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II. Consumption of Fertilizers and Plant Nutrients
K. D. JACOB
applied directly to the soil) totaled 11,420,876 short tons in the year
ended June 30, 1948 (Food and Agriculture Organization, 1949), an
increase of 27.5 per cent over the comparable average for 1936-1938
(Clark and Sherman, 1946). This increase reflected chiefly the remarkable
rise (2,566,000 tons, 136.5 per cent) in the use of such nutrients in the
United States and the United Kingdom during and after World War 11.
In many countries, however, the consumption decreased greatly during
the war (Jacob and Parker, 1946), and in some-notably Italy, Germany,
Japan, and Spain-the use in 1947-1948 was still much below the prewar
The world consumption of primary nutrients has continued to rise
steadily since 1947-1948, with the setting of new records each year for
each of the nutrients (Fig. 1). Thus, according to a preliminary estimate
(Page, 1957), the use in 1956-1957 totaled 22,162,216 short tons, or
94 per cent more than in 1947-1948. Likewise, the consumption of nitrogen increased 126 per cent, as compared with 61.5 per cent for phosphoric
oxide and 113 per cent for potash. During this period all of the continents
(Table I ) and most of the individual countries showed large percentage
increases in use of the nutrients.
World Consumption of Primary Nutrients, in Short Ton by Continents,
Year Ended June 30, 19570
North and Central
Page (1957); excludes Soviet Union, Chinese People’s Republic, and North Korea.
* Excludes ground phosphate rock used directly as fertilizer.
IN THE Urmm STATES
In the United States and Territories the total consumption of primary
nutrients in commercial fertilizers set a new record in 1954-1955 for the
sixteenth consecutive year. Thus, the use rose from 1,584,900 short tons
in 1938-1939 (Mehring et al., 1957), to 6,119,139 tons in 1954-1955
(Scholl et al., 1958a), an increase of 291 per cent. Another record
(6,377,541 tons) was set in 1956-1957, corresponding to increases of 308
FERTILIZER PRODUCTION AND TECHNOLOGY
and 76 per cent over the use in 1938-1939 and 1947-1948, respectively
With a few exceptions, new records for the consumption of each of
the primary nutrients were set in each year of the period 1947-1948 to
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1956-1957 (Fig. 3). In 1956-1957 the use of nitrogen was 149.2 per cent
higher than in 1947-1948, as compared with increases of 110.5 and 24.3
per cent for K20 and available P206,respectively. The smaller increase
YEAR ENDED JUNE 30
FIG.3. Consumption of nitrogen, available phosphoric oxide, and potash in the
United States and Territories, years ended June 30, 1948-1957. ( U . S. Department
in P206relative to nitrogen and K20reflected the trend toward the 1 : l : l
ratio in the consumption of these nutrients. Thus, the ratio changed
in 1947-1948 to 0.93:l.OO:
gradually from 0.46:1.00:0.50( N:P20a:K20)
0.84 in 1956-1957.
EAST SOUTH CENTRAL
FIG.4. Regional consumption of primary nutrients in the United States and Territories, years ended June 30, 1948 and
1957. ( U. S. Department of Agriculture. )
K. D. JACOB
1. Regdona1 Consumption
Continuing the previous trends, the consumption of total primary
nutrients showed increases in each of the regions' except the New England States (Fig. 4). Especially noteworthy were the very large gains in
the newer areas of fertilizer use. For example, the annual consumption in
1947-1948 to 1956-1957 rose 243 per cent in the West North Central
region, and increases of 192, 115, 112, and 111 per cent were recorded
for the Mountain, West South Central, Pacific, and East North Central
regions, respectively. Likewise, remarkable gains in the use of the individual nutrients, especially nitrogen, usually occurred in each of these
2. Consumption in Mixed Fertilizers
Since about 1925, the proportion of the annual consumption of total
primary nutrients furnished by mixed fertilizers has ranged from 60 to
75 per cent. The trend was definitely upward before 1947-1948, but it
has tended to reverse in later years. Among the individual nutrients,
mixed fertilizers have supplied consistently the smallest proportion of
the nitrogen and the largest of the KzO.In 1947-1948 to 1956-1957 the
proportions of the nitrogen and KzO used in this way decreased almost
continuously, while the proportion of Pz06increased substantially (Table
11). The considerable decline in the proportion of nitrogen-from 57.6
per cent in 1947-1948 to 39.5 per cent in 1956-1957-reflectedY among
other things, the great increase in the direct use of ammonium nitrate
and anhydrous ammonia, especially the latter, as fertilizers in most parts
of the country (see Section 111, B).
