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Published: April 2011
Ammonium nitrate (AN) is derived from the reaction between ammonia and nitric acid. It contains 33.5–34% nitrogen, of which half is in the nitrate form, which is easily assimilated by plants, and half is in the ammonia form. It is used principally as a nitrogen source in fertilizers and is the main component of most nonmilitary industrial explosives and blasting agents. Ammonium nitrate accounts for about 15% of the world nitrogen fertilizer market. Industrial use of ammonium nitrate, primarily as an explosive material, accounts for about 24% of world ammonium nitrate consumption.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of ammonium nitrate:
Ammonium nitrate had been a popular fertilizer since the 1920s, but reached a low in 2001 and 2002, in part because of security apprehensions following the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the explosion at the Grand Paroisse warehouse in Toulouse, France. In May 2003, stringent measures to reduce the risk posed by AN were introduced. New legislation made it more difficult to produce, transport and handle AN. Many countries have placed restrictions on AN certification, transportation and storage conditions.
Consumption of AN and other nitrogen fertilizers in Western Europe and other regions also declined because of changes in agricultural subsidy policies. Urea has become the leading nitrogen fertilizer because safety issues are minor, it has a higher nitrogen content, and it is usually less expensive to produce. Beginning around 2004, consumption of AN began to improve.
World ammonium nitrate capacity, production and consumption are dominated by the former USSR, Western Europe, Central Europe and the United States. Combined, these four regions accounted for about 68% of capacity, 73% of production, and 67% of consumption in 2010.
International trade in ammonium nitrate is significant and amounted to 28% of world production in 2010. This represents a very significant increase in both volume and proportion from 1986, when only 10% of world production entered the international market. Exports from the former USSR have increased dramatically, from about 5% of the world total in 1986 to almost 40% in 2010.