Archive for May 22, 2008

Phosphate is Hot!

TAMPA – Savvy investors know dirt is not sold cheaply these days, certainly not the phosphate-laden earth mined for fertilizer production.

Two companies with phosphate mining and phosphate-based fertilizer production in Central Florida have become Wall Street favorites in the past year, with shares rising 300 percent and more as fertilizer prices soar worldwide.

The Mosaic Corp. and CF Industries Inc. have benefited as spot prices for fertilizer produced in Florida have more than doubled from about $250 a ton in 2007.

These gains come as worldwide population growth and huge investments in grain-based ecofuels in the United States have created a growing demand for fertilizer.

“It’s all really a result of exceptional agriculture environments,” said David Townsend, assistant vice president of public affairs for Minnesota-based Mosaic, the world’s largest phosphate supplier. “Globally and domestically we just are in a very strong position to capitalize financially and operationally on steps we have taken since the 2004 merger of IMC Global and Cargill Crop nutrition.”

Consider the numbers:

•An investor who bought just 100 shares of CF Industries at $43 a share a year ago now has a stock priced in the mid-$130s. It’s the same at Mosaic, where shares sold at $32 a year ago have moved above $120. Stock price trends in recent weeks have been relatively flat, perhaps indicating some investors are cashing out of the wild ride.

•The International Fertilizer Industry Association reported that global phosphate use will have increased 13 percent, or 4.7 million tons, from 2006 through 2008. That’s the equivalent to adding a country with the fertilizer demand of United States in about three years.

Those kinds of numbers mean plenty of rivals. Fertilizer producers in the United States face increased competition from China and Africa. In 2007, Chinese producers supplied much of the increase in global phosphate demand, although they may have shorted their domestic customers by 1 million tons, Mosaic reported.

But there’s still plenty of business to go around. That includes Florida, where phosphate mining and processing have become 24/7 operations.

“From our perspective, we are producing phosphate at as high a rate as we possibly can to supply our orders,” said Herschel Morris, CF Industries vice president and general manager in Plant City.

Mosaic owns five mines and three fertilizer manufacturing plants in Central Florida, with operations in Hillsborough, Polk and Manatee counties that employ 3,300 people.

Illinois-based CF Industries, which employs about 700 people at a mine in Hardee County and a fertilizer plant north of Plant City in Hillsborough County, reported a greater portion of gains from phosphate-based fertilizer from Central Florida than nitrogen-based fertilizer from Louisiana and Canada, said Chuck Nekvasil, director of public and investor relations at the Long Grove, Ill., headquarters.

About 20 to 25 percent of CF Industries’ Florida fertilizer is exported and the remainder supplies domestic sources.

One significant reason for the demand for fertilizer has been the rising demand for ethanol, which is primarily based on corn in the United States. CF Industries said core demand for ethanol production could increase from 3.1 billion bushels in 2007 to 4.1 billion bushels in 2008 and 4.45 billion bushels in 2009.

CF Industries senior vice president and chief financial officer Tony Nocchiero explained the basics of fertilizer demand in a presentation this month to a Bank of America basic industrials conference:

•It starts with a tight global supply/demand balance for major crops.

•Add strong, sustained new demand from biofuels, such as corn-based ethanol.

•To maximize profits, farmers optimize fertilizer application.

Source: Tampa Tribune

What the article does not mention is that all the phosphate will be depleted within @ 30 years and that the environmental clean-up is a bitch:

How gypsum stacks up: Phosphogypsum is the slightly radioactive by-product of the chemical reaction or “wet process” that occurs when sulfuric acid reacts with phosphate to create phosphoric acid. EPA has banned the use of phosphogypsum in almost all circumstances because of its low-level radioactivity. Currently, there are more than a billion tons of phosphogypsum in 25 stacks in Florida. About 5 tons of phosphogypsum are produced for every ton of phosphoric acid. Source:

History of Phosphate Chemical Processing and Phosphogypsum in Florida

Until the 1950s, fertilizer manufacturing facilities were relatively small and produced fertilizers tailored to the soil needs of area farmers, commonly within a 100-mile radius. Prior to 1950, only 4 million tons of primary nutrients were produced yearly. But in the late 1940s this began to change. Domestic agriculture and industry, as well as European and Western Pacific markets devastated in World War II, increasingly requested these nutrients. The demand to deliver more phosphate to the farmers at lower costs changed the way fertilizers were produced. In the 1960s, phosphoric acid replaced normal superphosphate as the primary fertilizer commodity, turning what had been strictly a mining business into chemical production. This was especially true in Florida, which produces approximately 75% of the phosphate rock mined in the U.S. Phosphate rock mined in Florida is no longer sold. It is exclusively used by the mining companies, primarily to make phosphoric acid, almost all of which is used in the production of phosphate fertilizers.

