The World Bank

Phosphate Fertilizer Plants Industry - Pollution Prevention Guidelines


Courtesy of The World Bank


Pollution Prevention Guidelines to provide technical advice and guidance to staff and consultants involved in pollution-related projects. The guidelines represent state-of-the-art thinking on how to reduce pollution emissions from the production process. In many cases, the guidelines provide numerical targets for reducing pollution, as well as maximum emissions levels that are normally achievable through a combination of cleaner production and end-of-pipe treatment. The guidelines are designed to protect human health; reduce mass loadings to the environment; draw on commercially proven technologies; be cost-effective; follow current regulatory trends; and promote good industrial practices, which offer greater productivity and increased energy efficiency.

Table of Contents

  • Industry Description and Practices
  • Waste Characteristics
  • Pollution Prevention and Control
  • Target Pollution Loads
  • Treatment Technologies
  • Emissions Guidelines
  • Monitoring and Reporting
  • Key Issues
  • Sources

Industry Description and Practices

Phosphate fertilizers are produced by adding acid to ground or pulverized phosphate rock. If sulfuric acid is used, single or normal, phosphate (SSP) is produced, with a phosphorus content of 16–21% as phosphorous pentoxide (P2O5). If phosphoric acid is used to acidulate the phosphate rock, triple phosphate (TSP) is the result. TSP has a phosphorus content of 43–48% as P2O5. SSP production involves mixing the sulfuric acid and the rock in a reactor. The reaction mixture is discharged onto a slow-moving conveyor in a den. The mixture is cured for 4 to 6 weeks before bagging and shipping.

Two processes are used to produce TSP fertilizers: run-of-pile and granular. The run-of-pile process is similar to the SSP process. Granular TSP uses lower-strength phosphoric acid (40%, compared with 50% for run-of-pile). The reaction mixture, a slurry, is sprayed onto recycled fertilizer fines in a granulator. Granules grow and are then discharged to a dryer, screened, and sent to storage.

Phosphate fertilizer complexes often have sulfuric and phosphoric acid production facilities. Sulfuric acid is produced by burning molten sulfur in air to produce sulfur dioxide, which is then catalytically converted to sulfur trioxide for absorption in oleum. Sulfur dioxide can also be produced by roasting pyrite ore. Phosphoric acid is manufactured by adding sulfuric acid to phosphate rock. The reaction mixture is filtered to remove phosphogypsum, which is discharged to settling ponds or waste heaps.

Waste Characteristics

Fluorides and dust are emitted to the air from the fertilizer plant. All aspects of phosphate rock processing and finished product handling generate dust, from grinders and pulverizers, pneumatic conveyors, and screens. The mixer/reactors and dens produce fumes that contain silicon tetrafluoride and hydrogen fluoride. Liquid effluents are not normally expected from the fertilizer plant, since it is feasible to operate the plant with a balanced process water system. The fertilizer plant should generate minimal solid wastes.

A sulfuric acid plant has two principal air emissions: sulfur dioxide and acid mist. If pyrites ore is roasted, there will also be particulates in air emissions that may contain heavy metals such as cadmium, mercury, and lead. Sulfuric acid plants do not normally discharge liquid effluents except where appropriate water management measures are absent. Solid wastes from a sulfuric acid plant will normally be limited to spent vanadium catalyst. Where pyrite ore is roasted, there will be pyrite residue, which will require disposal. The residue may contain a wide range of heavy metals such as zinc, copper, lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic.

The phosphoric acid plant generates dust and fumes, both of which contain hydrofluoric acid, silicon tetrafluoride, or both. Phosphogypsum generated in the process (at an approximate rate of about 5 tons per ton of phosphoric acid produced) is most often disposed of as a slurry to a storage/settling pond or waste heap. (Disposal to a marine environment is practiced at some existing phosphoric acid plants.) Process water used to transport the waste is returned to the plant after the solids have settled out. It is preferable to use a closed-loop operating system, where possible, to avoid a liquid effluent.

In many climatic conditions, however, this is not possible, and an effluent is generated that contains phosphorus (as PO4), fluorides, and suspended solids. The phosphogypsum contains trace metals, fluorides, and radionuclides (especially radon gas) that have been carried through from the phosphate rock.

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