Our approach to innovation
Innovation is of strategic importance to us – it is part of the Grupa Azoty Group’s mission and future.
Innovation is of strategic importance to us – it is part of the Grupa Azoty Group’s mission and future. We want to break new ground and lead the way in innovation. In 2020, we developed our existing R&D centres and established new units specialising in specific research areas. We carry out research and implement innovation to extend our value chain with high-margin low-tonnage speciality products and to adapt new technologies while honing the existing processes.
In 2020, we continued to consolidate R&D activities conducted by individual Group companies. We believe that joint effort of scientists and experts across the Group is a foundation for effective R&D work. One of the key components of the Grupa Azoty Group’s comprehensive innovation management model is a project, launched in 2020, to create a repository of R&D work currently in progress or completed in the last 20 years. The repository, created using a self-learning IT system, will help project managers to find reports, results or summaries they are looking for in much less time. The project is being implemented as part of the KPT ScaleUp acceleration programme, one of the Group’s two acceleration programmes that are financed by the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development (Polska Agencja Rozwoju Przedsiębiorczości). The purpose of both programmes is the cooperation between large enterprises and innovative start-ups that pursue projects matching the needs of such enterprises.
We are expanding our services involving agricultural land monitoring and analysis for the purposes of precise fertilizer application by our customers. In 2019, training was held in Łódź, during which the Grupa Azoty Group’s field representatives were given the first six soil scanners, while in 2021 all of our field representatives were equipped with such devices. The scanners enable quick on-site soil analysis for the presence of key elements. Based on its results, customers are given fertilizer recommendations based on the Grupa Azoty Group portfolio.
The scanner examines a soil sample in real time and sends the user information about fertilizer recommendations through a dedicated application. The generated report contains information about soil fertility such as pH factor, organic matter content (in per cent), total nitrogen, total phosphorus, interchangeable potassium, clay content and cation exchange capacity.
Such quick analysis allows agricultural producers to act in good time by applying fertilizers with the nutrients that are missing in the soil, which may prevent yield decline if done at the right vegetative phase.
The scanners complement our existing product mix which, in addition to fertilizers, has for three years included a service involving analysis of satellite data to optimise fertilizer consumption. The service, developed in partnership with SatAgro, a Polish start-up, enables farmers to receive via a dedicated application precise up-to-date information about the condition of the soil for particular crops in order to optimise fertilizer use and maximise yields. This benefits not only agricultural producers, but also the natural environment.
SatAgro offers access to satellite observations and meteorological data as well as to world-class tools supporting precision agriculture and overall crop management. Satellite data comes from NASA, the European Space Agency, the World Meteorological Organization and from commercial operators (including Planet Labs).
Services offered by SatAgro allow users to constantly monitor crop growth, perform precision treatments, assess the impact of weather conditions and progress of agronomic treatments, as well as analyse historical data and effectiveness of the strategies used. Application maps facilitate precision sowing, fertilizer application and spraying, while automated alerts warn the user about sudden changes in plant condition and the weather.
In 2020, SatAgro sp. z o.o. together with a group of farms worked on a prototype module for precision irrigation. This module is the first of a set of tools developed to support farms in water management.
The module for precise irrigation, and more precisely: sprinkling irrigation, helps optimise water doses by automatic division of technological paths into sections according to the selected dosage strategy. The following three sources of variable water demand can be taken into account: crop condition, water capacity of soil, and topographical runoff rate. The result is presented in the form of an interactive map. It can also be printed as a report for the operator of a sprinkling machine terminal.
Our innovations are highly valued by external experts. Certain projects implemented by Grupa Azoty Group companies were partly financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under the Smart Growth Operational Programme. These include:
- development of a technology for the production of high-purity neopentyl glycol and hydroxipival aldehyde oxime with the use of low-value intermediate product and waste hydrogen stream; project value: PLN 27.40m, financial grant: PLN 11.67m;
- development of an innovative process to obtain a range of esters for ionic liquid catalyst; project value: PLN 5.87m, financial grant: PLN 2.52m;
- new formulations of nitrogen-rich CRF/SRF fertilizers based on ammonium nitrate and biodegradable coatings; project value: PLN 5.47m, financial grant: PLN 2.61m.
In 2020, our innovations took us to the 3D dimension. We opened a modern 3D Printing Materials Centre and launched sales of FDM technology products offered under the Tarfuse® brand. The key feedstock is the high-quality polyamide 6 and its modified varieties produced by our Group.
The launch of filament sales came as a result of an R&D programme started in 2017. Work is also under way to develop speciality polymer powders for SLS printing as well as light-curing polymers (photopolymers) for the SLA and DLP technologies. The 3D Printing Materials Centre, engaged in the research into and production of filaments, is located at the Research and Development Centre in Tarnów.
In order to popularise the FDM technology, we have also launched the 3D Printing Academy, and the 3D Printing Materials Centre personnel together with the technology partners provided training in several cities across Poland for scientists, business owners, and enthusiasts of 3D print technologies.
In 2020, Grupa Azoty Kędzierzyn signed a contract with the general contractor for the Research and Development Centre in Kędzierzyn-Koźle. The Centre will be a continuation of the Application and Development Research Laboratory opened in 2018, which enabled the company to reproduce production processes under laboratory conditions. Launch of the Centre, planned for the first quarter of 2021, will allow Grupa Azoty Kędzierzyn to expand the scale and scope of its current activities, especially in the Oxoplast segment. The project, worth over PLN 40m, will be co-financed with EU funding under the Smart Growth Operational Programme
We are ready to cooperate with external partners in creating innovations. In 2020, we signed a memorandum of understanding with the AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków to jointly initiate innovative technology projects, especially ones increasing the energy efficiency of the Grupa Azoty Group units. We also started cooperation with the Maritime University of Szczecin, where a programme will be established in partnership with Grupa Azoty: industrial engineering and offshore wind power plants. Our specialists and academics from the Maritime University will also carry out scientific and research projects.
Grupa Azoty Zakłady Azotowe Chorzów has developed a range of innovative nitrogen stabilizers that are liquid compositions of urease inhibitor. In addition to improving our competitive position on the market, they will make our urea-based fertilizers compliant with the formal and legal requirements under legislation that will soon be bidding on every fertilizer manufacturer in Poland.
The urease inhibitor composition may be applied together with liquid nitrogen fertilizers just before their application on the field, which means that it may also be used by retail customers, i.e. farmers who use urea-based liquid fertilizers for soil application.