The increasing use of nitrogen fertilizers always follows the modernization of agriculture. However, only 40% to 60% of the total amount of nitrogen fertilizers applied is taken up and utilized by crops. The rest is lost due to volatilization, denitrification and the leaching of nitrate or nitrite.
The loss of nitrogen not only leads to the waste of resources and a cost increase in agricultural inputs, but it also causes other negative effects, such as soil acidification and salinization, hindering the absorption of other nutrient elements in the soil. Effectively improving nitrogen utilization rates has become an issue that must be solved in the development of modern green, efficient and economic agriculture. Currently, the use of slow and control-release fertilizers, nitrification inhibitors, urease inhibitors and other novel fertilizers or fertilizer additives has improved nitrogen utilization rates to a certain extent, and these products have become a key business sector of major traditional fertilizer enterprises.
Booming stabilized nitrogen fertilizer market experiences fastest growth in the Asia-Pacific region
The so-called stabilized nitrogen fertilizers (SNFs) refer to a type of fertilizer in which urease inhibitors or nitrification inhibitors or both are added during fertilizer production. Adding urease inhibitors or nitrification inhibitors can depress the chemical conversion of nitrogen in the soil, slow down the nitrogen release rate, and improve nitrogen utilization rate.
Leading global SNF manufacturers include Compo-Expert, BASF from Germany, Solvay from Belgium, and Corteva, Koch Agronomic Services from North America. Every year, 800,000 tons of SNFs are consumed in Europe, 120,000 tons in North America and about 80,000 tons in the Middle East and Africa. Over the past five years, with the rapid development of the new high-efficiency fertilizer market, fertilizers with added nitrification inhibitors and/or urease inhibitor have achieved rapid development. According to IndustryARC, a market consulting firm, the global market size of nitrification inhibitors and urease inhibitors will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 3.26% from 2018 to 2023, and is expected to realize a global market value of $2.136 billion by the end of 2023. The strong growth of the SNF market can be further attributed to the growth of the global fertilizer trade. According to the International Trade Center (ITC), the total value of the global fertilizer trade in 2018 reached US$66.063 billion, up 12% from 2017.
From the perspective of the overall special fertilizer market, the global special fertilizer market is experiencing rapid development. According to Modor Intelligence, the global special fertilizer market is estimated to grow from about $12.9 billion in 2014 to $19.92 billion at the end of 2021, an annual compounded growth rate of 7.5%. Geographically, the world's largest market for special fertilizers is North America, but the market with the fastest growth rate and the best future market potential is the Asia-Pacific region. According to the “State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World,” in 2017, the proportion of people with insufficient food supplies in Asia will be 11.4%, while in Oceania it will be 7%. In addition, the international community has pledged to eradicate hunger and all forms of malnutrition worldwide by 2030. The governments of Asia-Pacific countries will only accomplish this goal by using new technologies and products, such as new fertilizers. According to statistics, in 2017, the Asia-Pacific region occupied 43% of the nitrification inhibitors and urease inhibitors market, with market revenue of $7.56 billion. Within the forecast period from 2018 to 2023, due to the increasing cultivation area in the Asia-Pacific region, the consumption of nitrification inhibitors and urease inhibitors in the region is expected to reach 106,520 tons by 2023. The high demand for new fertilizers will afford unlimited development opportunities in the region.
Nitrification inhibitors and urease inhibitors have considerable growth potential in emerging markets, represented mainly by China. In 2017, the Chinese National Standard for Stabilized Fertilizer (GB/T35113-2017) was officially approved by the “General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine and the Standardization Administration of the People's Republic of China” and formally implemented on 1st July, 2018. The promulgation and implementation of the standard is of considerable significance to the innovation and development of fertilizers containing nitrification inhibitors and/or urease inhibitors in China.
Development status of nitrification inhibitor market
Nitrification inhibitors are compounds that can effectively slow down the conversion of ammonium nitrogen to nitrate nitrogen by selectively inhibiting the activity of nitrite bacteria in the soil within a certain period of time. It is an effective management method commonly used in agricultural production to improve nitrogen utilization rate and reduce the negative effects of nitrification. From the view of action mechanism, nitrification inhibitors are a type of fungicide. Currently, there are many types of nitrification inhibitors on the market that are mainly divided into four categories, which are cyanamide, nitrogen-containing heterocyclic compounds, sulfur-containing compounds, hydrocarbons and their derivatives. Among them, dicyandiamide (DCD), 3,4-methylpyrazole phosphate (DMPP), 2-chloro-6-trichloromethylpyridine (Nitrapyrin) and acetylene (C2H2) are commonly used in agricultural production.
In recent years, the global nitrification inhibitor market has been moderately consolidated. Innovation and the launch of new products are key strategies of major players in this segment, to maintain and raise their market share. Typical products include Nitrophos (Dicyandiamide, DCD) and NovaTec (3,4-methylpyrazole phosphate, DMPP) from Compo-Expert and N-Serve (2-chloro-6-trichloromethylpyridine, Nitrapyrin) from Corteva.
● AgRho®NH4 Protect (Solvay, Belgium)
Solvay's innovative nitrification inhibitor, AgRho®NH4 Protect, has been authorized by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) for sale in France. It is a series of innovative and eco-friendly nitrogen stabilizers based on advanced formulations, which can promote the blending of urease and nitrification inhibitors in granular and liquid fertilizers. These stabilizers limit the volatilization and leaching of nitrogen, increasing the time for nitrogen to remain in the soil and be absorbed by plants.
