As a world leader in catalysis, Denmark’s Haldor Topsøe helps customers get the most out of their processes and products using the least possible energy and resources.
Catalysis speeds up chemical processes. It is essential to the world’s industrial production since 90% of all chemical processes utilise catalysts and 60% of all industrial products are made using catalysis. For example, an ammonia plant typically produces 1000 tonnes of ammonia per day. Without catalysis, it would take roughly 1 million days to produce the same amount of ammonia.
Owning and operating fertiliser plants is not Haldor Topsøe’s core business, however, as it provides essential equipment and materials for the plants.
Founded in 1940, Haldor Topsøe supplies technology, process design and catalysts to the chemical industry and refineries, making their business inherently global and focused on geographies with steady supplies of natural gas or crude oil. The company supports and matures investment projects based on Topsøe technology.
Despite the current global upturn, it is still a challenge in many parts of the world to finance large chemical and refining plants. It can be very difficult to find investors willing and able to fund plants that often cost more than $1bn, for example, especially in Africa, Russia, South America and parts of the Middle East.
This has proved challenging for Topsøe, slowing down the part of the company’s business focused on delivering hardware, licensed processes and engineering for new plants.
Haldor Topsøe’s tactical response to this situation has been twofold. CEO and president Bjerne Clausen says: “On one hand, we offer customers revamps of existing facilities that can squeeze extra mileage out of older plants by increasing their energy efficiency and production capacities. On the other hand, we develop new projects to a stage where they become attractive to investors.”
To achieve this goal, Topsøe has established a joint venture with MPC Capital under the name Ferrostaal Topsøe Projects, which specialises in project development and investments. MPC Capital is an internationally focused asset and investment manager.
The overall strategy is one of consolidation, including divestment of its emissions control business units, in order to focus on its core businesses within chemicals and refineries.
Friend or foe?
Topsøe knowhow supports its customers’ businesses in the current, mainly fossil fuel-based market. In this regard, the company provides sustainable technology to what could be described as an unsustainable industry.
Some of investment projects supported by Topsøe technology have received significant public and institutional criticism, such as the ongoing proposal for a $1bn gas-to-fertiliser plant in Longview, Washington.
US think-tank the Sightline Institute says the anhydrous ammonia that would be made at Longview entails “notable” production and transportation risks to local residents, the nearby Columbia River and the environment more generally.
However, Mr Clausen says the company is absolutely involved in environmentally friendly technology: “We are seeing substantial growth in our business within removing sulphur and other hazardous substances from fuels and emissions, driven by increasingly strict environmental regulations. Our technologies feature market-leading energy efficiency, which is a hugely important competitive parameter today.”
Moreover, catalysis remains important to the ever-growing production of bio-based and sustainable fuels and chemicals. “[Therefore], Topsøe technologies touch upon some of the most pressing global challenges, and they can assist in securing sufficient food for the growing world population, controlling pollution, and producing clean fuels,” says Mr Clausen.
Dr TSR Prasada Rao, former director of the Indian Institute of Petroleum, contends that Topsøe’s founder, Haldor Topsøe, has touched millions of people across the globe, especially in India.
“Mr Topsøe was very concerned about India’s agricultural development. He propagated the need for the fertiliser industry in India in the Jawaharlal Nehru era and contributed to the Green Revolution that impacted the lives of millions of Indian farmers,” he says. "Most of the Indian fertiliser plants use catalysts, the ammonia synthesis process and equipment made by Topsøe.”
The Angola project
Haldor Topsøe’s largest and latest foreign investment is in Soyo in Zaire province, Angola, and was agreed upon in December 2017. The company will establish a new $2bn fertiliser plant that will create 4000 new jobs and the capacity to produce 2 million tonnes annually. It is expected to be operational by the end of 2020.
Mikael Jansen, Haldor Topsøe’s director of business development, says it chose Soyo because Angola has an abundance of reasonably priced gas, the main raw material for fertiliser production.
“[Moreover], both Angola and the neighbouring countries need much more fertiliser in order to optimise food production. These countries have the potential to produce much more food, which is needed for their growing populations and to boost their economies,” he adds.
Mr Jansen says the project will have an extremely positive impact in Angola and the entire region, not least because the construction work will create about 5000 direct jobs. When operational, 1000 people will have jobs directly related to the production, and 5000 more jobs will be created indirectly at service providers and vendors, for example. Finally, with an agricultural sector that will be able to increase production exponentially, as many as 50,000 or more people will find employment, he says.
“This significant boost of the agriculture will allow Angolan farmers to export agricultural products and become a very strong factor in Angola’s future economy. Also, the locally produced fertiliser will eliminate the need for costly imported fertilisers and bring proceeds from export instead,” adds Mr Jansen.