14TSB_ATC_IR Renewable Fertiliser Production to Improve Agricultural Efficiencies & Avoid Environmental Harm

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Chemical & Biological Engineering

Abstract

Nitrogenous fertilisers are used in agriculture to provide essential nutrients for crop growth. To maximise yield they normally contain ammonia or urea, (made from ammonia & CO2). Ammonia made from natural gas is responsible for 5% of global natural gas consumption (2% of world energy). Recent work by ITM Power has shown it is feasible to produce ammonia using renewable energy, where hydrogen is produced by the electrolysis of water and nitrogen captured from air. The project will design and build an integrated pilot scale system for ammonia production and urea synthesis. The unit will then be demonstrated on a UK farm. By producing fertiliser at a smaller scale, near to the point of use, it will be possible to decentralise fertiliser production, negating energy use to dry product for transport, reduce GHG emissions associated with fertiliser production and transport, improve UK food security and provide export revenues from fertiliser produced and system sales.
This proposal relates to primary crop production and the need for intensification of agriculture while reducing the industry's adverse impacts on the environment. UK Agri-Tech strategy identifies the unsustainable rate of consumption of the world's natural resources as one of 2 primary failings of the global food system. This proposal addresses the need to reduce the environmental impact of the production of nitrogen fertilisers, which are crucial to achieving the necessary increase in productivity of agricultural land. Current production is a large-scale industrial process, involving the production of H2 from natural gas, which is catalytically reacted with N2 derived from the air to form anhydrous ammonia. The project will develop a technology for decentralised synthesis of ammonia based fertilisers (urea) using H2 generated by electrolysis of water using renewable electricity. The unit will be on a scale which enables fertiliser production close to the point of use, further reducing emissions related to transport. The project will demonstrate a route to decarbonise the production and transport of ammonia-based fertilisers. The Foresight 'Future of Food and Farming' report estimates agriculture contribute 12-14% of GHG emissions, including those associated with fertiliser production. Agricultural production uses 4% of global fossil-fuel energy (560 GW/17.7 EJ) of which 50% is required for nitrogen fixation in fertiliser production. The widespread deployment of the technology has potential to dramatically reduce the GHG emissions of fertiliser production. The Foresight report also identifies the strong influence of fossil fuel prices on food prices, an important part of which is the impact fuel prices have on the cost of fertiliser production. By decoupling urea synthesis from fossil fuel consumption, the technology has potential to insulate the UK agricultural industry from an important source of future production cost increases and price volatility. The distributed farm-scale of the process promises the potential for UK farmers to reduce their production costs and to establish new revenue streams from the supply of urea, both locally and with potential export markets. The technology can help to keep down the costs of UK produce and also safeguard employment in the agriculture sector. Deployment of the urea-production process close to sources of renewable electricity generation offers a number of potential benefits to generators, including reduced grid connection costs, potential for reduced grid curtailment costs and improved price certainty. These savings translate into further potential revenue streams for the fertiliser plant operator. Deployment of the plant could also increase the capacity of renewable generation that can be connected, leading to further indirect environmental benefits.The project is business-led involving UK SMEs in technology and engineering sectors, while also drawing on the strengths of the UK academic community.

Technical Summary

This project in primary crop production addresses the need for intensification of agriculture while reducing the industry's adverse impact on the environment. Reports have estimated that agriculture contributes 12-14% of greenhouse gas emissions, and that agricultural production uses 4% of global fossil-fuel energy (of which 50% is required for nitrogen fixation in fertiliser production). The UKs Agri-Tech strategy identifies the unsustainable rate of consumption of the world's natural resources as one of two primary failings of the global food system.

This project reduces the environmental impact of the production of nitrogen fertilisers, which are crucial to achieving the increase in productivity of agricultural land that we need.

Nitrogenous fertilisers are used widely in agriculture to provide essential nutrients for crop growth and to maximise crop yield they normally contain ammonia or urea. Ammonia made from natural gas uses 5% of the world's natural gas consumption (that's 2% of world energy). Recent work by ITM Power Limited has shown it is feasible to produce ammonia using renewable electricity, where hydrogen is produced by the electrolysis of water, and nitrogen is captured from air.

The project will design and build an integrated pilot scale ammonia production and urea synthesis system to make fertiliser, and demonstrate it at a UK farm. By producing fertiliser at appropriate scale using renewables at the point of use it will eliminate the use of energy to dry the product for transport, reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions associated with fertiliser production, reduce crop production cost volatility (hence improve UK food security) and provide export revenues from the fertiliser produced and production unit sales.

