Green fertilizers: everything you need to know

Hands catching green fertilizers

What are green fertilizers?

Green fertilizers are nitrate-based mineral fertilizers with exactly the same chemical and physical composition as fertilizers produced with fossil sources (natural gas, coal, oil), but with a much lower carbon footprint because they are produced with renewable electricity (hydro, wind, solar). That means green fertilizers are a close-to fossil free, impactful and effortless way to decarbonize food production.

How are green fertilizers produced?

Ammonia is the building block of all mineral fertilizers. Today ammonia is produced using hydrogen from fossil sources. To produce green fertilizers, the hydrogen needed to make ammonia will come from water using electrolysis based on renewable electricity. After extracting the hydrogen to create green ammonia, all other processes will remain the same. This includes the use of a best available technology (BAT) catalytic process that reduces greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) during production. The technology has enabled Yara to reduce fertilizer production emissions from nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas, by more than 90 percent.Diagram comparing production of fertilizer based on fossil sources vs. on water and renewable electricity

Where will these green fertilizers be produced?

Today Yara has a portfolio of green ammonia projects, which will be key for the production of green fertilizers, in Norway, the Netherlands and Australia, and we’re working actively to expand our geographical presence through our clean ammonia business.

The first deliveries of Yara’s green fertilizers will be based on the pilot in Porsgrunn, Norway as this is one of the first projects that will come on stream. The building of the new plant has already started. Later deliveries will be integrated into Yara's portfolio of future green ammonia projects. The Porsgrunn project is Yara’s first electrolyzer project of industrial scale with system integration into an existing ammonia plant. 

The commercial start-up for this project is scheduled for 2023. The plant will produce around 20,000 tonnes of ammonia per year, which converts to between 60,000 and 80,000 tonnes of fossil free green mineral fertilizer. As part of the HEGRA project, Yara aims to convert the entire Porsgrunn plant to green ammonia five to seven years from now, enabling large-scale green ammonia production.

What are the benefits of green fertilizers?

Close-to fossil free: Green fertilizers are close-to fossil free, enabling us to decarbonize the food system and reducing our dependency on fossil sources.

Impactful: Green fertilizers will significantly lower the carbon footprint across the food value chain, from fertilizers to food.

Effortless: Green fertilizers are a simple way for farmers and food companies to reduce the carbon footprint of their crops and food products without needing to change their operations, agricultural practices or processes.

What is the carbon footprint of green fertilizers?

Today Yara’s nitrate-based mineral fertilizers produced in the European Union and Norway already have a carbon footprint that is about 50 to 60 percent lower compared with most non-EU fertilizers thanks to the use of a best available technology (BAT) catalytic process that was first developed by Yara and later shared with other producers. Using renewable electricity to produce nitrate-based green fertilizers will lower the carbon footprint by a further 75 to 90 percent.

Yara green fertilizers are low carbon and fossil free illustration_v23.jpg

Switching to green fertilizers will also have a high impact on the carbon footprint of the end product, reducing it by an around 20 percent for wheat and by around about 12 percent for a loaf of bread.

How can I trust that the carbon footprint is accurate?

Yara has developed a methodology to ensure that the carbon footprint is accounted for correctly throughout the production process. Independent assurance and risk management provider DNV, as an independent third party, will validate the Product Carbon Footprint (PCF) methodology, which is one of the most established methods for determining the climate impact of a product. The third-party verification will ensure that our methodology and calculations are correct and transparent.

Are the green fertilizers 100 percent fossil free?

A minor part of the production process of green fertilizers will continue to use fossil energy. For example, phosphate mining machinery and other activities (e.g., transport) may still use fossil sources and fossil source inputs. However, changing the production process of green fertilizers through the use of renewable electricity will have a major impact on the carbon footprint of the fertilizer, which means Yara will be able to offer fertilizers with a carbon footprint that is 75-90 percent lower.

In the future, this percentage can be even greater as Yara is also working on reducing the remaining climate and environmental impact by, for example, enabling the use of recycled nutrients.

What role should food companies play in terms of green fertilizers and why?

Green fertilizers are a crucial step in decarbonizing the food chain. By using green fertilizers in their supply chains, food companies can meet their climate pledges and be frontrunners in driving the climate transformation. As of March 16, 2022, 186 food and beverage companies had committed to or already set targets to reduce their GHG emissions in accordance with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

Historical photo of electrolyzers in Yara Glomfjord
Historical photo of electrolyzers in Yara Glomfjord

Fun fact: Yara is going back to its past to address the future

Did you know that Yara’s founders actually invented the idea of using hydroelectric power to extract nitrogen from the air for large-scale mineral fertilizer production already in early 1900s? New, more efficient technologies – electrolysis based on hydropower and the Haber–Bosch process – were later implemented at Yara’s plants. Production then switched to using natural gas during the 20th century as this was cheaper at the time. However, Yara’s plant in Glomfjord, Norway continued to use electrolysis based on hydropower all the way up until 1991.

Now, as the world faces increasing challenges related to climate change, we are going back to our past to again use renewable electricity and electrolysis technology. This will enable us to speed up the transition to a nature-positive food future that’s resilient and less dependent on fossil sources.

Image courtesy of NEL

Contact us

Interested in Yara's green fertilizers? Contact our team.

Birgitte Holter profile picture
Birgitte Holter
VP, Green and Low Carbon Fertilizer Solutions
Sara Ekström profile picture
Sara Ekström
Director, Green and Low Carbon Fertilizer Solutions
Emilio Iglesias profile photo
Emilio Iglesias
Director - Commercial Development, Green and Low Carbon Fertilizer Solutions
Dieter Dubois profile image
Dieter Dubois
Director - Business Development and Projects, Green and Low Carbon Fertilizer Solutions