Fertilizers are applied to soils to improve their nutrient quality. Fertilizer substrates such as NPKs tend to move quickly into the soil, producing a rush of nutrients that can overwhelm the soil system. Fertilizer producers often coat their products to better control the release of nutrients into the soil.
The sponsor company employs a mechanism by which polyurethane is manufactured-and-applied to the fertilizer substrate in-situ (via a reaction of isocyanate and polyol), forming a thin, even coating around the fertilizer granule. This reaction takes place in a heated, rotating steel drum; either batch-wise, or continuously. Unfortunately, the current process results in the buildup of a polymer or polymer-fertilizer agglomerate material onto the metal surfaces in the drum, which creates a hard coating with a thickness of up to 1 inch. The tenacity of the material requires manual removal, which in turn creates a challenging and unpleasant work environment.
The client is interested in technical approaches that can address the current challenge. Partial solutions are of interest, as well as approaches that may require development. A successful solution to preventing or reducing this material buildup will benefit the client by reducing manufacturing down time, reducing waste, and minimizing difficult work conditions.
Anticipated Project Phases or Project Plan
Phase 1 – Proof of concept
- Sponsor company has extensive internal and external capabilities to evaluate ideas, including lab-scale and pilot-scale coating drums. Sponsor company is willing to fabricate or purchase unique equipment if an idea looks strong enough
- Sponsor company also has advanced analytical capabilities, including but not limited to; NMR, GC-MS, LC-MS, LC-TOF, XRD, XAFS, FTIR, pyrolysis-IR and various surface characterization techniques
- Phase 1 testing will likely take 6-12 months
Phase 2 – Commercial development
- If one or more concepts look successful in early testing, sponsor company will trial them in pilot-scale and/or full-scale manufacturing.
- Phase 2 testing will likely take 3-6 months.
Criteria for Moving from Phase 1 to Phase 2
- Successful Phase 1 ideas will be evaluated against one or more of the following criteria:
- Significant, reproducible reduction in polymer and/or polymer/fertilizer buildup when compared to lab-scale, control experiments. Target is > 50% buildup reduction per batch
- Significantly improved ease-of-removal of any buildup that forms i.e. reduced adhesion to internal metal surfaces in a lab-scale drum
- Ideas will also be evaluated for:
- Impact to existing product performance,
- Cost, including likely capital requirements
- Environmental, health and safety impact
To assist interested solution providers, an FAQ document has been provided.