An Award-Winning Chemistry Helping to Feed the World

Huntsman has been working with Pursell Agri-Tech, an Alabama-based fertilizer company that coats next generation fertilizer pellets to improve their efficacy, increase crop yields and enhance human nutrition. In a move designed to advance the use of coated, slow-release, nutrient delivery systems, worldwide, the two companies have developed an award-winning resin chemistry and a novel production process. The technology, which can coat urea capsules more quickly and efficiently, is designed to make the use of specialty fertilizer more accessible to farmers around the globe.

Pursell Agri-Tech has been a leader in the North American fertilizer industry for more than a century. In that time, the business has earned a reputation for developing innovative, controlled-release fertilizer technologies that can improve soil growing conditions and boost the performance of broad-acre commodity crops, such as corn and wheat, plus other plants, grasses and trees.

Nick Adamchak, CEO at Pursell Agri-Tech, said: “Worldwide, urea pellets are widely used as a nitrogen fertilizer. Nitrogen is vital to the healthy development and physiology of plants but has one major downside; it is very soluble and easily washed out of soils. Coating urea fertilizer pellets can help overcome this problem – slowing down the rate at which nitrogen is released. With coated pellets breaking down more steadily, over time, the risk of nitrogen loss via leaching is dramatically reduced. From a farming perspective, this makes the use of fertilizers far more effective. With nutrients available over a longer period, plants perform better – increasing yields and farm profitability.”

The use of coated urea fertilizer pellets also has environmental benefits. Worldwide, nitrogen pollution is a big problem. Nitrogen that isn’t absorbed by plants makes its way into streams and rivers. Too much nitrogen in our waterways causes algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle, decreasing the amount of oxygen available to fish and other aquatic wildlife. Algae blooms can also prove harmful to human health.

Continuing, Nick said: “Coated fertilizer pellets are widely considered more expensive than uncoated alternatives, despite their obvious commercial and environmental benefits - and this has slowed down the adoption of the technology. To improve this situation, we wanted to simplify our production process and create a smaller, more cost efficient, coatings plant from which to serve the North American and global farming sector. We also wanted to create a process technology that could be licensed to fertilizer producers in developing countries – where farming conditions are tough and the use of coated urea fertilizers can make a huge difference to how much food is grown. Currently, most coated fertilizer pellet systems are shipped to developing countries, which makes the cost prohibitive and uptake of the technology slow.”

Hands holding strawberries

To make its idea a reality, Pursell Agri-Tech reached out to Huntsman’s Technology & Innovation (T&I) team for help in refining its production process. Using its knowledge of urethane chemistry and how it performs in coating applications, Huntsman’s T&I team was able to help Pursell Agri-Tech cut out several manufacturing steps and make the overall pellet coating process quicker and more cost competitive.

In October 2021, the jointly developed technology won the prestigious 2021 Polyurethane Innovation Award from The Center for the Polyurethanes Industry (CPI) of the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

Receiving the award, Jan Buberl, Vice President Huntsman Polyurethanes Americas, said: “The Huntsman team is delighted to accept the 2021 Polyurethane Innovation Award. Years of planning and joint development have led to this moment, and it is a well-deserved accomplishment for both Huntsman and Pursell Agri-Tech. The development of PurActiveTM polyurethane-based, controlled-release fertilizer coating is set to have a positive impact on the world food crisis, which is a growing issue after the pandemic. We are excited about what this technology brings to the world and the magnitude of issues it can potentially solve.”