Since Neolithic times, when humans became farmers, we have sought ways to change land use to fit our needs. We have terraced hillsides to grow food, we have developed irrigation and switched routes of rivers to benefit land where water was needed. We have created food after years of genetic propagation, out of wild grasses. We have logged forests to clear land for breeding cattle, pigs and shelter for ourselves. We have copied nature and emulated the nourishment required to increase plant growth and health by creating fertilizers.
Synthetic chemicals in industrial fertilisers can have major negative consequences. Understanding the use of beneficial and environmentally safe fertiliser use on farms was known before the industrial revolution, such as bat guano and bone meal. But industrial fertiliser production has other uses in post industrial times, many beneficial and difficult to do without. It is suggested that there would be two to three billion less people in the world today if we had not applied ammonia-based fertilisers to farming globally. The ammonia is usually made by steam reforming of natural gas, but also coal gasification (common method used in China).
I have written about farming practise and misuse of fertilizers which lead to phosphate contamination in rivers. I am currently newly aware of the National Infrastructure dependence on fertilizer production with its vital CO2 co-product, due to headlines in UK media, September 2021. The explanation was the linking of the worldwide energy crisis resulting in UK shortages of reserve gas and the high energy costs closing fertiliser plants, unable to meet those costs. When the fertiliser plants closed, there was a knock on crisis of 60% reduced supply of CO2 which is used extensively for numerous applications vital to the smooth running of the National Infrastructure. Added to this perfect storm was the shortage of HGV drivers halting the flow of transportation of all goods, including CO2.
One of the US owned fertilizer plants in Teesside, North East England, was only able to reopen when the UK government stepped in and used taxpayers money to take the energy burden costs off the company.
The vital importance of this industry gradually became apparent. I never knew, until this incidence occurred, that carbon dioxide is supplied in numerous forms, such as cylinders, dry ice pellets, refrigerants in many types of containers and that the National Infrastructure would collapse without these supplies.
The US firm was later named as CF Industries (a leading global manufacturer of hydrogen and nitrogen products) supplied 60 percent of the UK required carbon dioxide. Their Ammonia Plant at Teesside uses Natural gas ( Methane CH4) as one of the raw materials for the production of ammonia. A co-product is carbon dioxide.
CO2 requires specially equipped ships and trucks. These are also not in sufficient supply world wide.
Approximately 20% of the UK’s carbon dioxide is imported, mostly from plants in Scandinavia and the Netherlands. However, soaring energy prices are also having an impact on European firms. They are also reducing or closing fertiliser companies for the same reason, excessive energy costs. The UK cannot expect help from Europe.
Ammonia is a basic building block for ammonium nitrate fertilizer, which releases nitrogen, an essential nutrient for growing plants, including farm crops and lawns. About 90 percent of ammonia produced worldwide is used in fertilizer, to help sustain food production for billions of people around the world. The production of food crops naturally depletes soil nutrient supplies. In order to maintain healthy crops, farmers rely on fertilizer to keep their soils productive. Fertilizers can also help increase levels of essential nutrients like zinc, selenium and boron in food crops.
Such industrial processes as making fertilizer emit more CO2 than any other chemical mix. This is one of the major contributing factors to increases in Greenhouse Gas acceleration which is heating up the planet faster than scientists once predicted. The previous two blogs to this one showed the data from 2013/2014. The IPCC has updated its guidelines which were set in 2006, to incredibly more relevant measuring advice than was possible in the past. This new data collection and analysis will provide a much more accurate picture of the natural world emissions compared with anthropocene era causes of the climate warming effect.
Carbon Capture is the only way to remain in the game. The 2019 graphic below is from a .pdf explaining the plan.
The Rough Storage facility owned by Centrica, sited in the North Sea to hold a huge reserves of natural gas, was closed by the government in 2017. Their reason was to save money on the high cost of maintenance. We lost our reserves. The UK depends on gas for 50% electricity generation. Fertiliser companies also depend on a gas supply to make their products, including the co-product of CO2. This Rough facility has existed for 30 years
This article explains the business side to this ongoing threat to carbon supplies due to lack of attention to storage containment for use in times of crisis.
The shortage of CO2 product was felt almost immediately:
Meat Industry: used in the gas chambers where pigs and chickens are ‘stunned’ before killing.
Dry Ice applications (Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide (CO2). It is made by compressing and cooling gaseous CO2. Expansion converts the liquid into the snow form of the solid state. The snow is then compressed by a hydraulic press into dry ice blocks, slices or pellets).: .Used by Pharmaceuticals to hold vaccines in cool conditions during transportation. Used in plant growth, killing bed bugs, transporting plants.
Refrigerants: Applications have varied from data centres to temperature-controlled warehouses and food production
Food and Drinks Industry paid an advisory firm Global Counsel to produce a report in 2019 warning of this very scenario and to underline the need to prevent the shortage.
Cylinders of CO2: used in medical applications such as special surgical operations. Food industry such as making drinks fizzy. Used in many industrial applications. Food packaging ensuring food stays fresh for supermarket shelves.
Now we, the public, are aware of the major role CO2 plays in maintaining our National Infrastructure. We now realise, if we did not before, that protection of our Infrastructure has been lacking. We are also aware that we cannot afford to wait for carbon capture techniques to replace current harmful climate- warming-gases processes via ammonia plants like the one in Teesside. With COP26 in November, this crisis has highlighted the examples of a greener way to produce CO2 product must be turned into the only alternatives so that the high CO2 dangerous emissions cease.
The economics of industrial gases production has caused mergers such as that of Praxair and Linde and all see growing demand for their products.Reports such as this at mordorintelligence.com are helping decision makers on where to place investment. But now it is not just the economic imperative driving decisions, but how to go forward and not create excessive and harmful greenhouse gases.
Commercial production of CO2 is still going to be a co-product of ammonia plants if we do not change tack immediately. We must not be trapped in an outdated cycle of producing harmful climate warming gases.. Why did we not focus on funding alternative and zero emission production of CO2 long before, when those who oversee the protection of National Infrastructure should have known this was a serious subject for many years? Why do we need to expand meat production when we could be reducing it and thus reduce the demand for so many animals to be gassed prior to killing? Why keep on logging the Amazon Forest to make room for cattle rearing and continue destroying this CO2 sink for the world? Do we really need all those sugar content drinks which then need CO2 to make them fizzy?.
There are many ways to approach this challenge and we must all use our brains to come up with solutions as we cannot rely on politicians to do so. I note research of Cryogenics is providing specialised refrigeration for space vehicles and helping in the fight to capture carbon and reduce greenhouse gases.We need a mighty effort if we are to prevent more melting of permafrost in the Arctic and thus much more harmful releases of methane to the atmosphere.
But for local greener supplies of CO2 there are signs of progress. Below is an example of one solution which could be expanded around the UK and globally.
Another developing Green Gas operation can be read here. Ecotricity want to ‘Save our Boilers’ as it is planned to replace them across the UK with expensive and unproven Blue Hydrogen pump systems.