The $550m Egypt Hydrocarbon Corporation (EHC) ammonium nitrate plant, located in the town of Ain Sokhna in Egypt’s Suez Governorate, is preparing to start commercial operation in the fourth quarter of this year.

“Ammonia was introduced to the plant on 4 September at 6pm,” said Basil el-Baz, chairman and CEO of EHC’s parent company, Carbon Holdings.

“Commercial production is expected in the fourth quarter and could even take place in the first half of the quarter.”

Carbon Holdings is also looking to see its Oriental Petrochemicals Company (OPC) polypropylene plant come online in coming months.

“We’re hoping it will start in December, but most likely it will start in January,” said El-Baz.

“It is exciting for us because we’re looking at two of our facilities entering into commercial operations imminently. As these projects come online, we will focus on optimising the balance sheet, the production costs and the cost per tonne, and really get into the core of the business.”

OPC was established in 1996 by Oriental Weavers, the world’s biggest machine-woven carpet-maker. The plant began production in 2001, but proved unprofitable and was wound down between 2010 and 2011.

OPC was the subject of the takeover by Carbon Holdings in 2013 and has since seen its capacity increased.

It now runs a single train 350,000 tonne-a-year (t/y) homopolymer polypropylene production unit using Unipol technology.

The EHC plant is built around a 1,060 tonne-a-day (t/d) ammonium nitrate unit that uses a single-stage neutralisation process and is fed nitric acid by an 850 TPD nitric acid unit.

Storage capabilities at the EHC plant consist of tanks for nitric acid, sulphuric acid, caustic sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid.

A storage tank for refrigerated ammonia is located onsite and has a storage capacity of 20,000 metric tonnes.

The plant was initially expected to start operating during the first quarter of 2014, but saw significant delays due to political instability connected to the 2011 uprising.

The plant has been installed to the west of the Suez-Hurgada Highway, on the western end of a tract of land owned by EHC with a total area of 500,000 square metres.

The ammonium nitrate will be handled, bagged and stored in its dry form at the onsite low density ammonium nitrate (LDAN) product storage facilities, which have a capacity of 7,000 tonnes.

Products will then be transported by truck to local distribution centres and various Egyptian ports on the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea for export.

Offsite and utility systems will enable the stand-alone operation of the plant with backup power supplied from the local grid.

As part of the project, an underground pipeline was constructed from a marine terminal to the plant site. The pipeline transports the imported ammonia feedstock needed for the plant operation.

Feedstock is being supplied by the US-based Transammonia, which will also buy the produced ammonia nitrate.

Uhde was both the technology provider and EPC contractor for the plant.