The Fertilizer Problem

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

Fertilizer relies on fossil fuels. A Norwegian company could change that.

Fertilizer plays an important role in ensuring that crops deliver maximum yield. Indeed, according to a recent report, nitrogen-based fertilizer may be supporting up to half of the world’s current population. But the rewards are accompanied by a significant negative. Namely, a big climate footprint.

In addition to the carbon emissions from producing fertilizer, researchers at UC Berkeley discovered that increased fertilizer use has resulted in a jump in nitrous oxide in the atmosphere, a greenhouse gas that also accelerates climate change.

So, on the one hand, fertilizer is a vital ingredient in the production of food but, on the flipside, its environmentally negative emissions are contributing to climate change. What's needed now is a mechanism for producing fertilizer in a sustainable way and, happily, it looks like Norwegian manufacturer Yara has come up with a solution.

Working with French utility company ENGIE, Yara intends to use solar power as a greener method to produce fertilizer. Ammonia is the key component of fertilizer manufacturing, but producing it requires natural gas. Yara’s plan is to remove the natural gas, replacing it with ammonia derived from solar power.

Using a solar-powered electrolyzer, the test plant would split water into oxygen and hydrogen. Then that hydrogen will be combined with nitrogen to create ammonia, thus producing it from a carbon-free source.

It's still early days yet but there is a definite sense of optimism about the project. We'll keep you posted.

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