GB No. 4, spring 1991
"The state does not have the army, the army has the state". This saying seems to apply to Prussia, modern Iraq and, in a way, to Puławy (the Vistular Delta), where a plant producing fertilizers out of atmospheric nitrogen and methane has been built. The plant's consumption of methane imported mainly from the USSR reaches 2 million cubic meters per day out of which one third heats up the chemical reaction, and the rest is used in the reaction itself. The technology requires 800 MW of power, ie. the output of an overage size power plant supplying 2 or 3 provinces. The plant's daily consumption of natural gas could easily satisfy annual demand of a city like Lublin.
The result of the first stage of the production, stinky and toxic ammonia, is stored in liquid state in two 1200 ton spheric tanks manufactured according to French technology. The twenty year old tanks are inspected every six months. So far they have been in good repair. Any larger leakage could cause thousands of casualities.
In the second stage the ammonia in pumped through a wild tangle of piping. Eventually it finds its way to cylinders containing fibrous platinum and iridium catalysts. Some of the catalyst must vapourize to yield the final product. Out of 240 kilograms of the catalyst 80 kilograms are lost. As platinum is more expensive than gold the fertilizers are sold abroad to obtain hard currency for the purchase of the precious metal. I have been told a story about an Austrian who suggested that instead of producing fertilizers the plant should sell him the electric energy it consumed. In return he offered to supply the plant with an amount of already-manufactured fertilizers exceeding its average output. The Austrian would have made a good business as Polish plants consume 30-40 per cent more energy than western counterparts.
In the last stage of the production white granules are packed in plastic bags by women workers wearing thick rubber glowes and moving at a speed of a machine. Horrible job. Those white granules consist of only one ingredient. Abroad only liquid and multi-ingridient fertilizers are used. They are much more easily absorbable and contain elements in appropriate proportions.
The more the better principle does not work in the case of fertilizers.
Conclusions: Nitrogen fertilizers are produced out of atmospheric nitrogen and unretrievable resources of coal and natural gas. Thousands of workers are involved and the by- products could easily cover the Puławy desert. Fertilizers improve crops but they also pollute rivers and lakes at the same time. Besides, nitrogen can be utilized in production of some other useful things, for instance explosives.
ZB 10 (90)
translation Andrzej Stobierski