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Growing populations and intensive farming in the last centuries reduced soil nitrate levels. Aware of the risks to food security, chemists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch developed a way to industrialize synthetic nitrogen fertilizer production. They created the Haber-Bosch process for ammonia synthesis which is still used today. Manufacturers produce over a hundred million metric tons of nitrogenous fertilizers every year.

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The principal ingredient in nitrogen fertilizer production is Ammonia

Nitrogen fertilizers (N-fertilizers) are nitrous compounds used to improve crops’ growth, texture, and quality. Nitrogen fertilizer production starts by combining the nitrogen from the air with the hydrogen in a natural gas, usually methane. The resulting mix – Ammonia – is formed in a reactor at high temperature and pressure. Ammonia is sometimes applied directly as fertilizer, but its primary purpose is for manufacturing fertilizer. You can reuse a percentage of it to produce electricity and heat.

After this first step, ammonia is used to make nitric acid, urea, and ammonium nitrate for feedstock. Mix it with other ingredients to produce other fertilizers such as NPK’s (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) and UAN (urea ammonium nitrate). The industry also uses sewage, manure, and agriculture by-products to make N-fertilizers.

Develop the nitrogenous process into dry or liquid fertilizers

N-fertilizers are typically produced in either dry or liquid forms. Dry fertilizers are made with pellet mills or crumblers, also known as granular fertilizers. They are slow-releasers and may be made from an organic or natural source like cottonseed meal powdered fertilizer. Dry fertilizer obtained from chemical reactions, such as urea, cannot be used in organic farming.

On the other hand, liquid fertilizers provide nutrients in a faster way. Most of them are diluted in water and are spread more evenly. They are transported and stored in special tanks to avoid leakage and environmental damage.

Regulations control nitrates concentration to prevent environmental damage

N-fertilizers have many benefits and a considerable risk of causing substantial ecological damage. Nitrogen is about 300 times more polluting than carbon dioxide. If applied in excess, it causes land degradation, air pollution, and contamination of groundwater sources.

Many jurisdictions, including Europe, the USA, China, and Australia, enacted laws to regulate N-fertilizers in farming and prevent nitrates concentration and environmental damage. A significant challenge in the sector is to produce greener nitrogen fertilizers and apply them more efficiently and sustainably.

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