Fertiliser efficiency remains key to productive and profitable farming and with the farming industry having committed to becoming net zero by 2040, many growers are looking at practical ways to reduce their carbon footprint.
Endeavouring to support growers on the journey to net zero, Yara’s moves to produce ‘green’ ammonia could see fertiliser production decarbonised, reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fertiliser use by up to 30%.
Given ammonia is the building block of nitrogen fertilisers, Sammy Van Den Broeck, head of business unit decarbonise at Yara International, says the shift to green production will help mitigate the environmental impact of energy-intensive fertiliser processes.
“Ammonia is produced by directly combining hydrogen and nitrogen with a catalyst – the ammonia Yara manufactures is mostly produced with natural gas, which is currently the cleanest hydrocarbon source available.
“However, through a process called electrolysis, we can use renewable electricity to convert water into hydrogen.
“By utilising renewable energy we can therefore decarbonise hydrogen production to produce ‘green’ ammonia,” he says.
With most of an arable crop’s carbon footprint coming from fertiliser, the move to produce renewable hydrogen will aim to help reduce fertiliser-induced field emissions, he adds.
“Green fertiliser, compared to traditional fertiliser use, addresses the decarbonisation of the food value chain, as we could see a reduction of about 10-30% of overall emissions from a food product.”
While there is currently no carbon-free fertiliser available, Mr Van Den Broeck says Yara’s green ammonia projects could see growers benefit as early as 2025.
“Yara’s recent partnership with Orsted is aiming to develop a 100MW wind powered electrolyser plant to replace fossil hydrogen at our Sluiskil plant, in the Dutch province of Zeeland.
“This process has the potential to abate more than 100,000 tonnes of CO2 per year and could be operational by 2024/2025.”
Yara’s carbon-free process will exclusively produce ‘green’ ammonium nitrate (AN)-based fertiliser.
But with the price of carbonfree fertiliser projected at two to five times higher than traditional fertiliser, Mr Van Den Broeck says a greener approach to fertiliser production needs wider backing to secure fair returns for farmers.
“In reality, we have a complex value chain between the producer and the farmer and then to the supermarket shelf, which presents challenges for ensuring growers are fairly rewarded for producing zero carbon food.
“Ultimately, policymakers need to support this decarbonisation technology to make hydrogen production more cost-effective and subsequently help farmers
create more value from climate neutral food production,” he says.
Co-regulation will also need to form part of a framework to drive investment of green ammonia production, Mr Van Den Broeck adds.
“In the current framework conditions, fertiliser cannot be decarbonised completely in the next decade.
“Yara’s moves to produce green ammonia is the first step in becoming carbon neutral, but this must be in addition to the implementation of carbon leakage protection measures by EU and UK policymakers to ensure the CO2 burden is reduced.”