The Unsung Hero's of Agriculture
Every sector of the economy must do its lot to cut emissions and assist in slowing the rate at which our planet is warming up because climate change has arrived!
Regardless of whether or not society and businesses are prepared for it - it's real and it's happening right now. Our endeavour begins with the manner in which our food is grown for the business that deals with food and eating.
Massive volumes of fossil fuels are used by the agricultural industry, as required for the production of food, feed, fibre, and energy.
And whilst there are many innovations driving change to help reduce the impact of the agricultural industry, here we're talking about a little unsung hero.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that the United States lost more than $165 billion due to climate and weather catastrophes in 2018, making it the third costliest year on record. This estimate does not account for the lives lost, the healthcare costs incurred, and the disruption and displacement caused to families and communities due to worsening climate disasters. The costs of climate catastrophes are expected to climb in the future years as rising temperatures lead to more extreme heat waves, coastal floods made worse by sea level rise, and other natural disasters.
It stands to reason that more flooding, heat waves, and other disasters will also disrupt agriculture. From a more economic standpoint, global warming is expected to cost the industry dearly. According to an article from World Grain, the World Resources Institute projected that by 2022, a 1.5°C temperature rise would cost the world $63 billion. A 2°C rise would cost $80 billion, and a three °C rise would cost $128 billion for adaptation and residual damage to main crops.
Reduced water availability, increased frequency of extreme events like floods and severe storms, heat stress, and increased pests and illnesses are ways climate change could negatively affect agricultural productivity in already water-scarce regions.
As temperatures rise over a certain threshold, the difficulty and cost of adaptation rise sharply. This is especially true when average world temperatures rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius. Crops like less heat-resistant wheat might be hit more in regions like the Sahel belt of Africa or South Asia, where temperatures are already extremely high.
More people will be impoverished if we don't find a way to prevent agricultural yields from dropping, particularly in the world's most food-insecure countries. By 2030, it is predicted that 43 million Africans could be living in poverty.
Needless to say, it’s imperative to find effective ways to reduce emissions and slow the world's rising temperatures.
Ammonia, a crucial ingredient in fertilizer manufacture, is made in steam methane reforming. This process comprises around 1.8% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Fortunately, there is a greener process to make ammonia. According to the Royal Society, a scientific fellowship:
“One way of making green ammonia is by using hydrogen from water electrolysis and nitrogen separated from the air. These are then fed into the Haber process (also known as Haber-Bosch), all powered by sustainable electricity. In the Haber process, hydrogen and nitrogen are reacted together at high temperatures and pressures to produce ammonia, NH3.”
Manufacturing green ammonia is a critical part of reducing carbon emissions, according to the Royal Society.
Studies at the University of Minnesota’s West Central Research and Outreach Center show that renewable energy can power the production of green ammonia for fertilizer. The university has a working farm where this is an active practice. The farm uses wind turbines to create energy for the production process. They even have a tractor that runs on green ammonia.
In a Yale School of the Environment article, Michael Reese, director of the project, said using green ammonia could drive down the carbon emissions from corn and small grain crops by 90 per cent.
Needless to say, that’s a significant potential reduction in agriculture's carbon footprint.
The 2016 Paris Agreement, in which 55 countries worldwide agreed to reduce emissions sharply, contains guidelines for reducing emissions by 55 per cent by 2030. Creating green ammonia for use in agriculture is just one string to the bow but affects the food and ingredients industry in a massive way.
Several companies worldwide already use the modified Haber-Bosch process to create ammonia with zero emissions.
Green ammonia factories powered by wind have been operating as experiments in UK and Japan since 2018, including Eneus Energy Ltd in the UK. Earthed, a Swiss company, providing renewable energy, green ammonia, hydrogen, and carbon reduction consulting services.
CF Industries, the world's biggest ammonia manufacturer, has its flagship green ammonia plant up and running in Donaldsonville, Louisiana.
Yara International is increasing its green ammonia production at its Pilbara facility in Australia from 3,500 tons per year to 50,000 tons per year by 2030.
And also, in Australia, Jupiter Ionics uses an interesting ionic cell developed by Monash University to create green ammonia.
India has joined the effort as well. HYGENCO - The Hydrogen Company, a business in Haryana, India, is also working to create green ammonia for the global agricultural industry.
While the challenges we as humans face when tackling climate change are not insubstantial, manufacturing green ammonia is proving to be a powerful innovation that can reduce the impact agriculture has on our environment. We look forward to the continuing innovations of universities and businesses worldwide working to make agriculture greener.