The dilemma of nitrogen fertilizers

Nitrogen compounds (such as ammonia, nitrate and nitrite) form an important part of the nutrient cycle for plant growth. Significant advances in food production were made with technologies to ‘fix’ nitrogen from air, and make it available to plants in the form of fertilizers. However, the leakage of nitrogen compounds into waterways is harmful.

Objective of the micro-project Nitrogen compound removal processes (NITRGONE) has been to provide information on means of reducing emissions of nitrogen compounds to the environment. This information is directed to businesses and authorities with responsibility for reducing environmental impacts.

The main source of nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions is from fossil fuel combustion (70%), with transport being a major component of this. Biomass and biofuel also provide a significant emission; hence this requires focus as renewable fuels are promoted.

Tightening emission demands are faced by mining companies, too. Emissions from explosives in mining and road construction are low (0,12%) on a global basis, but they can be locally significant.

NITRGONE was planned to be a pre-project for further development. In the project, literature reviews were made of the technologies for reducing nitrogen compound emissions, both to water and to air. Kola Science Centre prepared a report with 30 references reviewing 13 technologies for reducing nitrogen compounds in water. University of Oulu have studied these, and a further three. SINTEF has focused on emissions to air, particularly from combustion processes and agriculture and added a further 9 technologies to the list. Lab testing was made of three technologies.

This pre-project has established the basis for a main project, in terms of the emission sources and the available technologies for treatment. Contact with prospective end-users has also been established. So the potential for a main project on the topic of nitrogen compound removal was confirmed. However, the situation with Russia and Ukraine from Feb 2022 meaning the likely discontinuation of the Kolarctic NEXT programme poses difficulties for the pre-project’s proposed continuation. 

Project: Nitrogen compound removal processes (NITRGONE)

Lead partner: SINTEF Narvik A.S., Norway

Other partners: 

  • University of Oulu
  • Kola Science Centre

Basic information about the project in KEEP database