This is resource and energy efficient. It uses renewable energy, nitrogen, water and carbon dioxide as the feeds into the process and so reduces greenhouse gas impact.

Planned Impact

Urea is an essential component in the food security supply chain. It has a huge market and it is predicted that this will increase as developing countries demand more assistance in sustainable crop production. The problem with urea synthesis is that it is both energy intensive and has a large carbon footprint. This is in part due to the energy requirements in a large portion of the process, but also because the hydrogen required for the first step in the process is derived from fossil fuels through methane reformation. This means that the synthesis of urea CAN become carbon neutral or even negative. It is important that we communicate this to academics, industry, policy makers and the public.

We have the considerable advantage of simple access, through the CO2Chem network, to a pre-existing communications hub which will enable contact with stakeholders ranging from the general public, through other research groups and industry to policy makers. Styring is an adviser to a number of government research bodies on carbon dioxide utilization, including the Danish Strategic Research Council, FOM in the Netherlands and the European Parliament. We will build on this firm foundation to set up further communications activities for this programme.
 
Description That urea and ammonium nitrate can be produced with a lower carbon footprint than the conventional process and that it can be scaled down to point of need production. Point of need production gi fertiliser with improved nitrogen uptake by the plant.
Exploitation Route Looking at applications in India. Possible commercial activities.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Creative Economy,Energy,Environment

 
Description To inform future applications for funding of devolved low carbon emissions projects. Discussions in India about including the work as part of a circular economic approach to sustainable agreiculture.
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Energy,Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Horizon Prize for CO2 Reuse
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
 
Description Royal Society MP Pairing Scheme
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
 
Description HORIZON 2020
Amount £500,000 (GBP)
Organisation European Commission 
Department Horizon 2020
Sector Public
Country European Union (EU)
Start 08/2016 
End 08/2018
 
Description Horizon 2020
Amount € 4,100,000 (EUR)
Organisation European Commission H2020 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 05/2019 
End 04/2023
 
Description IIKE UK Centre for CO2 Utilisation
Amount £25,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2017 
End 09/2018
 
Description INTERREG
Amount € 191,000 (EUR)
Organisation European Commission H2020 
Sector Public
Country Belgium
Start 07/2019 
End 12/2022
 
Description FERA 
Organisation Fera Science Limited
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Multiple 
PI Contribution PROCESS DESIGN
Collaborator Contribution FERTILISER NEEDS
Impact FERTILISER DESIGN
Start Year 2014
 
Description Waitrose 
Organisation Waitrose Limited
Department Waitrose Agronomy Group
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Building pilot plant on farm
Collaborator Contribution Access to working farm
Impact Further funding proposal
Start Year 2014
 
Description Carbon X-PRIZE 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Second Round conference for XPRIZE contestants. Styring gave Plenary Lecture.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description International Conference on Carbon Dioxide Utilisation (ICCDU) 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact UK hosted ICCDU for the first time. Organised by CO2Chem. Very successful event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://iccdu2016.org.uk
 
Description International Conference on Carbon Dioxide Utilisation 2018 Rio 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk at ICCDU 2018 in Rio de Janeiro
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Invited Keynote at FutureFeed 2018 Oslo 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Keynote at FutureFeed, University of Oslo
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Keynote at ENCO 2019 India 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Keynote and Panel Chair at Energy and Environment: Challenges and Opportunities 2019, New Delhi India
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Keynote at RRB-14 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Keynote presentation at 14th International Conference on Renewable Resources and Biorefinaries, Ghent, Belgium
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Meeting with Natural Resource Canada 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Meeting with NRCan and British High Commission to scope a potential UK-Canada collaboration. Ongoing dialogue.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description New Energy Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Recommendations on CDU to the energy community
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Port of Antwerp CDU Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Developing a CDU economy in the Port of Antwerp, Belgium.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Presentations at ICCDU 2017, Shanghai 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Oral presentations from CO2chem members at the International Conference of Carbon Dioxide Utilisation 2017 showcasing UK research in CCU. Increase in awareness of delegates particularly Chinese, in UK research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Royal Society Consultation of CO2 Reuse 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Output will be a Royal Society document recommending policy on CDU
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Royal Society MP Pairing Scheme 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact One week secondment to Westminster to work in collaboration with Dr Emma Hennessey at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Toronto Solar Fuels Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Two-day meeting including Provincial government Minister of State.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017