Overview of Phosphate Chemical Processing and Phosphogypsum in Florida

After the phosphate is separated from the sand and clay at the beneficiation plant it goes, along with the phosphate pebble from the washer, to the chemical processing plant. There it is reacted with sulfuric acid to create the phosphoric acid needed to make fertilizer. The principal fertilizer product of the industry is diammonium phosphate (DAP), made by reacting ammonia with the phosphoric acid. Chemical processing is necessary because phosphate rock is not soluble in water. The DAP fertilizer is water-soluble and will be available for the plants to take up through their roots.

When sulfuric acid is reacted with phosphate rock to produce phosphoric acid, a by-product, calcium sulfate (gypsum) is also produced. This by-product gypsum is called phosphogypsum. There are approximately five tons of phosphogypsum produced for every ton of phosphoric acid product produced. Phosphogypsum must be stockpiled in stacks after a 1989 US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule banning its use based upon the trace amount of radioactivity it contains.

There are currently about 1 billion tons of phosphogypsum stockpiled in about 25 stacks in Florida. About 30 million new tons of phosphogypsum are created each year. FIPR has funded much research into finding safe, environmentally sound ways to use this by-product and reduce the amount that is stacked.

Source:

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Logical Fallacies

At Thinking is Dangerous, five different varieties of arguments were given whose purpose is to obfuscate the issue:

They are:

1. Argument from Authority

2. Argument from Anecdote

3. Argument by Appeal to Emotion

4. Argument from the Alternative

5. Argument by Ad hominem

I believe I see every one of those on display in the NBC nightly newscast if I accidentally forget to switch channels in time and the local news switches over to the NBC nightly news.

The people responsible for that cheap imitation of an informational program probably have actual degrees, too.

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Biofuel Home Brewers Raid Grease Barrels

SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) — A few years ago, drums of used french fry grease were only of interest to a small network of underground biofuel brewers, who would use the slimy oil to power their souped-up antique Mercedes.

Now, restaurants from Berkeley, California, to Sedgwick, Kansas, are reporting thefts of old cooking oil worth thousands of dollars by rustlers who are refining it into barrels of biofuel in backyard stills.

“It’s like a war zone going on right now over grease,” said David Levenson, who owns a grease hauling business in San Francisco’s Mission District. “We’re seeing more and more people stealing grease because it lets them stay away from the pump, but it’s hurting our bottom line.”

Levenson, who converted the engine in his ’83 Mercedes to run on straight canola oil, has built up contracts to collect the liquid leftovers from 400 restaurants in the last two years.

Last week when his pump truck arrived at Thee Parkside, a dive bar known for its chili-cheese fries, his driver found someone had already helped himself to their barrel of yellow oil.

Grease is transformed into fuel through a chemical process called transesterification, which removes glycerine and adds methanol to the oil, leaving a thinner product that can power a diesel engine. Biodiesel can also be blended with petroleum diesel, and blends of the alternative fuel are now sold at 1,400 gas stations across the country.

But as the price of diesel shoots up, so, too, does the value of grease.

In the last three years, the price of soybean oil — the main feedstock for biodiesel made in the United States — has tripled. Last week, a gallon of crude soybean oil fetched 66 cents on the open market, according to the National Biodiesel Board.

Those kinds of numbers have encouraged biofuel enthusiasts to plunder restaurants’ greasy waste, and have even spurred the City of San Francisco to get into the grease-trap cleaning business.

“Restaurants and staff are no longer looking at this material as trash, they’re looking at is as something that’s about to go into city vehicles,” said Karri Ving, who runs the city’s new waste cooking oil collection program. “Unless you lock down every trash can, thefts are going to happen.”

Drivers for Blue Sky Bio-Fuels, a grease hauler that also manufactures biodiesel for San Francisco’s municipal program, often find the 300-gallon dumpster they store outside the Oakland Coliseum nearly dry, despite the dozens of concessions stands that regularly dump their oil there. Losses at that one site alone have cost the company $3,700 in foregone oil revenues in the last year, said Wesley Caddell, the Oakland firm’s business developer.

