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The connection between the Hydrogen energy hype, fertilizers and the fossil fuel industry

Why the synthetic fertilizer industry loves fossil fuels:
Synthetic fertilizers producers rely on fossil fuels as their main input. Through multiple industrial processes fossil gas is converted to the fertilizer Ammonia (NH₃). As fossil gas has been accepted by the EU as a “sustainable energy source”, fertilizers produced from this can be called called “blue” or “clean”. The fossil industry’s latest greenwashing efforts through advertising “carbon capture and storage (CCS)” is another strategy the fertilizer industry are adopting.

Why the fossil fuel industry loves synthetic fertilizers:
Synthetic fertilzers such as Ammonia are petrochemicals. Another example is plastics. For the production of petrochemicals fossil fuels are not only used as an energy provider but also as feedstock. Fossil gas is the main raw material used to produce Hydrogen as a first step to Ammonia production. The petrochemical industry is expected to be be a main consumer of fossil fuels by 2050, meaning the main provider of profits.

Why the fossil fuel industry loves Hydrogen:
Currently, 96% of global Hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels, mostly gas. As sectors such as energy and transport are cutting carbon emissions under climate policy, the fossil industry needs new costumers. Hydrogen and Ammonia can be sold as “clean” and “blue” if they include carbon capture and storage, allowing the fossil industry to continue selling gas. Additionally, most projects that offer carbon capture and storage have so far either failed, are failing or actually use the CO2 to extract more fossil fuels, leading to more emissions down the line.

Why the Hydrogen industry loves fossil fuels:
The connection is simple: the cheapest way to produce Hydrogen currently is using fossil gas. Fossil gas and water in steam form are combined and with the energy from burning even more gas, Hydrogen is produced (this is called steam reforming process). If the resulting carbon emissions are captured and stored, this hydrogen can be labelled “Blue Hydrogen”. This is presented as a climate neutral energy source, despite unavoidable high greenhouse gas emissions during production (particularly Methane) and energy inefficiency.

Why the synthetic fertilizer industry loves hydrogen:
The basis of synthetic fertilizers is Ammonia (NH₃). It is produced through chemical processes that synthesise Nitrogen (N) and Hydrogen (H). As a first step fertilizer companies therefore produce Hydrogen, almost always from fossil gas. With the hydrogen hype and subsidies becoming available, this part of the business can be extended. Equally impoartant: Ammonia is marketed as the most efficient and safe way to transport Hydrogen, thus another market opportunity.

Why the Hydrogen industry loves synthetic fertilizers:
Planning with Hydrogen is becoming a staple in global, and particularly EU, climate policies. It is sold as an energy carrier that can be carbon-free, satisfy industrial energy needs and replaces the need for battery storage. For this Hydrogen needs to be produced quickly, cheaply and transported widely. Through the fertilizer infrastructure, Hydrogen and Ammonia (which contains Hydrogen and is easier to transport) production and distribution can be accelerated.

Case study: Yara Int. A showcase of profit driven venture into new markets

Yara is Europe’s biggest industrial fossil gas consumer using it as feedstock and energy carrier for their fertilizer production. They recently introduced their new subsiduary “Yara Clean Ammonia” with which they want to enter the Hydrogen economy. A lot of their profits flow into lobbying decision-makers to commit to inscribing Hydrogen into climate policies and decarbonisation plans. Since they market their Ammonia as a Hydrogen carrier they have received already many subsidies from the EU to expand these projects by getting involved in unreliable large-scale offshore CCS projects, they greenwash their own production while making profits

Video of a disruptive action during the European Hydrogen Conference. The activists targeted YARA, one of the main sponsors of the conference!


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