3. Consumption by Crops
Relatively few studies have been made of the fertilizer, and even
fewer of the plant nutrients, used on individual crops in the United
States (Mehring et al., 1957), and they usually have dealt only with
selected crops. However, comprehensive data on such use in 1947, 1950,
'The units comprising the regions are: New E n g l a A M a i n e , New Hampshire,
Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut; Mfddle Atlantic--New York,
New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, West Virginia;
South Atlanttc-Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida; East
North CentruLOhio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin; West North CentraL
Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas; East
South Centrul-Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi; West South CentraL
Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas; Mountatn-Montana, Idaho, Wyoming,
Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada; Pactfic-Washington, Oregon, California; Tedtories-Alaska, Hawaiian Islands, Puerto Rico.
FERTILIZER PRODUCTION AND TECHNOLOGY
Percentages of Primary Nutrients Consumed BA Mixed Fertilizer8
in the United States and Tcrritories, 1948-1957"
U. S. Department of Agriculture.
The quantities of N, available P~06,and KaO consumed as mixed fertilizers in
1947-1948 were 493,300, 1,307,700, and 872,900 short tons, respectively. The comparable quantities in 1956-1957 were 843,600, 1,816,600, and 1,682,500.
and 1954 were reported recently (Farm Economics Research Division,
1957). The proportionate distribution of the total consumption of nutrients among the principal crops in 1947 and 1954 is shown in Table 111.
The use of the primary nutrients on corn and on hay and pasture
ranked first and second, respectively, in both years, and the same relative
positions were held also by wheat (5),tobacco ( 8 ) , and fruits (9).The
rank of cotton, oats and barley, and nonfarm use was higher in 1954,
while that of vegetables and of potatoes and sweetpotatoes was lower.
Compared with 1947, higher proportions of the nutrients were used on
corn, hay and pasture, and oats and barley and for nonfarm purposes.
The proportions were considerably lower, however, for crops, such as
vegetables, tobacco, and potatoes and sweetpotatoes, which historically
have received high applications of nutrients per acre.
Because of the great diversity in the use of fertilizers for nonfarm
purposes and the large number of dissimilar consumers, estimates of such
use are more difficult to make and are less accurate than those for farm
crops. The data of Table I11 clearly show, however, that the nonfarm
consumption has increased remarkably in recent years, reflecting the
generally high level of national prosperity, the increase in leisure of
large segments of the population, and the trend to suburban living,
among other things. Further evidence of the magnitude of this phase of
fertilizer use is given in a survey by Mehring (1957) which indicates
that in 1956 the nonfarm consumption of fertilizers supplying the primary
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nutrients totaled 2,124,000 short tons in the continental United States, or
around 10 per cent of the total use of such fertilizers. The tonnage was
about six times that reported by Scholl and Wallace (1950) for the nonfarm me of fertilizers in the year ended June 30, 1948.
Percentage Distribution of Total Primary Nutrients Supplied
by Fertilizers Used on Principal Crops in the Continental
United States, Calendar Years 1947 and 1954"
Hay and pasture
Potatoes and sweetpotatoes
Oats and barley
Based on data reported by Farm Economics Research
Division (1957). Total consumption of primary nutrients (N,
available P~OS,K10) in the continental United States was
3,396,864 short tons in the calendar year 1947 and 5,873,086
Among the opportunities for great expansion in the profitable use of
fertilizer the potential is very large for grass- and rangelands. Forest
fertilization, as yet scarcely done in the United States, appears also to
have great possibilities. More than 100,000tons of fertilizer ,are now applied annually to fish ponds in this country (Mehring, 1957), and it is
expected that such use will rise to far higher levels in the future.
