Nitric acid is a corrosive acid that turns colorless in its pure form and pale yellow due to decomposition of oxides. Nitric acid with more than 85% concentration is termed as fuming nitric acid, while the commercial form has a concentration of approximately 70%. This acid can be classified as white fuming nitric acid and red fuming nitric acid based on color solution and nitrogen dioxide concentration. Nitric acid is popularly used in reagents required for nitration reactions. Unstable nature of several nitric acid-based compounds allows their usage in explosives, while pigments, dyes, and paints utilize stable compounds of nitric acid. Nitric acid is commercially produced through Ostwald’s process, which includes catalytic oxidation of ammonia (anhydrous) to generate nitric oxide. Treatment of nitric oxide with water before oxidation yields nitric acid. While aqueous solutions have 65% concentration, nitric acid can be further concentrated to 95% after dehydration with 98% sulfuric acid.
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Growth of the fertilizer industry is primarily driving the nitric acid market. Nitric acid is used in the production of calcium ammonium nitrate and ammonium nitrate, which are used in fertilizers. Ammonium nitrate can further be used to produce urea ammonium nitrate (UAN), which is used in explosives and fertilizer solutions. The global market for industrial explosives is significantly expanding due to growth of its end-user industries such as mining and construction. Emerging economies such as India serve significant opportunities to the industrial explosives market and its accessories. The market in India has undergone a key shift from complete dependence on imports to increased production and exportable surplus in the past few decades. Other than explosives, ammonium nitrate is also used as a blasting agent.
Calcium ammonium nitrate is also used as a fertilizer solution in the agrochemical industry. Other than agrochemicals, nitric acid is used in the production of adipic acid, which is further utilized in the production of nylon 6,6. This polyamide is widely used in key end-user industries such as tire, textiles, and automotives. Toluene diisocyanate (TDI) uses nitric acid as an intermediate for developing polyurethane foams, which are used in furniture, carpets, transportation, and automotive industries. Although nitric acid is used in the aerospace industry as an oxidizer in rocket propellants, this segment is expected to be hampered due various health and environmental hazards related to nitric acid.
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Europe was the leading consumer of nitric acid. The region was chiefly driven by explosives and fertilizer industries. Although Eastern and Western Europe accounted for the largest demand for nitric acid, Central Europe is estimated to provide better opportunities in the next few years. Following Europe, Asia Pacific was the second-largest region for nitric acid in terms of consumption and is anticipated to witness the fastest growth in the next few years. Economies in this region such as Taiwan, Japan, India, and China are projected to demonstrate a positive outlook for nitric acid in the next few years. Developed regions such as North America, particularly the U.S., have experienced increased demand for nitric acid in explosives, fertilizers, adipic acid, and TDI industries. Furthermore, the nitric acid market in other regions such as Latin America and the Middle East are expected witness strong growth in the next few years.
The Dow Chemical Company, LyondellBasell Industries, Bayer AG, BASF SE, and Agrium Inc. are some of the key manufacturers present in the global nitric acid market.
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