In 2011, total global exports of nitrogenous fertilisers reached a record value of $25.7bn, having grown by 60.6% in value between 2009 and 2011. The main exporter is Russia, which exported 11m tonnes of fertilisers in 2011. Urea is the most commonly used nitrogenous fertiliser, and in a context of a growing international demand for fertilisers, the development of a nitrogen-based fertiliser plant in the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) of Port-Gentil by the Gabon Fertiliser Company (GFC), will significantly increase Gabon’s industrial capacity and value of exports. The plant will produce granulated urea to be exported in Africa and elsewhere.

Although Gabon has never produced urea before, the availability of affordable natural gas near Port-Gentil (as a result of oil extraction), the incentives proposed by the government of Gabon in the SEZ of Port-Gentil, and the proximity of the site from the shore make the country a particularly attractive destination for the development of a nitrogen-based fertiliser plant. The main shareholder of GFC is the Singaporean agricultural supply chain manager Olam, which has a 62.9% share, followed by India’s Tata Chemicals, with a 25.1% share, and the government of Gabon, with a 12% of share. Tata Chemicals’ investment is roughly $260m and the total investment required for the project is estimated at $1.3bn. The equity investment is $146m by Olam and $19m by the government.

The plant, to be located on parcel F of the SEZ of Port-Gentil, will be the first project completed on the zone. Olam has already performed impact studies and has cleared 180 ha of land. Construction of the plant will start in September 2012. Development of the whole fertiliser plant includes building an ammonia processing plant, a urea plant, an electricity plant and the instalment of 50 km of water pipeline. GFC signed an agreement in 2011 with TECHNIP for the construction of the plant, which was then estimated to take 36 to 40 months from conception to the commissioning of the plant.

As per the agreement with the state of Gabon, the facility will benefit from a competitive fixed gas price for 25 years. The natural gas will be used by GFC to produce ammonia on site. The ammonia will then to be processed into urea. The capacity of the ammonia plant will be 2200 tonnes per day.

As for the urea plant, its nominal capacity will be 1.3m tonnes per year, based on expected operation of 330 days per annum. Output from the plant will be loaded directly from the site onto ships and exported to the international market, where the total volume is valued at an estimated at $500m, based on the price of similar exports in 2011 by other producers. With prices rising since 2009, prospects for the growth of the chemical industry are positive.