In Kansas, Healy Biodiesel reports thousands of dollars in losses from used cooking oil heists from restaurants near Sedgwick, about 20 miles north of Wichita.

Standard Biodiesel in Seattle recently started working with police to try to catch the fly-by-night home-brewers who are pilfering up to 30,000 gallons of the oil they collect from restaurants every month.

Company officials say oil rustlers typically siphon their supplies into drums of their own, which they take to backyard gins to be brewed for personal use.

As more customers seek alternatives to petroleum-based fuels, biodiesel production has grown from the grassroots to become a multimillion dollar industry. A combination of government subsidies, tax incentives and high oil prices have increased demand for ethanol and biodiesel, which can also be made from animal fat.

The National Biodiesel Board reports that U.S. production of biodiesel reached 500 million gallons last year, up from just 75 million gallons in 2005.

To manufacture the renewable fuel legally, biodiesel producers must register with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Biodiesel consumers must also pay the government taxes to help with road upkeep.

So far, members of the National Biodiesel Board haven’t reported feedstock thefts, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t happening on a small scale, said Amber Thurlo Pearson, a spokeswoman for the industry’s national trade association.

“We are of course opposed to the alleged selfish, personal-use theft of feedstock that could otherwise go to make product to benefit the U.S.,” Pearson said.

San Francisco started its program, SFGreaseCycle, to cut down on the millions it spends each year to dislodge fats, oils and grease clogging the sewers, Ving said. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission eventually hopes to power its fleet of buses, fire trucks and emergency vehicles with biodiesel made from local restaurants’ old oil, she said.

Currently, drivers collect about 15,000 gallons of fat and oil each month from 350 restaurants, including Enrico’s, a mainstay in the Italian-themed North Beach neighborhood.

When the program started six months ago, the city picked up the old oil for free, and sold it to select licensed biofuel makers for 30 cents a gallon. Now that restaurants are supplying them with cleaner waste oil, they can get up to $1.25 a gallon, Ving said.

Those numbers — and the city’s sudden move into the market — have convinced Levenson he needs to invest in padlocks to safeguard his precious grease and the barrels that hold it. Several of those have disappeared, too.

“When you’re hauling grease for free, you want to make sure there’s something there to pick up. Otherwise, with these prices, it’s not worth your while,” he said. “That said, if I wasn’t doing this company, I would probably be doing the same thing as everybody else, just going to restaurants and filling up directly.”

Source: CNN

Who would have thought just 5 years ago that there would be people STEALING old restaurant grease, or that it would be a valuable commodity?

Now, if somebody would only show up at my house and steal the ol’ hamburger grease left over from dinner….

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Florida Mother and Son Who Killed Boyfriend Spotted in Tennessee

LAKE CITY, FL — A Columbia County mother and her son, wanted to questioning in the death of a local man, have been spotted in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Jerry Gilford, 59, disappeared about a week ago.

Authorities Wednesday pulled his body from a pond.

Someone found his wallet on the side of Highway 41. It led investigators to his home on Highway 441 where they found his body in a nearby pond.

The medical examiner in Jacksonville will determine a cause of death sometime Thursday.

Mary Boswell, 47, and her son, Larry Craig Whitworth, 29, had been living with Gilford at the time he disappeared.

Gilford’s truck is also missing. It is a white 2002 Chevy pickup truck with side-steps. The Florida license plate tag number is K223JT.

State and local law enforcement in Knoxville spotted their car and a pursuit began.

Officers say they abandoned the car and then took off on foot. An air and ground search is underway.

Source: First Coast News

Don’t pick up a middle-aged woman who is thumbing a ride in the Knoxville area! Watch out for the 29-year-old son, too.

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Putnam Teen Indicted for Murder by Grand Jury

PALATKA, FL — A 15 year old girl will face murder charges as an adult, but she won’t be eligible for the death penalty if convicted.

A grand jury in Putnam County indicted Morgan Leppert, 15, and her boyfriend, Toby Lowry, 22, on first-degree murder charges.

Investigators say the pair beat, stabbed and suffocated 66-year-old James Stewart in late April. Authorities found his body on May 1, and soon after, issued an Amber Alert for Leppert.

Source: First Coast News

She may not be eligible for the death penalty, but he sure as hell is.

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Invasion of Giant Burmese Pythons in South Florida Rapidly Spreading

ScienceDaily (May 22, 2008) — The invasion of gigantic Burmese pythons in South Florida appears to be rapidly expanding, according to a new report from a University of Florida researcher who’s been chasing the snakes since 2005.

