Natural gas to create long term fertiliser manufacturing capacity

By Owen Mandovha

Zimbabwe is pinning its hopes for long term fertiliser requirements on the mining of natural gas in the Muzarabani Basin in the wake of a shortage of ammonium nitrate fertiliser on the globe.

The shortage of Ammonium Nitrate fertiliser, which if available is expensive, has riled many farmers who at this stage are looking forward to top dress their crops.

Zimbabwe Farmers Union President, Mr Paul Zakaria says unlike basal or compound D fertiliser, Zimbabwe is now relying on imports due to capacity constraints at Sable Chemicals in Kwekwe.

“Sable Chemicals was the main producer of AN fertiliser in the past, but ceased to do so because of operational challenges related to cost of power. Presently, it is importing Ammonia gas from South Africa by rail and due to foreign currency challenges that is very difficult to satisfy the market so that is why at the moment farmers are faced with a challenge of accessing AN fertiliser,” said Zakaria.

However, the shortage of AN fertiliser is not peculiar to Zimbabwe as the world is suffering a similar fate because of the shortage of natural gas which is the main ingredient in the manufacturing of AN fertiliser.

Scott McMillan, the managing director of Invictus Energy noted: “The Energy crisis in Europe and China put a squeeze on the natural gas supply. The method of producing AN fertiliser is by steam reforming natural gas to get hydrogen so the price of natural gas led to a spike in the production of ammonia. Obviously the whole globe has faced this trend for the last 12 months and it is not an isolated Zimbabwe case.”

If the Muzarabani gas is mined for commercial purposes, Zimbabwe will provide the entire region with ammonia gas with Sable Chemicals having already entered into a forward contract with Invictus for its long term natural gas needs.

“We have entered into a non-binding MOU with Sable Chemicals for the future supply of natural gas which they will steam reform to produce hydrogen which will be mixed with nitrogen to form AN. We hope that our exploration will commercially discover natural gas which will provide the country and the region with its total fertiliser requirements,” McMillan added.

A survey conducted by ZBC News showed that the price of a bag of AN fertiliser has skyrocketed from an average of US$33 per 50kg bag in 2021 to around US$45, which is likely to increase the costs of agricultural production.

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