The shale gas phenomenon in North America marks a new era for the fertilizer industry – the abundance of natural gas has led to the first new production capacities in the US for more than two decades. Nitrogen fertilizer production in the US was in a state of decline, but is now in a period of transition. After 20 years of rising raw material costs and players closing and relocating plants, there is renewed impetus among domestic producers to invest in their own country.
Rather than looking to other regions, producers of ammonia and urea are eyeing new opportunities on US shores for the first time since the 1990s. According to engineering contractor ThyssenKrupp Uhde, this is the dawn of a new era with plenty of opportunity. “The high demand for fertilizer plants in the US is clearly a consequence of the shale gas boom,” says Klaus Noelker, head of process department for ThyssenKrupp Uhde’s Ammonia and Urea Division. “The US has been a net importer of nitrogen fertilizer for years and now there’s a possibility that it will become more cost effective to produce fertilizers in newly built plants rather than importing them. Fertilizers are a relatively quick way of turning gas into money; there’s a project time of only about three years from contract award to the start of the plant. Other options to process the gas can take far longer and impose a higher risk.”
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