, plants, equipment types and operating conditions. The FIORDA data are stored in a database available for our member companies and contractors working on their behalf.

The necessity of such information database comes from three basic needs: Safety in operation, Plant integrity and Production availability. FIORDA has collected data to determine the causes, the consequence, the type and level of risk, and the likelihood of such failures. Recommendations for each case are provided to help operators to better understand the path to secure a safe and reliable operation. 

FIORDA helps operators to better understand the risks within their plants by providing examples from various case studies and reduce operational costs through the application of process know-how and process safety data. With thousands of lessons learned, cases and examples thoroughly documented, the FIORDA database is a valuable tool for fertiliser manufacturers who wish to be up to date and compliant with EU and international legislation. The paper included several case studies to illustrate the above.

Also concerned with safety and healt was a presentation on SHE experiences with acquisitions and integration – what to look out for, by Jan-Petter Fossum of Yara International.

SHE is a concern when conducting any merger, divestment and acquisition in the chemical industry and, within this, the fertiliser industry. Potential costs, such as the responsibility for cleaning up past environmental pollution to soil or water, might impact heavily on the business case. The same issues apply if the safety integrity of the site is under the acceptance criteria of the company. Thus it is of vital importance to detect any such issues as early as possible, to develop a baseline situation that both parties can agree and rely on. This presentation set out how this can be achieved.

For a different, and novel, perspective on safety and security, we then had a presentation on the risks posed to the fertiliser industry from cyber-attacks, and how to guard against them, from Simon Poppe of Allia Insurance Brokers n.v/s.a.

This presentation covered four aspects of cyber attacks and their consequences. Firstly, the types of cyber risk threats, including malicious attacks (with examples provided), human error (with examples provided), risks stemming from regulation (such as GDPR), and fraud. The second aspect covered was the possible loss, that makes cyber risk management unavoidable. This included loss statistics, business interruption, Third party liability and incident response. Third was cyber insurance policy coverage – does this provide added value, and what can be covered? The fourth aspect covered was that of risk assessment.

Environmental impact considerations are also an area that is becoming ever an higher priority for the industry. So we were pleased to have a presentation from Rob Stevens, of Yara International, on the production, use and benefits of decarbonised ammonia.

Yara’s new unit ‘Decarbonise Yara’ will focus on the main aspects of green house gas emissions within Yara’s operations. Decarbonising fertiliser production, with ammonia as the main product, will only be possible when upstream decarbonised energy sources are addressed. The full value chain needs to be decarbonised, and the focus will include nitrate based fertilisers. All this, and more, can be facilitated by decarbonised ammonia in collaboration with internal Yara business units and new external partnerships. The presentation covered a few examples of initiatives towards this energy transition.

New materials for fertilising products 

The next two papers both described new technologies and approaches to recycle ashed material into crop fertilising products. Sabrina Brandjes of ICL Group described the work they are doing to Realise Phosphorus Recycling – Plant scale trials using recycled P material and their indications for future potential. She presented their findings on the implementation of phosphorus recycling at the ICL plant in Amsterdam. She discussed the problems encountered in the past using sewage sludge ashes (SSA) on a large scale. From those results, decisions were made to build an installation that allows ICL to easily use SSA with additional calcium carbonate in the traditional acidulation process.

However, the amount of SSA that can be processed is still limited. To increase these amounts in the future, laboratory research has been conducted. Sabrina discussed the different challenges that still need to be overcome to increase the amount of sewage sludge ashes that can be processed. The presentation also outlined ICL’s vision on the future of secondary phosphorus in Europe as the EU continues to implement stricter legislation on heavy metal concentrations in fertilisers and continues to push towards the recycling of nutrients in general.

This was followed by a paper on the Ash2Phos process for recovering P from a variety of ashed materials, by Yariv Cohen of EasyMining Sweden AB. This paper described the technology underpinning this process, and how it can fit into a recycling value chain with recovered materials. It recovers P in commercial, detoxified and safe forms (for instance better than feed grade and with Cd levels below the limit of quantification), providing domestically sourced nutrient concentrates for use by the existing European fertiliser industry.

The new EU Fertilizing Products Regulation – what will it mean? 

The conference was completed by a presentation from Antoine Hoxha of Fertilizers Europe entitled The EU New Fertilizer regulation: a game changer?

In 2019 the European Union will adopt a new fertiliser regulation. It will cover a wide range of products such as mineral, organic, organo-mineral fertilisers as well as related materials such as liming materials, growing media and biostimulants.

The presentation covered the main aspects of the new regulation regarding mineral fertilisers such as nutrient contents, solubility requirements, contaminant limits, biodegradability criteria etc. It also reflected on the fundamental impacts that this regulation, coming under the umbrella of the circular economy, may have on the structure of the fertiliser industry.

This year the IFS Technical Conference was followed at the same venue by the 1st Summit of the Organic and Organo-mineral Fertiliser Industry in Europe (SOFIE), organised by ESPP in partnership with IFS. The SOFIE programme can be seen here 

The conference received generous support from the following organisations, for which we are most grateful.