Long-time commercial operation has been achieved by only three of
the numerous methods that have been proposed for chemical fixation of
atmospheric nitrogen. These are the electric arc, cyanamide, and synthetic ammonia processes.
FERTILIZER PRODUCTION AND TECHNOLOGY
1. Nitrogen Oxide Processes
The first commercial application of the arc process-involving the
direct union of nitrogen and oxygen at high temperature to form nitrogen
oxides-was in 1905 in Norway, where it found its principal use. The
process contributed important quantities of fertilizer nitrogen until the
Norwegian plant ceased operation, for economic reasons, in 1939. Closure
of this plant apparently marked the end of the arc process as a factor in
the nitrogen industry. Study has continued, however, of methods for
directly combining nitrogen and oxygen, especially as regards replacement of the electric arc by other sources of heat.
Based on the method developed by Royster (1933) and Cottrell
(1938) for the regenerative heating and cooling of gases, research on
fixation of nitrogen in a gas-fired furnace was started in 1939 at the University of Wisconsin (Daniels, 1955; Foster and Daniels, 1951; Gilbert
and Daniels, 1948). The basic patent (U. S . 2,422,081) was issued in
1947 to Frederick G. Cottrell, who suggested the study.
A double bed of magnesia pebbles served to preheat the air and to
lower the temperature (about 2200' C.) fast enough to prevent excessive
dissociation of the nitric oxide (NO) into nitrogen and oxygen. Removal of the dilute nitric oxide (less than 2 per cent) from the furnace
gas was effected by oxidation to nitrogen dioxide ( NOz) and adsorption
of the latter on silica gel from which it was recovered by heating and
absorbing in water to form nitric acid.
Further development of the process was undertaken by the Food
Machinery and Chemical Corporation at San Jose, California, in 1946,
and in 1951 the Department of the Army authorized construction of a
plant to produce 40 tons of nitric acid (basis 100 per cent HNOs) per
day at Sunflower, Kansas. The plant was completed in May 1953 and
was closed in the fall of 1954 because of the impossibility of maintaining continuous operation of the furnace at 2200" C. with the magnesia
pebbles that were then available. In addition to papers by Ermenc
( 1956), excellent discussions of the plant and the preceding developments are given in the record of the nitrogen symposium held at Rye,
New York, in November 1955 under the sponsorship of the Food
Machinery and Chemical Corporation and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
Renewed interest in the utilization of solar energy has resulted in
the recent development of research-type furnaces capable of yielding
temperatures up to 3500" C. Daniels (1957) pointed out, however, that
the practical use of solar energy is still in its infancy, and he believed
K. D. JACOB
that, for some time to come, such energy would not compete with cheap
petroleum and electricity. It is of interest to note, nevertheless, that research on fixation of nitrogen by reaction with oxygen under the influence of solar heat has been done recently in Algeria (Grindrod, 1955).
Harteck and Dondes (1956) reported the use of nuclear energy in
laboratory experiments whereby substantial yields of nitrogen dioxide
were obtained by irradiating air with uranium-235 at about 200" C. and
25 atmospheres pressure.
2. Cyanamide Process
Commercial operation of the cyanamide process-whereby nitrogen
is fixed by reaction with calcium carbide at 1100" C. in the presence of
calcium chloride or fluoride to form crude calcium cyanamide-was
started about 1906 and has been confined chiefly to Europe and Japan.
Kastens and McBurney (1951) have given an excellent description of
cyanamide manufacture at the plant of the American Cyanamid Company, Niagara Falls, Canada, which began production in 1909. Besides
the U. S. Government plant completed at Muscle Shoals, Alabama, near
the end of World War I but not operated after its break-in runs, manufacture of cyanamide in the Western Hemisphere has been confined to
the Canadian plant.
