Fertilizer isn’t a sexy topic for the news media when it comes to stories about climate change, but fertilizer production accounts for two percent of the world’s greenhouse gases. Traditional production methods require fossil fuels, typically natural gas or coal. The fuel’s hydrocarbon molecules are split to create hydrogen and carbon atoms. The hydrogen is combined with nitrogen to form ammonia and the carbon byproduct is a pollutant.
The idea of green fertilizer came up during a conversation between the two companies, and the result will be the first facility of its kind in the world to produce this zero-carbon product. Stemlit has agreed to sign contracts to buy low-carbon fertilizer from Atlas Agro’s new Pacific Green Fertilizer Plant, which will be built in Richland, Washington.
It is a win-win-win for all involved: the farmer, the producer and the environment.
What makes green fertilizer green? Fossil fuels are being replaced by plain old water. Electrolysis will be used to turn water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen will be used to combine with the nitrogen and oxygen will be the new byproduct released into the environment. Company officials say that the change can reduce annual carbon outputs by more than a million tons.
The ability to make fertilizer without fossil fuels has the potential to create a seismic shift in fertilizer production. Currently, production facilities are located near fossil fuel sources, including some nations that, at best, have rocky relations with the United States. Bringing production closer to farms will reduce transportation and production costs while making local food supply chains more resilient and less susceptible to market conditions.
Atlas Agro will also benefit from being part of the recent award by the U.S. Department of Energy. The Pacific Northwest Hydrogen Hub project was awarded up to $1 billion in funds to develop hydrogen projects in Washington and Oregon.
The plant is currently in the engineering phase, and construction will begin in 2024, with a completion date set for 2027.