The world needs to produce more food, but it also needs to reduce emissions. Farmers need solutions that improve their production and environmental footprint, while at the same time being economical. Milk processors and food industry need new ways to reduce the footprint of their supply chain to meet their net zero goals.
In fact, according to the UN by 2030 the world’s population would have increased by 11 percent to 8.6 billion people which means there will be a 21 percent increase on the demand for dairy “milk”. As part of the Green Deal the European Commission set up the “From farm to fork” strategy aimed at shifting the current EU food model towards a more sustainable model. One of the strategy’s goals is to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers by 50 percent until 2030. To tackle this challenge GEA partnered up with the Norwegian Agri-Tech company, N2 Applied, to present a sustainable alternative for chemical fertilizers while simultaneously reducing ammonia and methane emissions from livestock slurry. And all this is done locally on the farm using only air and electricity.
The challenge of ammonia and methane losses
Liquid manure – known as slurry – can greatly contribute to a more sustainable farming, but how? Livestock slurry is a natural fertilizer providing nutrients for plants and organic matter that improves soil health and enables better growth. However, the nitrogen content is relatively low for the optimum fertilization of most crops, and the loss of nitrogen during slurry storage and field application can be significant. The lost nitrogen ends up as pollution in the form of ammonia, but this loss also increases the need for chemical fertilizer. Manure management in combination with chemical fertilizer production and application is one of the major sources of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture.
Improve global food production by increasing yield and reducing emissions
To make up for the losses, chemical fertilizers are produced using fossil fuels like gas and coal to power the production and are then transported globally to provide farmers with the nutrients they need to grow crops and vegetables. “It is well known that besides high emissions related to production and transport, there are high losses of nitrogen and laughing gas (N2O) during and after field application.’’ explains Trond Lund, Head of Business Development of N2 Applied. The aim is to find a way to improve global food production by increasing yield and reducing emissions.
How we manage to solve this challenge using plasma technology
The new technology enables local production of fertilizer by processing slurry, using only air and electricity. The processing significantly reduces harmful emissions and produces an efficient fertilizer that improves crop yield at the same time. This solution uses so-called plasma technology. By using electricity and air it adds nitrogen from the air directly into slurry, which increases the nitrogen content. In addition, the processing of slurry also prevents the loss of ammonia and eliminates methane emissions, making it a favorable solution to help meet climate target commitments on an industrial scale.
The plasma technology is truly innovative, it works just like lightning- where input of energy splits the molecule structure of the air. By using electricity and air to produce a plasma gas, the lightning is simulated in a scalable machine. The plasma gas is subsequently absorbed into the liquid manure stream.
The end-product is a nitrogen enriched organic fertilizer (NEO), which has the same characteristics as normal slurry, but contains more nitrogen and significantly less emissions. It can still be spread using existing farm equipment, enabling farmers to improve their own food production, reduce the need for chemical fertilizer, and make farming more circular.
Better for farmers
This new solution literally shifts centralized nitrogen fertilizer production in fossil-based industry to local on-farm production by using only renewable electricity and air.Farmers can now produce fertilizer on the farm instead of buying chemical fertilizer. It supplies farmers with cost effective sustainable fertilizer, making them less dependent on the chemical fertilizer supply chain.
Besides the independency of chemical fertilizers, reducing ammonia and methane emissions helps farmers to comply with regulations and to further improve their greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint. The processing lowers the pH of slurry without adding chemicals. The acidification of slurry reduces 95 percent of the ammonia emissions in storage and field application while the plasma treatment in all reduces 99.9 percent of the methane emissions. The combined effects reduce the farm’s carbon footprint up to 30 percent, increases crop yield by 40 percent and reduces air pollution by 50 percent.
Another great side effect is that the strong smell of the slurry and the odor nuisance for surrounding residents is noticeably reduced.
Treating biogas digestate
Besides treating livestock slurry, the technology is also suitable to treat biogas digestate. This is similar to treating slurry as it also results in a higher nitrogen content of the biogas digestate and reduces ammonia and methane emissions. An important fact since digestates generally have a higher ammonia-N content and high pH and often show high ammonia and methane emissions in storage and field application. Plasma treatment can also add value to anaerobic digestion installations.
"The new technology is a vital step to support sustainable farming practices and our approach to next generation farming to feed the world for the better", claims Adel Sharifi, Head of Channel and Business Development at GEA, Farm Technologies Division.
If you want to experience our next generation farming solutions for milking, feeding and manure live, visit us at EuroTier Hanover in hall 13 booth C26.