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Blooms or bombs?

As the global population steadily increases, it is important that sufficient crops are produced each year to provide enough food, clothing, and other products. Crops such as corn, wheat, soy, and cotton receive nutrients from the soil they are grown in. Fertilizers play a crucial role in providing these crops with the nutrients they need to grow properly.

An important ingredient in the production of high quality, effective fertilizers is ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3), a good source of nitrogen and ammonium for plants.

Produced as small beads similar in appearance to kitchen salt, ammonium nitrate is cheap to buy and usually safe to handle – but storing it can be a problem. Over time, the compound absorbs moisture, which leads to clumping of the individual beads into a larger block. When such a large quantity of compacted ammonium nitrate is exposed to intense heat it can trigger an explosion.

Over the last century, ammonium nitrate has been involved in at least 30 disasters and terrorist attacks. One of the most recent occurrences was on the evening of August 4th, 2020 in Beirut, where an ammonium nitrate explosion killed at least 220 people and injured more than 5000. This blast is one of the largest industrial disasters ever linked to NH4NO3.

Moisture analysis methods for fertilizers

During the production process of ammonium nitrate it is important to control the moisture content. A low moisture content is preferable, but unnecessary excess drying leads to additional manufacturing costs.  Regulations for different fertilizers vary across the globe, but local legal limits ensure that the maximum amount of water present must not be exceeded.  Therefore,  rapid, reliable, and accurate methods for the determination of moisture is necessary. Out of those available, Karl Fischer titration is one of the most common; oven drying, for example, cannot be used with fertilizers containing ammonium nitrate.

Compared to these methods, near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) offers unique advantages. It is a secondary technique that generates reliable results within seconds without needing any sample preparation. NIRS is a non-destructive measurement technique and at the same time does not create any chemical waste.

Read our previous blog posts below to learn more about NIRS as a secondary technique.

NIRS analysis of solids

The most suitable NIR analyzer to measuring different parameters in fertilizer or ammonium nitrate pellets is the Metrohm DS2500 Solid Analyzer with Large Sample Cup.

Solid samples (e.g., granules and pellets) that are filled in the rotating DS2500 Large Sample Cup must be placed on the analyzer window. While scanning the sample, the Large Sample Cup will rotate in order to compensate for inhomogeneity.

As the DS2500 Solid Analyzer is a pre-dispersive system, the sample is illuminated with monochromatic light in order to keep the energy level as low as possible. Therefore, the instrument lid must be closed prior to starting the analysis so external light does not affect the results. The NIR radiation comes from below and is partially reflected by the sample to the detector, which is also located below the sample vessel plane. After 45 seconds, the measurement is completed, and a result is displayed. As this reflected light contains all the relevant sample information, this measurement technique is called diffuse reflection.

Advantages of using NIRS

The procedure for obtaining the NIR spectrum already highlights its simplicity regarding sample measurement and its speed. Several advantages of NIRS are listed below:

 

  • Fast technique with results in less than 1 minute.
  • No sample preparation required – solids and liquids can be used in pure form.
  • Low cost per sample – no chemicals or solvents needed.
  • Environmentally friendly technique – no waste generated.
  • Non-destructive – precious samples can be reused after analysis.
  • Multiple component analysis – prediction of different constituents in parallel.
  • Easy to operate – inexperienced users are immediately successful.

Overall, near-infrared spectroscopy is a robust alternative technique for the determination of both chemical and physical parameters in solids and liquids. It is a fast method which can also be successfully implemented for routine analysis by staff without any higher laboratory education.

Related Applications

Specialty chemicals have to fulfill multiple quality requirements. One of these quality parameters, which can be found in almost all certificates of analysis and specifications, is the moisture content. The standard method for the determination of moisture content is Karl Fischer titration.

This method requires reproducible sample preparation, chemicals, and waste disposal. Alternatively, near-infrared spectroscopy can be used for the determination of moisture content. With this technique, samples can be analyzed without any preparation and without using any chemicals.

More information about the application details can be found below!

Moisture content is one of the most commonly measured properties of fertilizers. Globally, regulations for different fertilizers vary, but local legal limits ensure that the maximum amount of water must not be exceeded. A number of analytical techniques are available for this purpose. Next to gravimetric methods, Karl Fischer titration is often used for accurate moisture determination.

Compared to these methods, near-infrared spectroscopy offers unique advantages: it generates reliable results within seconds, and at the same time does not create chemical waste. This Application Note explains how NIRS can offer fast, reagent-free analysis of moisture content in various fertilizer products.

Read on for more technical details…

To learn more about how Karl Fischer titration and NIRS complement each other for the analysis of moisture in different products, read our blog post!

For more information

About spectroscopy solutions provided by Metrohm, visit our website!

We offer NIRS for lab, NIRS for process, as well as Raman solutions

Post written by Wim Guns, International Sales Support Spectroscopy at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

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