UK fertiliser producer proposes plant closure

Article by Amanda Jasi

CF FERTILISERS UK is proposing permanent closure of its Ince manufacturing facility, near Chester, as it seeks to achieve long-term sustainability.

Brett Nightingale, MD of CF Fertilisers UK, said that as a “high-cost producer in an intensely competitive global industry, we see considerable challenges to long-term sustainability from our current operational approach”.

The Ince manufacturing facility has capacity to produce 1m t/y of fertiliser. However, it has not produced ammonia since September 2021, when operations halted due to high natural gas prices which made production unprofitable. Operations were halted alongside operations at the company’s Billingham, Teesside facility, which restarted a month later, with financial support from the UK Government aimed at preventing a CO2 shortage.

CF is now proposing to focus its UK manufacturing operations exclusively at Billingham. The company says the site is the largest ammonia (230,000 t/y), ammonium nitrate (625,000 t/y), and CO2 (750 t/d) production facility in the UK. The site also has an average capacity of 410,000 t/y of nitric acid.

CF determined through strategic review that its Billingham site is better placed to support long-term sustainability. Reasons include that Billingham has sufficient capacity to meet forecasted customer demand for ammonium nitrate; it has lower production costs as it is 10–20% more efficient than the Ince plant and less capital intensive; it offers additional flexibility due to the ability to import ammonia and store up to 40,000 t; and there is an installed customer base.

The site’s ability to supply customers with a “substantial volume” of CO2 is also a benefit, though the company says this is becoming less important as customers diversify away from CF.

Closing the Ince plant could result in more than 350 job losses, including losses at the site, those that will result from transferring some business activities to the CF Industries Holdings headquarters in the US, and optimising operations at the Billingham site. CF Fertilisers UK is a subsidiary of CF Industries Holdings.

CF expects its restructuring will allow it to achieve long-term profitability and sustainability, and enable it to continue to supply fertiliser, CO2, and other industrial products to its domestic customers.

According to the Financial Times, Regional Coordinating Officer of trade union Unite, Mick Chalmers, called the proposed closure “a devastating blow for our members and the Cheshire economy”. Reportedly, he added that the union will demand that alternatives are seriously considered to keep the site open and retain jobs.

The company expects that some redundancies may be avoided through redeployment opportunities. It will consult with employee representatives, and recognised union, Unite, regarding redundancy proposals.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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