Reducing nitrous oxide emissions

Tractor is fertilizing a field

Fertilizing on a field; Photo: Flickr/Hellebardius (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In November 2016, the ‘Support for the Nitric Acid Climate Action Group (NACAG)’ project of the German Federal Environment Ministry’s (BMUB) International Climate Initiative (IKI) began its work. NACAG was established by BMUB during the climate summit in Paris in order to make progress towards climate change mitigation in the production of nitric acid. The goal of the initiative is to reduce global nitrous oxide emissions generated during the production of nitric acid. Nitric acid is a nitrogen compound that is used to manufacture fertilisers. The nitric acid production process results in the release of nitrous oxide – N2O is a greenhouse gas that is 264 times more harmful to the climate than CO2. The reduction potential up to 2020 is estimated at around 200 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. In principle, the technologies that would make this possible are already available at low cost.

The IKI project will build NACAG into an international network and promote exchange among its members. During the first phase, a technical advisory and support unit will primarily provide knowledge transfer on this issue and thereby determine the local technical and economic feasibility of using N2O mitigation technologies, e.g. by conducting country studies. The project intends to bring together experts in this field from around the world and develop tailored advisory plans that will enable it to support technical implementation in the partner countries in the most practical manner possible. Advisory support could, for instance, address the procurement and installation of catalysers in nitric acid plants that not only reduce N2O, but also comply with standards of sustainability and optimise operations. Best practices for N2O mitigation including robust monitoring activities will be made available to NACAG members through expert workshops.

Initial climate-friendly investments in nitric acid plants have already taken place through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Due to financing bottlenecks, however, these investments cannot be continued. The demand for certificates has collapsed along with the revenues their sale provided. The first focus of NACAG will be on these suspended CDM projects. However, the aim is also to identify entirely new investment projects for technology transfer in developing and emerging economies. Within this context, the World Bank has already announced its intention to provide financing of up to USD 12 million for results-based N2O mitigation through the Pilot Auction Facility. The IKI project will therefore cooperate closely with the World Bank.

From 2020, the countries that have joined NACAG should be able to independently continue with N2O mitigation based on the supported pilot measures. A range of policy options is available to the countries in this regard. In Germany, for instance, N2O emissions are covered under the European emissions trading scheme, which is why the associated challenges are familiar to the German Chemical Industry Association (VCI) and why it is likewise represented in NACAG. Depending on their needs, the IKI project can help countries find solutions that work for them and then promote legal and institutional implementation.