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Ammonia: Market overview
Updated to Q4 2018
All eyes are on the 660,000 tonne/year PAU plant in Indonesia, as the smooth running of that facility should more than cover Mitsubishi’s contract commitments throughout the wider region during the fourth quarter. Any hiccups at the facility would probably force the Japanese trader into the spot market, as seen by Indonesia’s Parna Raya which secured an Egyptian cargo to cover customers during a turnaround.
Little change in ammonia spot demand is expected quarter on quarter with no major activity seen for October arrivals. Korean group Namhae will perform various plant turnarounds that will reduce its spot requirement, a trend that likely repeated in Taiwan as CPDC carries out maintenance on downstream plants. FACT India has already secured spot cargoes for October and November arrival.
Export volumes from the Black Sea are expected to climb quarter on quarter, as Rossosh has exited a turnaround, and the signing of a new gas tolling deal by OPZ should see the troubled Ukrainian producer resume manufacturing activities during October or November. Loading schedules in early October were disrupted by pipeline maintenance and delays to vessels using the Turkish Straits.
No major change in ammonia demand is anticipated by market participants for the final few months of the year, with the devaluation of the Turkish lira limiting spot activity close to the Black Sea at the start of the fourth quarter. OCI will lift 11,000 tonnes acquired from Ameropa on a FOB basis for October lifting, with Trammo also expected to load spot volumes from Yuzhny.
With many of the ammonia plants in Trinidad and Tobago having completed turnarounds in quarter three, the only cloud on the horizon for producers for the fourth quarter is a hike in natural gas curtailments for 30 days from late October. Feedstock restrictions are expected to jump to at least 25% during November, meaning units will be unable to run at capacity.
No spot business for Q4 arrival in the US had been heard at the start of the quarter, with buyers’ requirements appearing covered by domestic supply, and imported volumes from the Caribbean. Venezuela’s Pequiven was heard offering around 16,000 tonnes for October or November arrival, but no deal has yet been confirmed.
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Ammonia is a colourless, highly water-soluble gas with an intense, pungent, suffocating odour. It is alkaline and caustic, corrosive to copper and galvanised surfaces and is a powerful irritant. It is soluble in chloroform, ether and is easily liquefied under pressure. Liquid ammonia will attack some forms of plastics, rubber, and coatings.
Ammonia's major use is as a nitrogen source in fertilisers where it is both applied directly and used to produce derivatives including ammonium nitrate, urea, ammonium phosphates and ammonium sulphate.
Urea plants are integrated with ammonia production as they require the carbon dioxide by-product from ammonia units.
Ammonia also has a number of industrial end uses. Ammonium nitrate is used to make explosives while the medical grade is decomposed to nitrous oxide (laughing gas). Ammonium bicarbonate has applications in baking powder formulations, in fire extinguishers and as a blowing agent in the manufacture of polymers.
Ammonia is used in the production of hexamethylene diamine (HMDA) for nylon, acrylonitrile (ACN) for fibres and plastics, caprolactam for nylon, isocyanates for polyurethanes, and hydrazine.
Other uses for ammonia include as a refrigerant, a cleaning and bleaching agent, and a household cleaner. It is also used in metal treating operations.