Food safety: Australia to build a huge fertiliser plant

The plant being built by Webuild and Saipem will become one of the world’s major urea producers

Safeguard the quality of food and ensure the food supply also for the populations of the poorest countries. Food safety, like access to drinking water and clean energy, is becoming one of the most critical – and complex – issues on the path towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set by the United Nations for 2030. In particular, the so-called SGD2 for zero hunger, food safety, better nutrition and sustainable agriculture has suffered serious setbacks in the last three years.

According to a 2022 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the number of people in the world who cannot afford a healthy diet rose by 112 million to almost 3.1 billion.

With only eight years left to 2030, the distance to reaching SGD2 is lengthening, the report said, adding that the number of people who faced hunger rose to 828 million, 180 million more compared with 2015, when the 2030 goals were introduced.

According to the FAO, the causes are due to the effects of the pandemic on the supply chain, the consequent loss of income in areas that were already suffering, and recession signals in developed countries that have reduced investments in the food industry. It warns that the numbers will be much worse when updated estimates on the damage to food safety and agriculture due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine become available. The war made natural gas prices spike and endangered Ukranian fertiliser production. The country is one of the largest fertiliser exporters in the world, and the conflict came just as global demand has grown for products like urea, which is capable of sustaining agriculture and add to food security.

Food safety: a plant to be constructed by Clough and Saipem

However, there is good news from Australia, where the construction of what will be one of the world’s largest urea plantwas recently announced. The project assumes a strategic value for the global supply of agricultural products and the food stability of hundreds of millions of people. The urea Ceres plant will be built by a joint venture between Australia’s Clough (part of the Webuild group) and Italy’s Saipem, for Perdaman Chemicals and Fertilisers in Western Australia.

The plant will produce fertiliser by transforming natural gas first into ammonia and then into urea. By adopting SynCOR Ammonia™, a state-of-the-art ammonia synthesis technology developed by Denmark’s Topsoe, Perdaman’s urea plant will become the largest single-line ammonia plant in the world.  The urea production processes will employ Saipem’s proprietary Snamprogetti™ technology, making the plant a model for the quality of the urea produced and its energy and environmental efficiency. The project aims to reduce to a minimum industrial emissions and the carbon footprint of fertiliser production, with the commitment of being net carbon zero by 2050.

A record-size plant looking beyond Australia

With this 2.56-billion-euro contract, the largest investment in the Australian fertiliser industry, the Webuild Group, through its local subsidiary Clough, enters a new and promising market segment. The plant will create 2,000 jobs during the course of its construction. It will be located in the Burrup peninsula, 20 kilometres north of Karratha on the Western Australian coast, some 1,500 kilometres north of Perth. Once completed in 2027, it will have a production capacity of more than 2.3 million tonnes of urea a year.

Ceres will become a supplier of low-cost urea in the Asia-Pacific region and a major producer globally. The project was given the Project of State Significance status by Western Australia’s government