March 29, 2023

Preparedness paid off in 2022

When the war in Europe disrupted global supply chains, a unique pilot plant in Porsgrunn enabled Yara to substitute raw materials virtually overnight, to demonstrate business resilience, and to support a fragile global food system through challenging times.

Two workers at the NPK Pilot plant in Yara Porsgrunn
Two workers at the NPK Pilot plant in Yara Porsgrunn

Decades of research

Producing fertilizer is a highly fine-tuned, complex, and technology-intensive process, and the unique quality and property of a certain raw material impacts both the process and final product. Different material qualities require different plant settings. Producing at the wrong settings can be detrimental to a plant. For example, a wrong pH level can lead to liquids hardening, potentially causing damage to pipes and requiring days of downtime.

Since the 1970s, Yara has researched how the unique properties of raw materials from different sources can be accommodated for, to ensure supply stability and plant and operation reliability. In 2014, this materialized into a nitrogen phosphate pilot plant, a production miniature plant where materials can be tested thoroughly before changes are made to the production process at Yara’s large nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK) plants. This played a crucial role in enabling Yara’s continued operations during a challenging 2022.

“Efficient sourcing starts with understanding what alternatives we have. Extensive testing, as enabled by a pilot plant research center, makes it easier and more cost-efficient to understand which products and product mixes we can run, and is instrumental for supply security to our plants,” says Henrik Aarstad, VP Phosphate Sourcing in Yara.

NPK plant in Yara Porsgrunn

Responding to crises

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Yara continued production without phosphate rock from Russia, and instead, increased its sourcing from its own mine in Siilinjärvi, Finland, as well as from suppliers in South Africa, Morocco, and Jordan.

“Because Procurement, R&D, marketing, and the Porsgrunn Production team had performed extensive testing of other sources of phosphate rock, Yara could make the switch in its full-scale NPK plants overnight. This would not have been possible without years of research and strong internal collaboration,” says Mohan Menon, Department Director NPK and Environmental Tech at Yara Porsgrunn.

On account of collaboration, research, and thorough preparations, Yara in 2022 demonstrated business resilience and continued to support a fragile global food system through challenging times. The Porsgrunn pilot plant will continue to be a crucial piece of the preparedness puzzle in the years to come.

Raw materials at production plant Raw materials at production plant

How it works

Yara’s contingency plan for raw material supply is based on close cooperation between Procurement, R&D, and the Porsgrunn Production and Technology teams running the pilot plant.

Procurement gathers samples of raw material from different suppliers.

A few kilos are tested in the lab to determine the quality of the product and the environmental considerations related to the properties of the product.

Based on these tests, some hundred kilos are tested in the pilot plant. Limits are pushed in the pilot plant to determine the safe and optimal operating space for the specific material.

After several tests at the pilot plant, large-scale testing is done in a part of the full NPK plant.

Once successfully completed, Yara will know exactly how to accommodate different sources of raw materials and can implement at scale.