Essay by Eric Worrall
The UN has been pushing poor, fossil fuel rich African countries to embrace intolerably expensive green solutions to their food production problems.
How Transformative Innovation Can Shift the Needle on Climate Change
15 December 2022
UN Climate Change News, 15 December 2022 – At the UN Climate Change Conference COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh in November, government delegates and a variety of experts highlighted crucial innovative approaches to tackle climate change notably in the areas of energy, food and buildings at Global Innovation Hub dialogues organized by the UN Climate Change secretariat.
Green hydrogen for the first time in the focus as a major solution to climate change
At COP27, participants for the first time heavily focused on green hydrogen as a key component of the transformation to clean energy, which is essential to achieve the central Paris Agreement goal of holding global average temperature rise to as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Whilst representatives of the African countries Mauritania and Namibia explained that their countries were keen to capitalize on the potential of green hydrogen and to develop industries while creating jobs, they also noted a further key area in which green hydrogen can be deployed: boosting food production with the help of zero-carbon ammonia fertilizer produced with the help of hydrogen. Ammonia production is very energy-intensive and presently causes around 1.8% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
“At this stage, exporting hydrogen is challenging in terms of transport and efficiency. Ammonia seems to the be the one of the ready solutions, there is a market already for that,” said Khoumbaly Lebhbid of Mauritania’s Ministry of Petroleum, Mines and Energy.
Mauritania and Namibia don’t need experimental solutions, they need tried and tested solutions, which can solve their food shortages and poverty. And such solutions are available.
Commercial ammonia production in the West requires vast quantities of fossil fuel. Mauritania has one of the largest natural gas deposits in Africa. Namibia also has large oil and gas deposits. Both nations are struggling to attract investment to develop the resources – but the resources are there, waiting to be exploited.
So why would the UN push something like green hydrogen, which has yet to demonstrate cost competitiveness in the real world?
I suspect, and this is only a guess, that the UN would like Mauritania and Namibia to leave their fossil fuel deposits in the ground. And they might be getting some help from people inside the Mauritanian and Namibian governments.
If Mauritania and Namibia drilled a few gas wells, and used well known, commercial processes to produce Ammonia, they could vastly improve food production almost overnight, as well as producing substantial quantities of a valuable export product.
Dilute Ammonia can be applied directly to plants as fertiliser, without any further processing.
Whenever I wash out the pet room, I sometimes throw the waste dilute Ammonia floor cleaner on my citrus trees. The results have been spectacular – in my subtropical back yard, my fruit trees put on inches of growth whenever I apply the ammonia. The ammonia doesn’t seem to build up in the soil, my guess is any ammonia which isn’t absorbed simply evaporates or washes away.
But Ammonia which evaporates from fields is a greenhouse gas. And the production of Ammonia releases large quantities of CO2, both to compress the gasses to the enormous temperature and pressure required, and from steam reforming fossil fuel to produce hydrogen, one of the components required for Ammonia synthesis.
N2 + 3H2 = 2NH3 (Ammonia)
I don’t know why Khoumbaly Lebhbid of Mauritania’s Ministry of Petroleum, Mines and Energy, whoever he is, is speaking in support of UN plans to divert his nation into an unproductive dead end like green ammonia production.