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Published: July 2013
Ammonium nitrate (AN) had been a popular fertilizer since the 1920s, but hit a low in 2001 and 2002, coinciding with security apprehensions following the September 2001 events, including the 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 after the Grand Paroisse plant explosion. As a result, 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, as there are no major safety issues, it has a higher nitrogen content (46% versus 34% for AN and 27% for calcium ammonium nitrate [CAN]), and is usually less expensive to produce.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of ammonium nitrate:
Consumption of AN has begun to improve and existing facilities are being modernized/expanded or new facilities are being, or are planned to be, built. In the early 2000s, few new large-scale AN plants were built, but during the latter half of the 2000s and continuing into the forecast period, there have been plenty of investments in upgrading older facilities and building new plants to meet demand. AN capacity is forecast to grow at 1.3% annually during 2012–2017.
Total world ammonium nitrate (AN and CAN) capacity, production and consumption are dominated by Eurasia (the former USSR), Western Europe, Central Europe, China and the United States. Combined, these five regions accounted for about 77% of capacity, 82% of production and 72% of consumption in 2012. Africa and Central and South America are also large consumers.
The overall nitrogen fertilizer market is projected to grow at an average annual rate of about 3.0% during 2012–2017, led by growth in urea consumption. Urea is less dangerous to handle, has a higher nitrogen content and is usually less expensive to produce than AN. As a result, total ammonium nitrates will continue to lose market share, although the volume will continue to grow at just over 2% annually during 2012–2017 as more consumers switch to CAN or use urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) solutions for ease of handling and safety, and in industrial explosives applications. AN accounts for more than 98% of all consumption for industrial explosives and blasting agents.