A green future for nitrate fertilisers - Elders Rural Services

A green future for nitrate fertilisers

Global fertiliser giant, Yara, is banking on ‘green’ ammonia in its bid to slash its carbon footprint by 30 per cent within a decade and became carbon neutral by 2050.

Ammonia is an intermediary chemical used in the production of urea and nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium (NPK) compound fertilisers.

More than 180 million tonnes of ammonia are produced globally every year, with the vast majority of this used in agriculture as fertiliser.

Whereas ‘brown’ ammonia is produced using fossil fuels, typically natural gas, ‘green’ ammonia is produced using renewable ingredients, namely hydrogen, obtained through the electrolysis of water and nitrogen obtained from the air.

In turn, these processes are driven by renewable energy sources, such as hydro-electric, solar power or wind turbines.

Yara has already commenced a ‘green’ ammonia pilot study at its Pilbara plant in Western Australia in partnership with ENGIE, a French energy company that specialises in developing industrial-scale renewable hydrogen solutions.

Yara Crop Nutrition Commercial Director – Australia and New Zealand, Michael Waites, said the technology is part of a range of initiatives the company is undertaking to reduce its carbon footprint.

“Our ammonia plants are energy efficient and continuously improving, leading to lower natural gas consumption and less carbon dioxide emissions,” he said.

“Our nitric acid plants are among the best for greenhouse gas emissions thanks to the development and adoption of catalyst technology.

Mr Waites said the technology significantly reduces emissions of nitrous oxide – a potent greenhouse gas – associated with the production of nitric acid.

“EU producers are recognised as being more climate-friendly due to the widespread use of nitrous oxide abatement technology and the fact it doesn’t use coal as an energy source for the production of ammonia,” he said.

The carbon footprint of urea production in Russia and China (assuming 75pc of plants are coal powered and 25pc are gas powered), is 25pc and 126pc higher, respectively, than in Europe.1,2

Likewise, the carbon footprint for NPK fertilisers produced in Russia and China is 72pc and 141pc higher, respectively, than in Europe.1,2

Mr Waites said Yara is one of the few fertiliser manufacturers that has determined its carbon footprint and has had this data verified by a third-party expert.

“We are often asked by food producers to provide certified data about the carbon footprint of our products to determine the carbon footprint of their end products,” Mr Waites said.

Australian farmers has, an important role to play in reducing their carbon footprints.

“Agriculture accounts for about 20pc of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and is the second-largest contributor to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.3,4

“Farmers rely on their land to profitably grow food and fibre, so they have a vested interest in minimising any negative impact on the environment.

“Using quality nitrate-based fertilisers and adopting management practices that improve fertiliser efficiency are two simple ways they can reduce the carbon footprint of their farm, their industry and the world.”

In Australia, Yara is committed to a range of other initiatives that support environmental sustainability, including its partnership of the Farm Waste Recovery and drumMUSTER programs.

Working in partnership with manufacturers, industry associations and local councils, the Farm Waste Recovery program aims to collect, recycle or dispose of the polypropylene and polyethylene bags commonly used to store fertiliser and stockfeed.

drumMUSTER is the national program for the collection and recycling of eligible non-returnable crop production and animal health product chemical containers.

YaraVita fertilisers are packaged in 10-litre ‘A Pack’ fully recyclable polyethylene bottles, including the labels and caps.

Article written by Yara Australia for Seasons magazine. 

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1. Brentrup, F., Lammel, J., Stephani, T. (2018). Updated carbon footprint values for mineral fertilizer from different world regions. 11th International Conference on Life Cycle Assessment of Food 2018 (LCA Food) 17-19 October 2018, Bangkok, Thailand.
2. Hoxha, A., Christensen, B. (2018). The Carbon Footprint of Fertiliser Production: Regional Reference Values. Proceedings 805. International Fertiliser Society Conference 8 May 2018, Prague, Czech Republic.
3. FAOSTAT 2020.
4. Climate Council of Australia (2018). Australia’s Rising Greenhouse Gas Emissions; Climate Council, Potts Point, Australia.