As featured in Arable Farming Magazine
Carbon-free fertiliser and the move towards net zero
by Arable Farming November / December Issue 2020
Could growers benefit from carbon-free fertiliser in the move to net zero? Mollie Leach finds out more
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.”
Efficiency and inputs reducing carbon footprints
Phil Jarvis, farm manager at the Allerton Project, a 320-hectare demonstration and research farm on the Loddington estate, Leicestershire, has been working to maximise cultivation efficiency and inputs to reduce the carbon footprint on-farm The Allerton Project is researching the effects of different farming methods on the environment, with a focus on gathering data on inputs to help farmers reduce their carbon footprint.
“From a business point of view, all the inputs farmers use and the products we buy, for example fertilier, carry a carbon footprint,” says Mr Jarvis.
The project included trials to demonstrate the solar energy capture of the four main crops grown on the estate, including wheat, oats, oilseed rape and beans.
“What the data demonstrates is that growers can start to build into their carbon calculations the beneficial carbon elements returned to the soil and that energy recovered from a crop of wheat is positive, says Mr Jarvis.
Word from the sponsor
Yara’s fertiliser solutions help farmers increase yield and profit. For more than 170 years the company’s focus has been to be a leading crop nutrition provider specialising in nitrogen and NPKS fertilisers.
From the very first step in the form of soil analysis, Yara is with you on your journey to get the very best from your crop in a sustainable, traceable and ethical way.
Yara is concerned about the climate emergency we are facing and is committed to playing its part from factory to field. To reduce fossil fuel dependency, resources are now focused on creating green ammonia at a number of our factories.
Yara looks forward to sharing its green ammonia story during the Crop Nutrition seminar at CropTec 2020 and interacting with you on our virtual stand.
Although nothing can equal a face-to-face conversation, we will be responsive to this change and navigate our way through these challenging times.