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Editorial comment

Food is energy, and it takes energy to make fertilizer. This fertilizer feeds the crops that then become food for almost half of the world’s population. At the IFA, we are seeing many opportunities on the path to decarbonisation. One of the most promising is the development of technologies to reduce, remove, or offset the carbon emissions associated with nitrogen production. Nitrogen is recognised as a costly-to-abate sector due to the energy-intensive process of producing ammonia. But the business case to decarbonise ammonia production is growing, in light of volatile energy costs and long-standing sustainability strategies. Energy efficient technologies and other measures are equally core to the sustainability strategies of phosphate and potash producers.

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There is no single route to lowering the carbon intensity of production. Considerations such as infrastructure, financing, government policies, and regulatory frameworks vary geographically. Joined-up thinking among private and public stakeholders is essential.

The fertilizer industry has achieved significant progress in the last 30 years by adopting the best available technologies. Game-changing, near-zero emissions production methods are emerging, such as electrolytic hydrogen from renewable electricity (green ammonia). Another technique is to capture, use, or store carbon dioxide – blue ammonia production. While new methods are typically more expensive per ton of ammonia produced, their potential is part of the business case for investing in the future. IFA’s 2022 capacity survey indicated that of the green ammonia projects underway, 1.8 million t of capacity could be commissioned by 2026 — accounting for 0.8% of global capacity. More projects are in the pipeline. If all the projects being tracked by IFA were to materialise, it is forecast that green ammonia operations could total almost 60 million t in 2028, accounting for 20% of the global total.

To go to scale will require investment from financial institutions that take the long view and government policies that create the right conditions, such as significantly more renewable energy capacity. Ammonia also offers promising applications in the energy transition. Low carbon ammonia has the potential to become an alternative energy source in shipping, for domestic power generation, and as a hydrogen carrier.

The phosphate and potash industries have achieved emissions reductions both in mining, and in the production of fertilizers, by investing in more energy-efficient technologies, the abatement of air pollutants, and the use of renewable, internally cogenerated energy. Many companies are creating carbon sinks by reclaiming land from mines and converting it to arable land or forestry. Phosphorus is also essential for producing more biomass under the widespread tropical P-fixing soils and sequestering carbon in those soils.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential in order to help feed the world sustainably. An IFA and Systemiq report issued in September shows that a potential 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is possible by 2050, and the investment opportunities to do so are clearly ahead of us.1