Yara’s breakthrough catalyst technology – a small and efficient pellet – is cutting greenhouse gases from fertilizer and food systems worldwide.
In a 2012 report the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) concluded that food systems could be responsible for up to one third of all man-made GHG emissions in 2008. Agricultural production, including land use change, accounted for as much as 86 percent of emissions from the food system.
“It’s a real kick to develop something of such huge environmental proportions.”
Chief Engineer, Yara Technology Center Porsgrunn
Factories and fields
Yara’s catalyst technology is curbing emissions from both factories and the growing of food. It was developed to reduce emissions of nitrous oxide N2O from production of nitric acid, the basis for nitrate fertilizers. Commonly known as laughing gas, N2O is a highly potent greenhouse gas (GHG); its global warming potential is about 300 times that of CO2. Yara’s catalyst technology reduces emissions of N2O by 90 percent – or more. This has cut overall emissions from Yara’s plants by roughly half since the first installation in 2002.
“It’s a real kick to develop something of such huge environmental proportions. Our technology raises the bar, not only for fertilizer producers,” says David Waller, Chief Engineer at the cradle of this breakthrough innovation, Yara’s Technology Center in Porsgrunn Norway: “The benefits extend to the field. We’ve made our nitrates the fertilizer of choice for climate-conscious growers.”
His words are more than just a quick claim. Yara’s low-carbon nitrate fertilizers are drawing interest from food companies aiming at improved environmental footprints. Combined with Yara’s application knowledge and tools, the low-carbon approach is used in projects on oranges and potatoes with PepsiCo, and on coffee in Vietnam with Nestlé.
The catalyst technology is also the secret behind Yara’s Carbon Footprint Guarantee for fertilizers. Launched in Scandinavia in 2010, it is the world’s first of its kind. An independent third party verifies that the carbon footprint of Yara fertilizers sold in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden is below 3.6 kg CO2 equivalents per kg nitrogen. This is less than half of the footprint of untreated production.
“It is a true case of innovation,” Waller says of the development of the catalyst, which took ten years and about NOK 200 million in investments. He explains that the team of researchers harvested ideas from many different disciplines to achieve the end result: a small green-grayish pellet containing a cobalt compound in a cerium oxide. When placed in the burner basket in a nitric acid plant, the cobalt splits N2O into harmless nitrogen and oxygen.
Yara made the first full-scale installation of the catalyst pellets in 2002. Since then the technology has been implemented in all of Yara’s nitric acid plants. In addition, it is offered commercially to other producers, representing an annual GHG savings potential equivalent to 100 million tons of CO2.