Fertilizers are truly at the crossroads of nutrition and energy.
It is widely recognised that mineral fertilizers feed about half of the global population. It explains the abundance of food in Europe, where a large majority of farmers apply fertilizers to enhance the yield and quality of their products. The challenge is to improve the efficiency of fertilizer use, and the solution lies in applying ‘more knowledge per hectare’.
Today’s production of nitrogen fertilizers is energy intensive. Natural gas is used as a raw material to produce ammonia, the building block for all mineral nitrogen fertilizers. But ammonia can also be produced from green electricity, and since ammonia is both easy to transport and a great way of storing energy, it will play a pivotal role in the energy transformation towards a low carbon economy.
The mineral fertilizer industry’s Vision for 2030 falls in two parts: The way fertilizers are used and the way they are produced. In both areas important changes are feasible and likely.
Applying more knowledge per hectare
Applying ‘more knowledge per hectare’ is the key Vision for how fertilizers will be used in 2030. This insight has come from many different contributions. Better fertilizer products and products more targeted to the specific crop, encompassing the latest knowledge and combining different technologies, are an important part of this. So are new tools allowing for real-time assessment of the fertilizer needs of crops in the field which, combined with GPS and intelligent equipment, makes it possible to adjust application so the plants are fed according to their needs. This will be made possible by the farmers and growers of the future who will be even better educated and operate larger units making investment in machinery and knowledge pay a decent return. The application of knowledge will also have a very positive effect on the environment as better and more targeted fertilization will increase the growth of plants and thereby diminish losses to the environment thus leaving more space for biodiversity and nature.
Taking on challenges
‘Taking on challenges’ is the Vision when it comes to the production of fertilizers in 2030. As the major producer of ammonia in Europe, the nitrogen fertilizer industry is likely to play an important role in the storing, transportation and conversion of green energy based on hydrogen, as ammonia is the ‘missing link’ in the coming energy transformation. More flexible production of ammonia will become the norm. The industry will also be challenged by the demand for better and more targeted fertilizers, and it will increase its efforts in terms of innovation and product development, being ready to take advantage of new science and technologies related to plant growth. Finally, the role of the fertilizer industry as a key contributor to the circular economy will be firmly established and new sources of recovered raw materials will be extensively used.
The Vision presented here is forward-looking and underlines that the fertilizer sector can contribute to solving important challenges for our future society. At the same time, it is important to recognise that the mineral fertilizer industry is a global industry. Large amounts of fertilizers are traded between continents and competition between producers is fierce. Policy-makers need therefore to pay attention to the competitive situation of the European industry as a level playing field is crucial for positive development to take place. Furthermore, a policy framework underpinning the positive Vision needs to be created.