Agrium Advanced Technologies ESN Facility, United States of America


Agrium Advanced Technologies officially inaugurated a semi-permeable polymer coated nitrogen fertiliser production facility in New Madrid, Missouri, US in May 2010. The plant produces an agricultural fertiliser called Environmentally Smart Nitrogen (ESN). The urea of ESN is coated with a micro-thin polymer, which releases urea in controlled amounts thus reducing the negative impact on the environment.

The plant is located south of New Madrid, off Highway 406 next to the Mississippi river. The site was chosen due to its easy access to the market and the availability of skilled workers. It currently employs 18 full-time personnel.

The company has also constructed a fertiliser storage facility near New Madrid.

Agrium project

Agrium announced the project in May 2009. Construction was started in June 2009 and the plant became operational in mid-February 2010. It involved an investment of $36m.

The plant has a production capacity of 120,000t/y, with design provision to double the capacity in future. The first shipment of ESN from the plant was made in April 2010. The plant was completed ahead of schedule and below budget, but commissioned and inaugurated after six weeks of start-up to meet the quality specifications.

"The first shipment of ESN from the plant was made in April 2010."

Process technology

Conventional nitrogen can be potentially lost in the soil due to atmospheric processes and irrigation. This can reduce the desired results from the fertiliser. It can also have a negative impact on the environment due to emission of greenhouse gases and water pollution.

The urea granule in the ESN is coated with a proprietary polyurethane polymer. The ESN fertiliser differs from conventional nitrogen fertilisers as it is isolated from the surrounding environment. The polymer allows the urea to be unaffected by external humidity.

The soil moisture and temperature allow penetration of water through the coating. The urea dissolves in water to form a solution. It diffuses into the soil through the patented polymer membrane and thus the nitrogen reaches the crop. The rate at which the urea solution is released from the ESN granule will depend on the moisture and temperature of the soil.

The process is, therefore, called temperature controlled diffusion. When the soil is warm, the nitrogen release is steady and continuous, which improves growth of plants. The nitrogen diffusion is slow at lower temperatures.

The ESN will remain dry and have a free flow throughout the year due to the polymer covering, which enhances the quality and yield of the crop. It prevents nitrogen loss and provides convenience of use and environmental benefits. It also blends easily with other fertilisers.

Background

Agrium Advanced Technologies (AAT) is involved in the manufacturing and marketing of agricultural fertilisers and micronutrients. It is part of Agrium, the Canadian retail supplier of the potash, nitrogen and phosphate and controlled release fertilisers in South and North America.

"The New Madrid plant increases Agrium's total production capacity to 360,000t/y."

AAT, in collaboration with university agronomists, has conducted research to study the yield and quality of crops with the use of ESN. The 400 crop years study with land grant universities, retailers and farmers compared ESN with the regular urea. The study found that use of ESN increased average crop yield of corn from 15-20bu/acre to 40bu/acre in a high nitrogen loss area.

It proved that ESN directly induces nitrogen to the root zones and reduce losses while maintaining environmental safety.

Farmers using ESN are also qualified to receive several government incentives on environmental programmes in the US.

Market growth

ESN was introduced in the US Corn Belt in 2004. In 2006 the demand for ESN increased in Canada's potato industry after it was approved as a nitrogen source by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Agrium produces ESN at Alabama, Alberta and Missouri.

The fertiliser is used for crops such as canola, wheat, potatoes and corn. The product has a huge agricultural market and the demand has been growing rapidly. It is sold through retail partners network and saw a 21% growth in 2010.

The New Madrid plant increases Agrium's total production capacity to 360,000t/y. The company expects to double the production at the New Madrid facility in the near future.