3. Synthetic Ammonia Process
The establishment in 1913 at Oppau, Germany, of the first large-scale
plant for manufacture of ammonia by union of nitrogen directly with
hydrogen at elevated temperature and high pressure in the presence of
a catalyst marked the commercial beginning of a process which now
furnishes most of the world's supply of fertilizer nitrogen (Mittasch,
Countries that had no synthetic ammonia industry in 1945 but which
had plants in operation or under construction in 1958 included Brazil,
Colombia, Egypt, Finland, Iceland, India, Israel, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru,
Philippines, Portugal, South Korea, Taiwan, Trinidad, Turkey, Venezuela,
For more than twenty-five years Canada has supplied the United
States with important quantities of nitrogen fertilizers based on synthetic
ammonia. The Canadian industry-initiated in 1930 with a small plant
at Windsor, Ontario, and a much larger one at Trail, British Columbiawas expanded greatly during World War 11, and several plants have
been added since 1950. The ammonia and other fertilizer operations of
the principal Canadian producer have been described by the Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company of Canada Limited (1954).
a. Facilities in the United States. Following an abortive attempt by
the Government at Sheffield, Alabama, during World War I, the first
commercial unit for direct synthesis of ammonia in the United States
was placed in successful operation in August 1921 by the Atmospheric
Nitrogen Corporation at Syracuse, New York. From that time the process
has been an increasingly important factor in the domestic nitrogen industry.
The progress in synthetic ammonia before 1950 has been sketched by
Anonymous (1950), Cope (1949), Jones and Baber (1947), Skeen
(1948b), Taylor (1953), and others. The data, partially summarized in
Table IV, reflect the great impact of World War I1 on the demand for
FERTILIZER PRODUCTION A N D TECHNOLOGY
Synthetic Ammonia Plants in the United States,
short tons N
Under the impetus of continued shortages of fertilizer nitrogen, the
Korean hostilities, and the incentives of the Government's fertilizer expansion program ( Commodity Stabilization Service, 1954; Minor, 1951),
a further tremendous increase in the facilities for making synthetic
ammonia has occurred since 1950, with the result that in 1958 the
capacity greatly exceeded the total domestic and export demand for
nitrogen for all purposes. The plants and their capacities in various years
of this period have been discussed by Anonymous (1954f; 1957c7n),
Adams and Scholl (1956) Andrews (1956), Bradley et al. (1957),
Homer (1955), Matthew et al. (1955), Matthew and Perkins (1954),
Taylor (1953), and others. The data for 1950 and 1957 are shown by
regions in Table V.
In 1950 to 1957 the number of plants increased from 22 to 56 (155
per cent) and the capacity rose from 1,655,000 to 4,104,000 tons of nitrogen (148 per cent). Besides the New England and Mountain regions
and the Territories, which had no plants in 1950, the regional increases
in capacity ranged from 162,000 tons in the Middle Atlantic region to
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645,000 tons in the West South Central region; the percentage increases
ranged from 44 (Middle Atlantic) to 329 (Pacific). The high capacity in
the West South Central region (28 per cent of the total in 1950 and 27
per cent in 1957) reflects chiefly the ready availability of abundant supplies of natural gas in that area. Synthetic ammonia plants were located
in 14 States in 1950 and 28 States in 1957. The Puerto Rican plant,
opened in 1957, was the first in the Territories and in the West Indies.
Synthetic Ammonia Plants in the United States and Territories, by Regions,
1950 and 1957
East North Central
West North Central
East South Central
West South Central
short tons N
See Section 11, B, 1 for the units comprising the regions.
Taylor (1953) ; includes plants under construction.
0 The data are principally from Anonymous (1957c,n); includes plants under construction.
d Excludes the facilities at Louisiana, Missouri, which were being used by the U. S.
Bureau of Mines for research on synthetic fuels.
e Puerto Rico.
Construction of two new plants and expansion of several existing
plants was undertaken in 1958.
b. Technological deuelopments. An economical source of hydrogen
is a major consideration in the location of a synthetic ammonia plant.
The hydrogen may be obtained: (1) by processing carbonaceous materials such as coal, coke, lignite, wood, charcoal, petroleum, and natural
gas; (2) by electrolysis of water; or (3) as a by-product of the electrolytic process for caustic soda and chlorine. Also, gases resulting as by-