International Fertiliser Society (ifs) 2023 conference summary banner

2023 IFS Conference

Combining Agronomic and Technical presentations

The Society’s 2023 Conference was held at Robinson College, Cambridge, UK on 6-8 December

Following the success of our first combined conference in 2022, our 2023 event had a similar structure. It included presentations both for delegates with crop nutrition and fertiliser production interests, as well as some of general interest. As well as a variety of relevant and interesting presentations, it provided unique opportunities to meet, discuss topics of common interest and build relationships with people working in different parts of the fertiliser and crop nutrition supply chain.

The Conference featured a total of twenty one papers, eight of which covered topics of interest to those involved with crop nutrition, eight were of interest to those involved with fertiliser production, while five joint presentations were of interest to all. In addition there was a discussion panel session of interest to all delegates, addressing the question ‘Are we facing the end of commodity fertilisers?’.

All presentations and the discussion panel were viewable as a live stream, with remote delegates being able to put questions to the speakers, download written papers and view pdf copies of the posters.

The eight agronomic papers covered topics such as the optimisation and value of organic fertilisers and materials, fertilisation for forage production, management parameters for sustainable crop production, new results on protein prediction test for milling wheat, and examples of the use of innovative technology to aid crop nutrient management.

The eight production papers covered topics such as low energy urea production, urea prilling, multipurpose granulation technology, advanced process control, detection of hazardous gases, N2O abatement, low cadmium phosphate fertilisers and extracting sulphur from phosphogypsum.

The five papers of joint interest covered nitrogen recycling and white ammonia, the potentially disruptive effects of new types of fertiliser, new ways to reduce emissions from manure and urea, developments with nanofertilisation, and the 33rd Francis New Memorial lecture.

The Brian Chambers Award for early career research in crop nutrition offers 1st prize of £1000, and 2 additional prizes of £500 each

The presentations were augmented by a varied display of posters, while the Conference hosted the final of the 2023 Brian Chambers International Award for Early Career Researchers in Crop Nutrition.

There were also ample opportunities for valuable networking, including the Conference dinner.

For those in the UK, attendance at this conference was awarded 12 BASIS FACTS CPD points allocated as follows: 7 PN points, 3 PD points, 1 E point and 1 AP point.

2023 IFS Conference will include the popular poster sessionThe programme on Thursday 7th December ran from 09.15 to 17.15. It included separate presentations for those interested in either crop nutrition or fertiliser production, as well as the popular poster session. The Conference Dinner on 8th December started with a drinks reception at 19.30. The dinners on the Wednesday and Thursday evenings were both inclusive of wine and thus provide excellent value.

The Friday session ran from 09.00 – 13.00, followed by lunch. It consisted of two separate presentations for crop nutrition and production delegates, followed by a joint session which included the 33rd Francis New Memorial lecture and the discussion panel referred to above.

Guided walking tour of Cambridge
Guided walking tour of Cambridge

Delegates’ enjoyment of the event was enhanced by two ‘lighter’ activities that had been organised. On the morning of Wednesday 6 and afternoon of Friday 8 December, delegates could take a guided walking tour of the historic and lovely heart of Cambridge, whilst those staying in Robinson College were welcome to participate in a ‘high energy’ team quiz after dinner on the Wednesday evening. This is a great way to meet other delegates and have some fun.

Abstracts of the papers to be presented can be read below.

The registration fee for the full conference was £450 + VAT (where applicable), but Society Members benefited from a reduced fee of £290 + VAT.  This included lunch on all three days. There were discounted registrations available for full time students, at a registration fee of £160 + VAT (accommodation and dinners still had to be paid for).

Most delegates stay in Robinson College, or other ones close by, to maximise networking opportunities, as Cambridge hotels are some distance away. College accommodation and dinners could be booked via the registration form.

Sponsors

The Society is grateful to these organisations for supporting this conference. Click on the logos for more information.

Abstracts

Wednesday 6th December 2023

All the presentations on Wednesday were of interest to both delegates interested in crop nutrition, and those interested in fertiliser production. 

