A shared ambition of developing clean hydrogen is aimed at allowing fertiliser giant, Yara, realise a much lower low carbon footprint for its fertiliser production.

In an agreement signed last month, Yara and hi-tech Norwegian business, Nel, confirmed the move to use hydrogen power to reduce the use of carbons fuels. With fertiliser production requiring substantial amounts of power, the move is seen as a massive step towards a more sustainable source of fertiliser.

The project is based on Nel’s development of new water electrolyser technology that will be tested at Yara’s existing plant in Porsgrunn, Norway. The goal is to produce hydrogen from renewable sources to be fed into an existing ammonia plant, which will either be used in fertiliser production or used as green ammonia.

The project is supported by Norway's Research Council, Innovation Norway and Enova through the PILOT-E programme, a funding scheme that aims to speed up the development and implementation of green energy technology.

“We’re excited to formally launch the partnership with Nel and work towards developing green ammonia and low carbon fertiliser. Yara’s mission is to responsibly feed the world and protect the planet," said Tove Andersen, a senior figure in Yara's production cycle.

"We have already removed about half of our direct greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the past few decades, and we’re working towards carbon neutrality by 2050. Producing fertiliser with carbon free hydrogen will be a very important step towards that goal.”

Initially, Yara pondered how to produce fertiliser using only air, water, sun, wind and rocks. The answer would have to be a sustainable, energy effective and commercially viable solution, but interestingly, the way forward was found by looking back into Yara’s own history.

The electrolyser – nearly a century old technology that was made uncompetitive by the low cost of fossil energy – was brought back into play. This produces hydrogen from water using electricity and Nel is developing a next generation electrolyser, with the prototype due to be tested at Porsgrunn.

The capacity of the electrolyser will be 5mW corresponding to 1% of the hydrogen production in the plant. It is expected to be installed in 2022.

“We are pleased with the partnership with Nel. Our ammonia plant will make the first small step towards carbon-free fertiliser production. When further developed, Yara Porsgrunn will be in a unique position also due to the low carbon footprint from our nitric acid plants,” said Jon Sletten, plant manager in Porsgrunn.