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Published: November 2010
Nitrogen fertilizers are the most widely used fertilizers in the world. Ammonia is the basic building block of the world nitrogen industry. With the exception of China, where much of the ammonia produced is from coal gasification, most of the world's ammonia is produced from natural gas. Nitrogen fertilizer consumption accounts for more than 80% of the world ammonia market, and with the population continuing to grow and no new arable land being developed, a renewed growth trend is projected during the forecast period. Increased usage of nitrogen fertilizers, and in particular, urea, will be needed to meet the growing need for food. On a country-by-country basis, nitrogen fertilizer use is closely related to the health and level of maturity of the agricultural economy, disposable income and dietary changes.
World apparent consumption of ammonia increased by 12.0% or 2.3% annually during 2005–2010, although it slowed during the latter part of 2008 and 2009. Growth is forecast at 2.7% annually during 2010–2015. Some regions will grow faster, in particular Africa, led primarily by increased urea production.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of ammonia:
Ammonia consumption is driven primarily by the production of downstream fertilizer products, such as urea, ammonium nitrates, ammonium phosphates, ammonium sulfates and nitrogen solutions. In addition, China is the only country to use ammonium bicarbonate to any degree, while the United States is the leading country for direct application of anhydrous ammonia, and, to a lesser extent, aqueous ammonia. The growth of biofuels, and in particular, bioethanol, is having a major impact on nitrogen fertilizer demand.
Production of urea accounted for about 54% of total world ammonia consumption. Ammonium nitrate (directly and through nitric acid) accounted for about 14%, of which an estimated 75% is consumed in fertilizer applications and the remainder in explosives and blasting agents. Ammonium phosphates accounted for 5.8%, ammonium bicarbonate for 4.3% (primarily China) and ammonium sulfate for 2.7%. Direct application is at least 2.7%, most of which is consumed in the United States. Direct application is believed to be larger, but is accounted for in the "Other" category. In addition, a small quantity of aqueous ammonia is also consumed in direct application.
During the next several decades, the requirement for fertilizers is forecast to grow because of two trends. The amount of arable land is declining while the population is growing. The world population is forecast to reach 8.5 billion people by 2030 and 9.2 billion by 2050. At that rate, the FAO estimates that agricultural demand will be 50–80% higher than the level of production today. Conversely, the amount of productive arable land is declining as a result of urbanization, soil erosion, and nutrient exhaustion. In addition, the amount of usable water is declining, and could become more strained with climate change.