Published May 2017
World nitric acid consumption has exhibited a steady upward trend since 2000, with average annual growth rates of 2.0% during 2000–16. The largest market for nitric acid is the production of ammonium nitrate (AN) and calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN), accounting for almost 77% of the total world consumption of nitric acid in 2016. The major end use for AN fertilizer is in decline because of concerns about nitrate groundwater contamination and security issues. As a result, AN fertilizer is being increasingly substituted by solid urea, which has a higher nitrogen content (46%) than AN (34%), is less costly, and is less dangerous.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of nitric acid:
Nitric acid is one of the world’s largest commodity chemicals. It is used predominantly as an intermediate for fertilizer production (primarily ammonium and calcium ammonium nitrate) and for the production of nitro-containing organic intermediates. In 2016, about 80% of nitric acid was used for fertilizer products, whereas the remaining 20% was used in industrial applications.
The largest chemical end uses for nitric acid include nitrobenzene, adipic acid, toluene diisocyanate (TDI), and nitrochlorobenzenes, together accounting for about 12.5% of global nitric acid consumption in 2016. Other important end uses include the production of explosives, metal treatment, and uranium processing.
Consumption of AN in explosives and blasting agent applications continues to grow, but is much more regulated since 11 September 2001. Other nitric acid–based products such as nitrophosphates and potassium nitrates are also used in fertilizer applications, accounting for an additional 3% of total nitric acid consumption. The remaining 20% is consumed in industrial (nonfertilizer) applications. The combined production of organic compounds, such as nitrobenzene, toluene diisocyanate (TDI), adipic acid, and nitrochlorobenzenes accounted for 12.7% of total world nitric acid consumption in 2016.
Most nitric acid is consumed captively, and the merchant portion of the market accounts for less than 10% of the total. International trade is minor and has little impact on the nitric acid balance. The world average operating rate has been in the higher 70s in the last 10 years, indicating a relatively healthy market balance.
The nitric acid market is dominated by fertilizer-producing companies such as Yara and CF Industries. On a global level, the market is fairly fragmented, with the top producer Yara owning just over 9% of total installed production capacity. The top 10 producers have a 35% share of global production capacity. However, in certain regions (e.g., Western Europe and Japan), regional share by leading companies can exceed 30%.
Europe, North America, and China dominate the market statistics. Together, these regions account for more than 80% of global supply and demand. Since 2000, the largest increases in capacity, production, and consumption have occurred in China, at an average annual growth rate of 7.3%.