Fertilizer has had a major impact in avoiding the oft-trotted out — and Thanos-like — trope that population will outstrip food supplies, a dire prediction that has not come to be. According to Our World In Data, nitrogen-based fertilizer may be supporting up to half of the world’s current population (Infuriatingly, hunger is not an issue of supply, but access.) But that bounty comes at a cost: a deep climate footprint.
Aside from the carbon emissions from producing it, researchers at UC Berkeley found evidence that increased fertilizer use has led to a sharp uptick in nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Fertilizer is a necessity, but the future of food will depend on finding sustainable ways to produce and utilize it. That’s where Norwegian manufacturer Yara comes in to play.
Working with French utility company ENGIE, they plan to use solar power as a greener method to produce fertilizer, with the testing site to be integrated into an existing plant in Western Australia. 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 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. Considering the massive impact fertilizer has on the environment, we’ll be keeping an eye on Yara’s development.