The way to a climate-friendly nitric acid industry
Overview of developments in the Nitric Acid Climate Action Group, which is supported by the IKI.
Higher energy costs and reduced fertiliser production resulting from geopolitical events during the past year have underlined the significance of the fertiliser sector in terms of global food security. In view of the challenges the sector is currently facing, climate-friendly re-modelling is now more urgent than ever before. If temperature increases remain constant, the latest IPCC report estimates that global warming will probably reach the 1.5 degree Celsius mark between 2030 and 2052, which will have irreversible impacts on both ecosystems and human civilisation. The global production of fertilisers is responsible for about 1.4 per cent of the annual CO2 emissions, which is more or less equivalent to Germany’s total annual emissions.
The most important source material for the production of nitrogen-based fertilisers is nitric acid, a process that releases a large amount of N2O. N2O is a greenhouse gas that damages the ozone layer and that holds 265 times the global warming potential of CO2.
The Nitric Acid Climate Action Group (NACAG) is making all efforts to ensure a more climate-friendly production of nitric acid worldwide, and looks back at several important developments over the past year. The International Climate Initiative has supported the work of the NACAG since 2016.
At present, ten countries (Argentina, Georgia, Jordan, Mexico, Peru, Thailand, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe and Colombia) have committed to the permanent reduction of N2O emissions resulting from nitric acid production as part of their cooperation with the NACAG. The reduction potential in these countries amounts to a total of about 2.5 million tCO2e every year.
Growing number of supporting countries
Last year, even more governments committed to permanently reduce N2O emissions. Zambia was the 15th country to sign the NACAG Declaration, thus officially supporting the initiative's aim of reducing nitrous oxide emissions resulting from nitric acid production. The NACAG Secretariat previously conducted a technical feasibility study at the nitric acid manufacturer “Nitrogen Chemicals of Zambia”, in order to determine the best technological solutions for the reduction of N2O emissions for the plant.
Colombia signed the Statement of Undertaking (SoU) in February 2022, thus being the tenth country to commit to the permanent and effective reduction of nitrous oxide emissions resulting from the production of nitric acid. The nitric acid production facilities in Colombia can now apply for financial support through the NACAG Secretariat. Before signing the financial support agreement, representatives of the NACAG Secretariat visited Monómeros to intensify the existing cooperation with the Colombian partner company.
More plants will be equipped with climate change mitigation technology
During the course of last year, two nitric acid plants in Mexico, “Quimica Píma” and “Solucionas Químicas”, and the only nitric acid manufacturer in Georgia, "Rustavi Azot", signed a financing agreement with the NACAG. These nitric acid manufacturers are to receive extensive technical and financial support for the procurement and installation of facilities for N2O emission reduction and monitoring. The reduction potential in Mexico of 700,000 and in Georgia of 90,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year is corresponds with the emissions incurred by approximately 380,000 flights from Mexico to Georgia.
Together with three other nitric acid plants in Jordan, Tunisia and Zimbabwe, these facilities are currently preparing the tender process for N2O reduction and monitoring technologies, or this process is already in progress. After the successful tender process, the first catalysts and measuring devices will be installed in the nitric acid plants of the NACAG partner countries.
Climate action and food security
Although more nitric acid manufacturers and governments are benefiting from the NACAG's offer every year, there is still a long way to go until carbon-neutral fertiliser production is fully achieved. Completely climate-friendly fertiliser production is however desirable, not only because of its benefits for the climate, but also because it contributes to building up a robust and more resilient global food system.
The dependence of fertiliser production on fossil fuels and the geographic concentration of fossil resources make fertiliser-producing countries susceptible to market fluctuations, which is demonstrated by the current geopolitical situation. This dependence on fossil fuels is alarming, since fertilisers are responsible for almost half of the world's food production and are therefore a central factor in ensuring global food security.
At a time of globally increasing demand for green hydrogen and green ammonia, the decarbonisation of energy-intensive fertiliser production by the use of local renewable energy sources holds great potential for the entire fertiliser sector. Green fertilisers have an 80-90 per cent lower carbon footprint than conventional synthetic fertilisers, thus contributing to the decarbonisation of the food chain. In addition, the use of renewable energy would disconnect fertiliser production from the fluctuating prices of fossil fuels, thus promoting global food security.
Although fertilisers have to be produced in a completely climate-friendly way in the long run in order to achieve the net zero targets and master humanity's most dangerous crisis - the climate change, the climate-friendly remodelling of the nitric acid sector is an important step on the way.
The ambitious vision of the NACAG is to permanently equip all nitric acid manufacturers worldwide with technology for emission reduction.
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Zukunft – Umwelt – Gesellschaft (ZUG) gGmbH
The goal of the Nitric Acid Climate Action Group (NACAG) is to create incentives for the permanent reduction of nitrous oxide emissions. It achieves this by providing both technical and political support: the initiative advises governments on the long-term regulation of these emissions and helps integrate the sector into Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). [Discover more]