NACAG picks up the pace


One of the main sources of nitrous oxide emissions is the industrial-scale production of nitric acid. Photo: GIZ / Jose Diaz

Atmospheric nitrous oxide (N2O) not only damages the ozone layer but is also a very powerful greenhouse gas with 265 times the impact of CO2. A further problem is that the gas stays in the atmosphere for over 100 years. One of the main sources of nitrous oxide emissions is the industrial-scale production of nitric acid, a nitrogen compound that is used worldwide to manufacture artificial fertilisers.

Although relatively simple and comparatively inexpensive options are available to reduce most nitrous oxide emissions at source, very few nitric acid plants around the world utilise these kinds of systems. Increasingly, however, countries are now stepping up to the challenge and committing to the long-term reduction of industrial nitrous oxide emissions.

In late May, Argentina became the latest nation to do so, agreeing to cut these greenhouse gas emissions from national nitric acid production on a permanent basis and save around 200,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent every year. Argentine Minister of Productive Development Matías Kulfas signed the Statement of Undertaking from the Nitric Acid Climate Action Group (NACAG) at a virtual conference held jointly with German Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze.

NACAG was initiated by the German Federal Environment Ministry (BMU) with financing from the International Climate Initiative (IKI). The action group aims to encourage as many countries as possible worldwide to reduce nitrous oxide emissions resulting from nitric acid production. To achieve these aims, the BMU is providing financial support for plant operators in partner countries, and offering technical and strategic assistance.

Federal Environment Minister Svenja Schulze: “Every year, large volumes of this extremely harmful greenhouse gas are emitted from nitric acid facilities. The Nitric Acid Climate Action Group is providing support for reducing these emissions to our partner countries. Argentina’s accession to NACAG sends a powerful signal to the sector that a climate-friendly transformation is possible while also helping to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

NACAG has achieved some impressive results

In 2021 alone, NACAG has achieved some impressive results, with both Thailand and Uzbekistan joining the programme before Argentina. Prior to 2021, Georgia, Mexico, Tunisia and Zimbabwe had also signed a political Statement of Undertaking concerning the permanent reduction of national greenhouse gas emissions from their nitric acid production activities. Together, the mitigation potential of these seven countries amounts to more than three million tonnes of CO2 equivalent every year.  In the global nitric acid sector, the mitigation potential for the period 2021–2030 is estimated to be more than one gigatonne of CO2 equivalent. NACAG is now negotiating with many other countries with the aim of realising this potential.

As part of putting national commitments into practice, two nitric acid plants in Tunisia and Zimbabwe have signed financing agreements with NACAG this year. The climate action group is providing financing for the purchase and installation of greenhouse gas abatement systems as well as monitoring equipment. Another success for the group was the inclusion of the nitric acid sector in the NDCs for Mexico and Colombia.

These developments are significant achievements in NACAG’s quest to achieve the climate-friendly transformation of the global nitric acid industry.