Associate professor Frank Mazzotti of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has published a new fact sheet outlining updated python statistics and methods being used to find and eliminate the snakes.

The new document follows the February release of a U. S. Geological Survey climate map that showed — based solely on climate, not habitat — pythons could potentially survive across the lower third of the United States.

Though Mazzotti’s findings may make some nervous, he said the information should be reassuring. Knowing the extent of a problem makes it much easier to solve, he said.

“All of this is good. We’ve defined the problem, and science is really coming to the aid of management efforts,” he said.

He stresses that humans are far more likely to be hurt by animals that don’t typically induce fear, such as hitting a deer with one’s car or being bitten by a dog, than by the nonvenomous snakes. But now, solving the problem must become a priority, Mazzotti said.

“People might argue the ultimate boundaries, but there’s no part of this state that you can point at and say that pythons couldn’t live here,” he said. “We really need to be addressing the spread of these pythons. They’re capable of surviving anywhere in Florida, they’re capable of incredible movement — and in a relatively short period.”

Pythons are likely to colonize anywhere alligators live, he said — including North Florida, Georgia and Louisiana. So far, most of the snakes have been found in Everglades National Park, but they’ve moved beyond its borders, too: as far north as Manatee County.

The Burmese python, native to Burma in Southeast Asia, is one of the world’s largest snake species. The largest found in the Everglades was 16 feet long and 152 pounds.

Mazzotti said there are a few places where eradication of the snakes might be possible, such as the Florida Keys.

“We need to do something so that five years from now, we’re not looking at an exponentially bigger population in those areas because we didn’t go in and get the first ones before they started breeding,” he said.

In most places, he said, the best strategy is likely a larger, focused effort to contain and reduce the population by tracking, capturing and euthanizing the reptiles.

“As soon as you know they’re breeding, eradication gets to be out of the question,” he said. “Females may store sperm, so they can produce fertile clutches for years. And a 100-something pound snake can easily be producing 60, 80 eggs a year.”

State rules that went into effect this year should help, including a $100 annual permit to own “reptiles of concern,” and a mandatory microchip, he said. But it’s imperative that more be done to educate people about the problem of turning loose non-native species, he said.

Other highlights from Mazzotti’s fact sheet:

From 2002-2005, 201 pythons were captured or found dead in and around Everglades National Park. In 2006-2007, the number more than doubled, to 418. Everglades wildlife biologist Skip Snow has estimated the population at more than 30,000.
Since May 2006, trackers have found seven pregnant female snakes and one nest of eggs; one recently captured python had 85 developing eggs.

Autopsied pythons found in Key Largo contained the remains of the endangered Key Largo woodrat. Other species on the pythons’ prey menu include rabbit, gray squirrel, fox squirrel, domestic cats, raccoons, bobcats, white-tailed deer, limpkin, white ibis and the American alligator.

Not only are pythons fantastic swimmers, they can cover a lot of ground, as well. Two pythons with surgically implanted radio transmitters were found to have traveled 35 miles and 43 miles.

Trackers stepped in and caught the male, concerned that it was too close to homes near a Miccosukee Indian Reservation.

Source:

Selling non-native species to the general public is stupid. These animals should be confiscated and destroyed.

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Bangladesh Reports Bird Flu in Recovering Toddler

The Bangladeshi health ministry says that a 16-month-old boy has been confirmed as the country’s first human case of the H5N1 strain of bird flu.

It said that the boy, who lives in a slum in the capital Dhaka, had recovered after treatment.

The government has always seen it as simply a matter of time before a person here was infected by the H5N1 virus.

But still, the troubling thing is that the unnamed youngster was infected in the first place.

Alarming rate

The authorities say that he does not live on, or near a chicken farm, but in one of the capital’s crowded and unhygienic slums.

The health ministry says it will step up its monitoring of such places.

After being first discovered in Bangladesh just over a year ago, bird flu has spread at an alarming rate – infecting chickens, ducks and wild birds in more than two-thirds of country’s districts, as well as neighbouring parts of India.

The impact has been massive, but until now, largely economic.

According to government figures more than a million birds have been culled, $60m lost, and more than one and a half million people put out of work.

Bird flu has been able to spread so quickly simply because there are so many people, and so many chicken farms squeezed together into this relatively small country.

Some farmers complain that the government response has been hindered by a lack of resources and corruption.

It says it has done all it can – and that there is no reason for people to be alarmed.

Source: BBC News

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