● N-Serve® (Corteva, USA)
N-Serve®, with 2-chloro-6-trichloromethyl pyridine as its active ingredient, can postpone the conversion of ammonium nitrogen to nitrate nitrogen by inhibiting nitrite bacteria, as well as reduce nitrogen loss resulting from nitrification and denitrification, enhancing the nitrogen utilization rate. It can also reduce the emission of nitrous oxide by 51% and the leaching loss of nitrate by 16%, as well as raise the storage of nitrogen in the soil by 28% and increase the average yield of corn by 7%.
● NovaTec® (Compo-Expert, Germany)
NovaTec® uses DMPP as a nitrification inhibitor to specifically act against nitrite bacteria, to postpone the conversion of ammonium nitrogen to nitrate nitrogen in the soil, providing nitrogen nutrition to crops during its action period of 2 to 4 months, with the aim of reducing the number of fertilization applications and saving labor costs. NovaTec® contains a certain amount of nitrate nitrogen, which can improve nitrogen utilization rate. It also aims to improve the availability of phosphorus and trace elements in the soil by supporting the rhizosphere. NovaTec® works rapidly, has a long-term residual effect, and can help boost crop yield by 20% to 25%, being significantly superior in terms of yield and quality improvement to conventional compound fertilizers.
● CENTURO (Koch Agronomic Services, USA)
CENTURO is a nitrification inhibitor of anhydrous ammonia, with a high level of nitrogen protection efficiency and flexible application mode. Currently, 70% of the anhydrous ammonia on the market is not combined with nitrogen stabilizer during production. By adding CENTURO, the nitrogen utilization rate can be increased by 35%. In addition, its proprietary formula can prevent CENTURO from corroding equipment, thereby, reducing the cost of equipment maintenance. At present, the product is available in the U.S. and Canada.
● NEON (Eco Agro Resources, USA)
In May 2017, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office approved three patents for Eco Agro Resources under application numbers 14/553,107, 14/689,470 and 13/890,082. These patents protect hundreds of possible combinations of active ingredients of stabilize fertilizers, such as NBPT, DMPP, DCD, Nitrapyrin and various solvents, as well as the NEON product line of the company, including NEON AIR, NEON SURFACE and NEON SOIL.
● N-Guard (Nico Orgo, India)
N-Guard is a nitrification inhibitor introduced by Indian-based Nico Orgo. It is a mixture of five different vegetable oils, and its unique formula helps to maximize the nitrogen utilization rate of nitrogen-containing fertilizers, including urea and ammonium nitrate while minimizing nitrogen loss by eliminating the risks of volatilization, denitrification and leaching.
Development status of urease inhibitor market
After urea is applied to the soil, it is rapidly hydrolyzed by the action of urease in the soil to produce ammonia gas, resulting in the loss of nitrogen. Urease inhibitors can inhibit the activity of urease in the soil and reduce the loss of nitrogen due to volatilization. Urease inhibitors are mainly divided into inorganic and organic. Inorganic inhibitors are mainly heavy metal compounds with molecular weights greater than 50, including various valence states of elements such as copper, mercury and silver. Organic inhibitors mainly contain aminobenzenesulfonamide, dithiocarbamates, hydroxyoxalates, organic mercury compounds, phenols, quinones and substituted quinones, phosphamides and their transformants. The most broadly applied is N-(N-butyl) thiophosphoric triamide (NBPT), which inhibits the volatile loss of NH3 under conditions of proper alkaline soil and air permeability. Typical NBPT products include AGROTAIN® (NBPT) produced by Koch Agronomic Services and LIMUS (NBPT + N-(2-nitrophenyl) phosphoric triamide (NPPT)) produced by BASF.
● AGROTAIN® (Koch Agronomic Services, USA)
AGROTAIN® urease inhibitor (NBPT) is a product recognized by the Association of American Plant Food Control Officials (AAPFCO), which can inhibit the activity of urease in the soil and reduce nutrient loss caused by ammonia volatilization. Over the past 20 years, the product has been used on millions of acres worldwide and won the favor and recognition of users from around the world, due to its excellent cost performance and efficiency in stabilizing nitrogen. AGROTAIN® comes in a variety of formulations to meet the specific needs of users while accounting for blending and application equipment.
● ANVOL (Koch Agronomic Services, USA)
ANVOL urease inhibitor contains two active ingredients, DUROMIDE and NBPT. The synergistic effect of the two active ingredients enables ANVOL, with its faster and longer effect, to prevent nitrogen loss caused by volatilization, helping growers to maximize their nitrogen utilization rates and reduce environmental damage. ANVOL can reduce the cumulative ammonia loss rate to 12%, compared to untreated urea that has a loss rate exceeding 30%,
● Limus® (BASF, Germany)
The product contains two active ingredients, NBPT and NPPT, which can inhibit various types of urease enzymes with different structures in the soil. A single active ingredient will only inhibit the activity of some urease enzymes. NBPT and NPPT in Limus® work in a complementary fashion to provide broader protection, by binding to urease enzymes with different active sites, limiting the binding of urease and target zymolyte, and achieving overall inhibition. This dual active innovation was patented by BASF and performed well in labs and field trials around the world. Research showed that nitrogen can be effectively stabilized after using Limus® at an amount 60% less than similar products, with relative yield increasing two-fold compared to using standard NBPT urease inhibitors.
Currently, the global stabilized nitrogen fertilizer sector is maintaining a fast-track growth, through new technologies and ongoing integration and innovation, as well as the recent introduction of new products. In the future, research and development institutions and related enterprises will continue to develop new inhibitors that are environmentally-friendly, efficient and cost-effective. Their strategy will be to develop special stabilized nitrogen fertilizers suitable for different regions and crops, by combining SNF regulation technologies and efficiency enhancement technologies in adjuvant concentration and absorption promotion.