Carbon footprinting in the fertilizer industry as an essential part of managing climate change

12 November 2019

The EU has the ambition to lead by example in meeting the targets set in the Paris Agreement and to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Carbon accounting is key to advance these ambitions. A famous business aphorism explains it rather well: what gets measured gets managed. While measuring GHG emissions alone cannot save the planet, it is undoubtedly an essential part of managing climate change.

International Fertilizer Association estimates that fertilizer industry represents 2.5% of the global GHG emissions, including 1.5% related to fertilizer use (IFA, 2016). The production of nitrogen fertilizers is characterised by high carbon-intensity due to its use of fossil fuels, mainly natural gas, as fuel and feedstock, whereas GHG emissions related to fertilizer use are mainly nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions due to the soil effects of fertilization.

Commissioned by Fertilizers Europe, the European mineral fertilizer manufacturers’ association, the Carbon Footprint Calculator was first developed in 2014 and serves as a tool for assessing direct and indirect GHG emissions related to the production of selected fertilizer products. It follows the “cradle to gate” approach where emissions associated with all stages of the product life are taken into account, from the raw material extraction, energy supply, the manufacturing process to the product storage at the production site[1]. The tool is available for free at:

The tool calculates GHG emissions for selected fertilizers based on production parameters for ammonia and nitric acid. These values can subsequently be used in calculating emission factors required in the Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) calculators for the products in the broader agri-food chain, such as the Cool Farm Tool.

The Carbon Footprint Calculator facilitates companies’ internal and external carbon accounting, e.g. for legal or corporate social responsibility (CSR) purposes. In the case of external reporting, an independent auditor is required to verify the data used as input in the calculator[1].

The ability to assess and monitor emissions is key to identify the most effective abatement strategies, set the reduction targets and communicate the results. It could also be used to establish the cost of carbon emissions associated with products, services, etc. in future carbon pricing mechanisms.

Based on EU and other regions data, the Carbon Footprint Calculator provides a comparison of the carbon footprint of ammonium nitrate (AN), calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN), urea and urea ammonium nitrate (UAN with 30% nitrogen content) produced in the EU and other regions, both in terms of product tonnes and nitrogen tonnes. Importantly, urea’s carbon footprint includes CO2 that is temporarily stored in the product but emitted upon use.

The results of the calculations made with the tool indicate that the EU industry represents the least emission-intensive production (per tonne of product and nutrient) for all fertilizers presented, with the exception of urea produced in Oceania. The EU average carbon footprint is lower than in other regions mainly due to the higher average energy efficiency of EU plants and GHG abatement technology, primarily nitrous oxide abatement in the nitric acid installations. Coal-based fertilizer production in China has the highest carbon footprint worldwide due the high carbon-intensity of the fuel and feedstock.

Leading the global fertilizer manufacturing in energy efficiency and emission abatement technologies, the EU industry developed tools that allow businesses and individuals to be better informed on the fertilizer products they produce, use or research. Based on robust methodology and verified data, the Carbon Footprint Calculator and the Cool Farm Tool are uniquely equipped to calculate and combine the carbon footprint data of fertilizers across different products, raw materials and regions, throughout the whole life cycle.

[1] The details of the Carbon Footprint Calculator and the calculations results have been described based on the paper Hoxha, A., & Christensen, B. (2018). The Carbon Footprint of Fertiliser Production: Regional Reference Values. Proceedings 805. Prague: International Fertiliser Society.

Article Published on Fertilizer Focus Magazine.

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