Improving our understanding of the impact of “green ammonia” on climate change and the environment
Impending technological innovation to produce ammonia using renewable energy, known as “green ammonia,” offers both transformational opportunities and disruptive hazards. In the transportation sector, green ammonia is a viable and promising option to decarbonize the marine transportation sector, but doing so would likely triple the amount of reactive nitrogen (N) that humans introduce to the biosphere, which could exacerbate coastal pollution, disrupt oceanic N cycling, and increase nitrous oxide emissions.
In the agricultural sector, green ammonia technology could lead to decentralization of fertilizer production, which stands in contrast to the current centralized, carbon-intensive production methods. This shift could enhance fertilizer use and bolster food production in countries where N fertilizer accessibility has been limited, thus improving crop production, economic prosperity, nutrition, and food security. It could also enable farmers in industrialized countries to improve the timing and dosing of fertilizer to better match crop needs and thereby reduce N losses. However, more abundantly available N fertilizer could also exacerbate the current severe environmental problems of N losses to air and water from overuse and inefficient use of N fertilizers.
Although this technological transformation appears to be close at hand, we are only beginning to contemplate the wide-ranging consequences, both good and bad, that are likely to ensue. Several green ammonia plants are already planned or under construction in Australia, South Africa, and the U.S. with production capacity ranging from several hundred, to a million tons per year, and modular on-farm units are being produced in Canada and elsewhere. Hence, it is both necessary and urgent to identify and examine the potential benefits and unintended consequences of green ammonia development.
The U.S. National Science Foundation, U.K. Research and Innovation, and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada have jointly funded a new global center to address the emerging opportunity and challenge of “green ammonia” to provide clean energy and support food production while mitigating climate change. The Global Nitrogen Innovation Center for Clean Energy and the Environment (NICCEE), spearheaded by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) with key partners in the U.S. (New York University and University of Massachusetts Amherst), Canada (University of Guelph), and the U.K. (Rothamsted Research), will provide timely and crucial insights associated with the rapidly evolving technological innovation to produce ammonia using renewable energy for clean energy and food production.
NICCEE also involves collaborators from eight countries; across academia, NGOs, international organizations, government agencies, and private companies. These partnerships not only offer complementary expertise, but also present a diverse portfolio of opportunities to investigate the emerging challenges and possibilities of green ammonia technologies. Our collaborators include (in alphabetical order):
- Africa Plant Nutrition Institute
- Agribusiness Council of Indiana
- Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada
- Ammonia Energy Association
- Canola Council of Canada
- China Agricultural University
- Delaware-Maryland 4R Alliance
- Environment and Climate Change Canada
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Fertilizer Canada
- Harbor Launch
- International Fertilizer Association (IFA)
- McGill University
- Mohammed VI Polytechnic University
- Ontario Soil and Crop Improvement Association
- Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
- The Mill
- The Nature Conservancy
- United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
- United States Geological Survey
- Universidad Politécnica de Madrid
- University of Manitoba
- University of Saskatchewan
NICCEE will serve as an information hub with state-of-the-art cyberinfrastructure to monitor the lifecycle and effects of nitrogen in agriculture-food-energy systems, an innovation platform to facilitate the co-development of technological and socioeconomic solutions with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, and an education center to nurture the next generation of scientists and innovators championing sustainable and climate-smart nitrogen management.
This site is under active development. Check back frequently to learn more. Contact Xin Zhang with any questions.
NICCEE extends sincere appreciation for our sponsors: U.S. National Science Foundation, U.K. Research and Innovation, and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.