Ammonia is one of the main sources of nitrogen in fertilisers, as it contains 82% of nitrogen (N), which is essential for the life of plants. Ammonia (NH3) is produced through a chemical reaction (electrolysis). Most of the world’s ammonia production is based on the Haber-Bosch process which was developed by BASF in 1910. It involves the reaction of hydrogen and nitrogen in the presence of a catalyst under high temperatures and pressures. The hydrogen is usually obtained by the steam reforming of natural gas (methane) but can also be made from the partial oxidation of naphtha and the gasification of coal. The nitrogen is usually obtained by the liquefaction of air. This reaction requires a large amount of energy and, nowadays, this is provided mainly in the form of natural gas, as it is the most economic, but there are still some ammonia plants, for example in China and Japan, which operate based on naphtha and coal. Since the 1970s, the production of ammonia, which was born in Europe, has gradually migrated to countries rich in cheap natural gas, such as Russia, Ukraine, Trinidad, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, the Arab Gulf and Indonesia .
The production of 1 tonne of ammonia requires:
- 32-38mm Btu of natural gas or
- 0.9 tonne of naphtha or
- 1.05 tonnes of fuel oil or
- 1.90 tonnes of coal or
- 8,000-12,000kWh (electrolysis).
In agriculture, ammonia can be applied directly to crops in liquid form or used as a raw material for the production of urea (0.58 tonne of ammonia) and nitric acid (0.29), which are the basic products used for the production of all chemical nitrogen fertilisers used in agriculture (ammonium nitrate, ammonium sulphate, NPKs). Ammonia is also used as a raw material in the production of DAP (0.23 tonne of ammonia) and MAP (0.15).
Ammonia is also used in the production of hexamethylenediamine for nylon, acrylonitrile for fibres and plastics, caprolactam for nylon, isocyanates for plastics, hydrazine and explosives. It is used as a catalyst in phenol-formaldehyde condensation and in urea-formaldehyde condensation to make synthetic resin.
Uses for ammonia include refrigerant, cleaning and bleaching agent, and a household cleaner. It is also used as a pre-harvest cotton defoliant and in metal treating operations. Dissociated ammonia is used as a convenient source of hydrogen for the hydrogenation of fats and oils. The petroleum industry uses anhydrous ammonia to neutralise the acid constituents of crude oil and to protect equipment from corrosion. It is also used in the rubber industry for stabilisation of raw latex to prevent coagulation during transportation and storage.
Ammonia is explosive and needs to be refrigerated at -33ºC (-28ºF) to be stored and transported safely. LNG tankers/vessels are used for its transportation and costs are usually higher than for other fertilisers. Logistics is an essential factor in the international trade of ammonia, as availability and costs associated with ammonia vessels can have a major impact on returns for producers or the prices paid by consumers.
Ammonia is very alkaline and reacts corrosively with all body tissues.
The Market quotes Ammonia prices on a weekly basis worldwide on Thursdays.
Market Updates are published on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays
ICIS pricing quotes Ammonia in a combined Europe/Asia-Pacific report and the USA weekly on Fridays.
Weekly price assessments
Europe and North Africa
- FOB YUZHNY (USD/MT)
- CFR NWE duty unpaid (USD/MT)
- CFR TAMPA (USD/MT)
- CFR US GULF (USD/MT)
- FOB CARIBBEAN (USD/MT)
- FOB ARABIAN GULF (USD/MT)
- FOB IRAN (USD/MT)
- CFR INDIA (USD/MT)
- CFR TAIWAN (USD/MT)
- CFR KOREA (USD/MT)
Ammonia (EUROPE & ASIA PACIFIC)
Weekly price assessments:
Ammonia spot prices:
- CFR NWE (USD/MT & conversion to US CTS /LB)
- CFR NORTH AFRICA (USD/MT & conversion to US CTS /LB)
- FOB Yuzhny (USD/MT & conversion to US CTS /LB)
- CFR TAIWAN (USD/MT & conversion to US CTS /LB)
- CFR KOREA (USD/MT & conversion to US CTS /LB)
- CFR INDIA (USD/MT & conversion to US CTS /LB)
Weekly Price Assessments:
Ammonia spot prices:
- FOB NEW ORLEANS (USD/ST & conversion to USD/MT)
- CFR TAMPA (USD/MT)
Assessment window: Price assessments are based on information supplied by market participants through the week up to close of business on Thursdays at 17:00 hours in London.
Specification: Prices are quoted for anhydrous ammonia which is stored and transported as a liquid under pressure at < -33°C (-28°F).
Timing: Assessments are based on cargoes loading prompt to eight weeks forward.
Terms: Prices are usually assessed on a cash basis, but we take into account credit terms up to 180 days.
Standard cargo size: We usually consider all cargo sizes, including as small as 2,000 tonnes, as a country’s monthly availability could consist of a number of small shipments. Apart from Trinidad contract shipments to Tampa and some small Asian trades (eg Indonesia-Japan), we report all other shipments tracked.
Assessment basis: Information about new deals, changes to supply/demand and any other factors that can have an impact on the ammonia market is collected through the week up to press time at 17:00 on Thursday, through telephone calls with producers, end-users, traders and shippers, plus email correspondence and web searching. Information received is carefully counterchecked with other sources to make sure the information is true and accurate and not in any way misleading.
Shipbrokers are asked about freight movements, both on a spot or time charter/COA basis, to be able to estimate the correct CFR prices when FOB levels change.
The Market quotes ammonia prices on a weekly basis worldwide, on a CFR or FOB basis depending on whichever is relevant, but also publishes daily updates with indications of deals concluded and price conclusions/changes.
FOB Yuzhny and FOB Arab Gulf set the level for most of the other prices in the relevant geographical areas. FOB North Africa prices and CFR prices in Europe and Asia are mainly fixed under formulae respectively based on Yuzhny and FOB Arab Gulf levels, plus freight in case of CFR prices. In India and Asia, spot business has become irregular and most prices are set under contract formulae.
FOB Yuzhny and CFR US prices influence each other. Caribbean production is not sufficient to cover all contract and spot needs in Tampa and the US Gulf, particularly since the US Gulf started to import ammonia a few years ago, following the closure of over 1m tonnes of US ammonia capacity. As a result, US buyers need to buy regular volumes from Yuzhny and the Baltic. These volumes, however, vary depending on seasonality and on US natural gas prices. As FSU availability is structurally in excess of import requirements from the Europe/Med/Africa markets, US buying is needed to absorb the surplus and bring the market into balance. At times, heavy demand from the US can tighten FSU supply and lead to rising prices. When the US does not buy enough, FSU suppliers have to turn east, to Asia, to place their availability.
8 February 2013