The Russian chemical industry is on a growth path. In 2016, production increased by 5.3 percent. In the first half of 2017 alone, industry output rose by 7.4 percent according to Germany Trade & Invest. Many companies are modernising their facilities and increasing capacity. All of which makes Russia a very promising market for engineering companies at the moment. But there are plenty of challenges too. Industrial complexes are often located in isolated regions with extreme climates. Linde Engineering is also working on several major plants in Russia. In 2017, the company completed an important project in the city of Togliatti, located approximately one thousand kilometres south-east of Moscow on a bend in the Volga. The Russian chemical company KuibyshevAzot commissioned the Linde Azot Togliatti joint venture to build an ammonia plant there to supply its own facility.
One-stop shop for ammonia plant
“This is our largest reference project in the field of ammonia production and we managed every step in the project lifecycle – from engineering through procurement to construction,” explains Roland Hein, Project Director at Linde Engineering. The new plant enables KuibyshevAzot, in collaboration with Linde Gas, not only to produce ammonia in higher volumes, but also to do so much more efficiently. “We won this project on the strength of our synergised expertise bridging both plant engineering and gas production,” says Hein. Linde customers also benefit from the many years of experience its engineers have already gained successfully completing different projects the world over under challenging climate and logistical conditions.
Teamwork is the key success
KuibyshevAzot uses the key base chemical ammonia to manufacture caprolactam, a precursor for polyamide plastics and other derivatives, as well as nitrogen fertilizers and ammonium salts. Togliatti is home to companies from industries as diverse as chemicals, mechanical engineering and car manufacturing. As such, there are a lot of potential customers for KuibyshevAzot’s products. Collaboration with Linde started with the creation of a new joint venture, a company called Linde Azot Togliatti (LAT). “An agreement like this helps us define and work through a lot of project steps,” explains Thomas Vielreicher, Project Director at Linde Gas, which operates the plant under the joint venture. “We can collaborate much more closely with this kind of project structure and that always contributes to successful outcomes with engineering projects,” says Hein, outlining Linde’s strategy that also other customers in Russia could benefit in the future.
Benefits of the Linde Ammonia Concept
The technology factor also helped sway the decision in Linde’s favour. The plant’s production process is based on the Linde Ammonia Concept (LAC). This is a particularly efficient way of producing ammonia. It converts nitrogen produced by an air separation unit and hydrogen obtained from natural gas via steam reforming into ammonia. “LAC is an inert-free process. This means that inert gases such as argon are separated in the air separation unit before the synthesis step. This makes the synthesis process much more efficient,” explains Maximilian Helmle, Process Engineer at Linde Engineering. “It means that only the pure feedstocks are reacting with the help of a catalyst to create ammonia.” And it’s thanks to these pure gases that this method consumes less energy than the conventional process path. It requires only around 6.75 gigacalories of energy to create one tonne of ammonia (NH3). There's another benefit, too: Pure hydrogen (H2) can be captured before the ammonia synthesis reaction and fed to other applications. This is not possible with conventional production processes. “KuibyshevAzot can thus use H2 for other chemical processes, not just for producing ammonia,” adds Vielreicher.
The facility uses the Linde Ammonia Concept (LAC), a process that enables ammonia to be produced particularly efficiently.
Successfully mastering challenges
The plant in Togliatti was mechanically completed in 2016 and has been on stream since March 2017. Since then, the plant has been producing 1,340 tonnes of NH3 per day and additional 8,000 Nm³/h of pure hydrogen. Today, the plant is stable and running to the complete satisfaction of all stakeholders – an achievement under challenging conditions. “The tight schedule and weather conditions really put humans and machines to the test,” recalls engineering expert Hein. “There were lots of different issues that we had to make allowances for. The fact that the Volga isn't navigable all year round, for example, or that some streets were too narrow and some bridges too weak for us to transport the plant modules, which weighed up to hundreds of tonnes.” The teams had to find workarounds for these challenges.
The ammonia plant built by Linde Engineering for the supply of the Russian chemical company KuibyshevAzot produces 1,340 tonnes of NH3 per day and 8,000 Nm³/h of H2.
Going on stream in the freezing cold
The equipment was manufactured at production sites around the globe. This proved to be an additional challenge for logistics and timing. Small delays had a knock-on effect and meant that the plant could not go on stream as planned in the warm summer months. Instead, start-up was delayed until winter when temperatures sometimes fall as low as minus 28 degrees Celsius. Cleaning pipelines and bringing them on stream is significantly more difficult under these conditions. But the team mastered these on-site challenges too. “Smooth module assembly was an excellent tribute to the LAT joint venture and the outstanding collaboration between our colleagues at Linde Gas and KuibyshevAzot,” adds Hein. “The fact that we notched up almost seven million working hours on the construction site without any notable incidents is also a huge achievement,” explains the plant expert. “We are proud that the teams were able to work closely to safely build this state-of-the-art technical ammonia plant and successfully bring it on stream,” adds his Linde Gas colleague Vielreicher.
More Linde experts for Russia
The plant also meets the expectations of all project stakeholders. A 32-strong team at the LAT joint venture is responsible for operating the facility. The plant’s production capacity is another success story as it delivers more than the guaranteed volume while maintaining the guaranteed energy efficiency level for the entire facility. The project in Togliatti has strengthened Linde’s presence in Russia, with Linde Engineering significantly increasing staff numbers at its local entity in the city of Samara, 100 kilometres from Togliatti. “We want to establish a strong presence in the region to support Russian industry. This will allow us to effectively meet the needs of existing and potential customers – and also further enhance our position as a strong partner for Russian companies,” says Hein.
Ammonia (NH3) is one of the most important and most commonly manufactured base chemicals. Approximately 146 million tonnes are produced worldwide each year. Russia is the second largest producer after China1. The majority of ammonia (85 percent) is used in the production of fertilizers. However, it is also a key ingredient of polyamide plastics (PA), and production here has been growing since 2013. According to industry experts, the market for the most important categories, PA6 and PA66, is expected to grow by over 6.1 percent per annum over the coming years2. This expansion is mainly being driven by the automobile industry, where high-performance plastics are being used to replace metal parts. This reduces the weight of vehicles, which in turn cuts fuel consumption and harmful emissions.