Whenever the environmental impact of applying fertiliser to golf courses is discussed, it is usually the potential pollution from excessive feeding, leaching and run-off that is the main concern. However, a recent technological development has raised another issue which is related to the actual manufacture of fertiliser products.
UK supermarket chain Waitrose has teamed up with energy storage and clean fuel company ITM Power Project to design and build a lower-impact system for the production of industrial fertiliser.
Industrial fertiliser production, which involves converting natural gas and other fossil fuels into ammonia, is responsible for a substantial proportion of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to Yara, one of the world’s leading producers and suppliers of mineral fertilisers, most of the energy consumption in the nitrogen fertiliser chain is during the production phase. They have calculated that it takes the most efficient fertiliser plants 0.6 kg of natural gas to make one kilogramme of nitrogen as ammonia or ammonium nitrate and 0.75 kg to make urea, equivalent to 0.8 and 0.93 kg respectively of fuel oil. A golf course may apply 30 kg of nitrogen to its greens in a single application of fertiliser. If you multiply that up by the number of applications a year (plus any feed to green surrounds, fairways and tees), and then by the number of golf courses in the world (estimated at around 30,000), you end up with a lot of energy being used in the production of fertiliser for golf courses.
This new project will demonstrate the de-carbonization of fertiliser production. The hydrogen that is central to creating ammonia will be produced through the electrolysis of water using renewable energy, therefore decoupling ammonia production from fossil fuels. The project will be piloted in England.
Fertiliser production is certainly far more energy efficient than it was 20 years ago. However, if Yara is quoting figures from efficient fertiliser plants, one can only speculate on the carbon footprint of fertiliser production from inefficient ones. If you are keen to operate in a sustainable procurement chain, you should find out how much energy is used producing the fertiliser and other products you buy. Hopefully, the new technology being piloted will eventually result in the production of fertiliser with a much lower environmental impact.