Toronto's FuelPositive says it can break the agriculture industry from the grip of fossil fuel-based fertilizers with a system that outputs green ammonia utilizing just water, air and clean energy.
Production of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, or grey ammonia, is responsible for 2.1 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and 10.6 per cent of agricultural emissions, according to a recent study published in Nature.
That contrasts with green ammonia, which is produced via sustainable means such as renewable energy.
Ian Clifford, CEO of FuelPositive, said the company is in a “disruptive sector where we’re taking a centralized commodity of grey ammonia and we’re saying, ‘No, we can do it. Farmers can do it much cheaper, much more effectively and eliminate one of their biggest worries on an annual basis and that is the cost of fertilizer, the availability of fertilizer, which are in most farming applications their biggest input.’”
FuelPositive’s green ammonia production system
The company’s on-farm, modular and scalable system consists of a nitrogen generator that produces nitrogen from air, a water electrolyser that produces hydrogen from water, and an ammonia synthesis converter that generates anhydrous (waterless) ammonia from the hydrogen and air.
If powered by clean electricity, it can produce approximately 100 tonnes of green ammonia annually, according to Clifford.
While every farm is different due to the size, soil, crops and weather, Clifford said FuelPositive’s system can produce enough fertilizer to supply a 2,000-acre operation growing, for example, canola or potatoes.
He said it can run independent of inputs from farmers: “We’re not designing systems that are going to create more work for farmers. On the contrary, we want to simplify their lives with our technology and give them security around price and supply for decades to come.”
The systems are built in 20-foot containers so they are easy to move and deploy. They are remotely monitored by FuelPositive for optimization and control. Clifford said it eliminates overhead, time and cost for farmers.
Each system will cost around $950,000, which Clifford said will give the farmers a return on investment within five to eight years.
Clifford said each tonne of green ammonia produced with FuelPositive’s system can eliminate 2.5 to four tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year.
The Manitoba pilot
FuelPositive is demonstrating its first full-scale commercial system on an 11,000-acre farm outside of Winnipeg. It will be commissioned in late December or early January and run for one year.
Manitoba’s green grid will power it at a cost of about $0.06 per kW-h for electricity. The financial advantage is significant, Clifford claims, with FuelPositive producing anhydrous ammonia at a quarter of the cost of commercial ammonia.
The demonstration will run the system through the gauntlet of temperatures as low as -30C with heavy snowfall, challenging its robustness. The systems are expected to run for 30 to 40 years without refurbishment.
A second and third system are being built simultaneously and are expected to be released soon. The goal is to scale up manufacturing over the next 18 months with the target of mass production in 2024.
To accommodate the rapid growth, Clifford said FuelPositive plans to expand during the coming year from 25 employees to "about 10 times of the size” as it enters the manufacturing stage.
FuelPositive plans to mass produce its systems in Canada to eliminate supply chain issues that have plagued the global economy.
Building resilience for farmers
Development of FuelPositive’s system comes in a time when fertilizer markets are roiled by the war in Ukraine. Fertilizer prices skyrocketed and remain high, placing immense financial stress on farmers and contributing to high global inflation.
Clifford said the system could play a “huge” role in alleviating economic and mental stresses facing farmers due to fertilizer costs rising 400 per cent in the past 18 months.
The proof of its value is in pre-sale inquiries, he said, and that FuelPositive plans mass production over incremental scale-up – a “clear indicator” of the level of demand, Clifford said.
“It ties directly into global food security. We need farmers to have extremely resilient operations to have security on a global level.”
The technology, he argued, is a disruption sorely needed for the sake of the environment and farmers.
“It’s not sustainable, it’s very, very challenging to change grey ammonia production the way it’s produced today," he said. "We’re absolutely all about disruption.
"Farmers need that disruption because we can’t keep doing things the way we’ve been doing things for the last 100 years. It has to change, and farmers understand that and are very excited to be part of that change for sure.”