An Overview

The fertilizer industry has fulfilled a remarkable role in sustaining the nutritional well-being of the global population. The trend in the development of the fertilizer industry is somewhat similar to global population growth since it had also a very long nascent period. The global economic and financial situation impacts agriculture and demand for fertilizer. The demand for fertilizer, therefore, needs to be viewed from the perspective of the world economic growth.

The global fertilizer industry may be conveniently categorised into 4 layers:

* Primary producers or extractors - Produce basic products or intermediates such as phosphate rocks, potash, ammonia, phosphoric acid, nitric acid, NPK’s, etc.

* Formulators, blenders, mixers - Custom-make products to suit user’s needs

* Distributors - Import and/or supply the products down the distribution chain

* End Users - Farmers/agricultural producers

Currently the world applies the fertilizer products that contain some 140 million tones nutrient to over 80% of the global arable land totalling around 1.4 billion hectares. About 60% of the fertilizers are used in cereal crops, 10 % in pastures, 8 % in oilseeds while the rest goes to sugar crops, cotton, fruits, vegetables, beverages, horticulture, etc. In turn the land yield some 2.3 billion tonnes of cereals, 300 million tonnes of oilseeds and a wide spectrum of other agricultural commodities. One in four tonnes of cereals and oilseeds is used to support a farmed animal population of 45 billion. Fertilizers play a key role in sustaining the above by enhancing crop yields. At least 40% of the crop yield is the result of fertilizer input According to the International Fertilizer Industry Association, from 1972 to 2010, global fertilizer demand grew 2.1% annually. Fertilizer use is projected to increase by 45% between 2005 and 2030 to meet global food demand according to a study funded by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations

Although fertilizer production takes place in nearly 100 countries, there are very few cases of self-sufficiency. Roughly one in four tonnes of fertilizers product or intermediate is sold across the border. An examination by sector the three major nutrients will unveil the complexity of the industry as a whole.


The primary use of potash in agriculture is to promote plant growth and build resistance to diseases. More than 10% of the output is used as feed supplement for livestock and poultry and in industries for water softening, soaps and tv screen manufacture, and as de-icers. The principal ores for potassium chloride are primarily sylvinite (NaCl + KCl) or carnallite (KCl + MgCl2). The less abundant ores are hartsalz, kainite and langbeinite. The two latter ores contain potassium sulphate.

Potash is a very stable product in the market for its prices and being the least controversial environmentally. There are only 14 producing countries of which the 4 largest producers (Canada, Russia, Germany and Belarus) account for more than three-quarters of the total output. Of the total of about 25 million tonnes of K2O produced annually, less than 20% are used for home consumption.


Phosphate plays a central part in the energy transferring processes of all living organisms. Its role in yield enhancement and rooting are well known. It is added as feed supplements in livestock and poultry and in enriching the food chain in aquaculture. It is widely used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, detergents and in water treatment. Fine grade phosphoric acid is used in soft drinks and food products.In the next five years, almost half of global oil demand growth will come from China, and this trend is set to continue to 2035, as oil demand from the transportation sector is growing strongly in countries such as China and India. In contrast, oil demand among OECD countries is expected to decline over the next two decades, driven mostly by government policies on fuel efficiency and the fact that rates of vehicle ownership are already high.

The Phosphate fertilizer consumption/demand includes H3PO4 (phosphoric acid) based fertilizer demand + non-H3PO4 fertilizer demand. The non-H3PO4 fertilizer demand includes P2O5 through single super phosphate, rock phosphate, etc. The world phosphate fertilizer demand is expected to increase from a total of 41.7 million tonnes in 2011 to 45.0 million tonnes in 2015 at a growth rate of 1.9 percent per year.

About 80% of the phosphate is derived from deposits of sedimentary origin while the igneous deposits make up the remainder. The latter are found in Russia (Kola), South Africa (Phalaborwa), with smaller deposits in Brazil, Finland and Zimbabwe (Figure 2). The phosphate rock mineralogy is extremely complex. For instance, the sedimentary apatites contain besides phosphorus the ions such as Ca ++, Na +, Mg ++, F-, and CO 3- - with varying degrees of substitution among themselves. Iron and aluminium are also present in certain deposits. The complexity of their composition holds the key to beneficiation process and as well as the degree of solubility during acidulation. The contamination with radionuclides and cadmium bears important consideration with respect to environmental regulations.

Global reserves of the phosphate rock exceeds 60 billion tonnes, an equivalent of nearly 500 years of production at current rates. The continuous mining of the highly concentrated ores (average 31.4% P2O5) over the last decade or more will eventually shift the exploitation to lower grade ores and this is bound to drive up cost. Already some researches are being conducted to examine alternate but viable means at extracting the marginal ores.

The bulk of the phosphate rock is used for phosphoric acid production. The proportion that is used for direct application and mixtures is relatively insignificant. Except for the specialized application of electric furnace to produce elemental phosphorus, the wet process is the main mechanism deployed to obtain merchant grade phosphoric acid.

USA and the Russian Federation account for about 40% each of the MAP exports. The Russian exports go mainly to the countries on either sides of the Atlantic and the Black Sea areas. USA presence is much more global except in Europe


Nitrogen is present in DNA and RNA, the building and replicating blocks of life. From the ammonium or nitrate radicals, products such as ammonia, nitric acid, ammonium salts and urea are produced. The starting chemical block in the nitrogen industry sector is ammonia, of which 90% is channeled towards making fertilizers. Ammonia is also the precursor for many industrial chemicals. Its derivative, urea, forms is the largest component in the fertilizer industry totalling nearly 90 million tones. Urea is also used in the production of adhesives, dyes, plastic, resins, pool chemicals and as feed supplements for livestock. Another derivative of ammonia is nitric acid which is used in the production of carpets, lacquers, paints, tyres, explosives, batteries and in photography. Ammonium nitrate, an end-product of nitric acid, is a popular fertilizer, particularly in the temperate zone for short maturity crops. Ammonium nitrate is used as explosive for mining and munitions.


The popularity of urea goes beyond economics. For urea to be taken up, it must first be hydrolyzed to ammonia, which in turn is oxidized microbiologically to nitrite and then to nitrate. In temperate regions, urea is used for top-dressing cereals and pasture, through at 80-85% the efficacy of AN/CAN. For rice, urea is the preferred nitrogen source, since the rice plant is uniquely predisposed to absorb the ammonium radical. In flooded rice, under anaerobic conditions, the nitrates are rapidly reduced to N2O and gaseous nitrogen and hence lost to the atmosphere. Elsewhere, urea is used in virtually all crops due to its widespread availability and competitive pricing.

About 25% of urea produced is exported. Although, 42 out of 55 producing countries sell their product abroad, 12 of the largest exporters make up three quarters of the total. The trade is complex since some 120 countries import varying quantities of tonnages.


The addition of nitric acid to rock phosphate by Erling Johnsen in 1928 produced a new group of fertilizers known as nitrophosphates. The “Odda Process”, named after town where it was first discovered was further developed by Norsk Hydro and BASF. Kemira Oy introduced modification to this process with the addition of sulphuric acid to result in the “Mixed Acidulation Nitrophosphate Process”. Each of the processes has its inherent advantages. The resulting compounds are widely used in Europe and in many parts of the world. USA, on the other hand, developed the granular blends using DAP, MOP, urea, as to produce the desired NPK ratios.