Wednesday 6th December 2023
11.30-13.00Guided walking tour of historic Cambridge
MAIN AUDITORIUM PRESENTATIONS
14.00Conference program starts
White ammonia: perspectives for recycling nitrogen to fertilisers
Ludwig Hermann, ESPP, France
Future fertilisers and disruption of established business
Mike Bradley, The Wolfson Centre for Bulk Solids Handling Technology, UK
Tea / coffee break
Ammonia emissions from urea and manure slurry reduced using Polysulphate
Cristian Terrones, ICL Group, Netherlands
Unleashing the potential of nanofertilisation
Soren Husted, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
17.40 (approx.)Conference program ends
19.00 – 20.00Dinner
20.15 – 21.15Team Quiz

White ammonia: perspectives for recycling nitrogen to fertilisers

Ludwig Hermann, European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform, France

With the natural gas supply and price crisis, possible recycling of nitrogen from waste streams to fertilisers is in the spotlight, leading to the concept of “White Ammonia”. A wide range of possible routes exists. Local recycling to agriculture, e.g. of manure or other organic wastes, already contains approximately as much nitrogen input as mineral fertilisers. Significant nitrogen is however lost (e.g. in ammonia emissions) or used inefficiently (geographic or temporal misbalance between manure production and crop needs). Possible routes for recycling nitrogen to organic fertilisers which can be stored, transported, applied and used by crops include production of biomass (algae, monocellular protein), plasma N fixation/stabilisation (e.g. N2 Applied), CO2 – N fixation in organic materials (e.g. CCm Technologies Ltd.). The main route currently developed to recover nitrogen as a mineral fertiliser include fixing gaseous ammonia (e.g. stripped from digestate or manure, or from stable offgas) or nitrogen oxides (from combustion or industry offgas) into acids. However, this results in dilute solutions of ammonia, ammonium sulphate, etc (at best 5-8 % N/weight , often very much lower) which are not feasibly recyclable (logistics, cost) except in specific local circumstances (waste energy enabling concentration, nearby industrial user). Concentration technologies such as membranes, electrodialysis, vacuum drying, ion exchange are much researched but face considerable economic and operating obstacles. Technologies exist to extract ammonia from liquid or gas streams (adsorbents, struvite, ionic solvents) with regeneration then releasing ammonia gas, but to date no technology seems to enable the capture and compression/liquification of this ammonia gas for transport and recycling.

This presentation will overview current knowledge both of research and industrial implementation of nitrogen recovery, based on two in-depth ESPP workshops (Jan. 2023, June 2023), the SCOPE Newsletter summary of N-recovery science today (underway) and ongoing work of the ESPP Nitrogen Recovery Working Group.

Future Fertilisers and Disruption of Established Business

Mike Bradley, The Wolfson Centre for Bulk Solids Handling Technology, UK

Supporting the large population of our planet would be impossible without the application of fertilisers to our agricultural soils, and the importance of this is only going to grow.  But the production and use of fertilisers has a significant carbon footprint due to the energy and resources used for manufacture and transport.  How do we break this Gordian knot?  

The use of renewable energy for fertiliser manufacture, in particular nitrogen fixation via the Haber process, which is by far the largest consumer, is an option but this takes renewable energy away from other users.  However there are other options that are being looked at.  The use of more bio-based materials as process feedstocks and energy sources is leading to an increased availability of residues, some of which have potentially promising uses as fertilisers.  There are some problems with these, notably contamination and issues with labelling as “waste”, the solutions to which require some creative thinking and collaboration, between companies and also between government departments that have not worked together previously.  At the same time there is potential for more intelligent use of existing bio-waste streams for soil beneficiation, but these are not without problems to be overcome.  Another development just coming into the market is biological nitrogen fixation in the field, potentially reducing or even eliminating the need for obtaining fixed nitrogen from the Haber process. 

One thing in common with all these materials is that their handling properties are very different from current fertilisers, which has major consequences for transport, storage and application.  This will have serious repercussions for the methods and equipment needed for production, formatting into saleable materials, handling and distribution chains and application methods.

This paper will review and evaluate some of the options that are under consideration or potentially available, and the developments that may be required to make the most of these available secondary resources to reduce our reliance on primary materials for soil fertilisation.

Ammonia emissions from urea and manure slurry reduced using Polysulphate

Cristian Terrones, ICL Group, Netherlands

Agriculture is the main source of ammonia emissions to the atmosphere is agriculture, accounting for over 80% of emissions (Wyer, K. et al, 2022).  Mahmud, K. et al (2021) estimates global ammonia emissions of 45 Tg/year, although other researchers have proposed even higher values.  This pathway of nitrogen losses does not only represent a direct economic loss to farmers, but it also contributes significantly to eutrophication and acidification of natural ecosystems, as well as being a threat to human health due to formation of fine particles (PM2.5) that can cause lung diseases (Sommer, S. et al 2019).

Significant attention has been given to the development of solutions to reduce volatilisation from inorganic fertilisers, however less than 20% of all ammonia emitted from agriculture is linked to these products. The main source of ammonia volatilisation is animal production and the manure it produces.  The losses are at all stages of production, such as stables and poultry houses, manure storage and manure application.  For this reason, the only way to make a real impact in reducing ammonia emissions will be to create solutions aimed at animal manure related emissions. ICL has found that Polysulphate can provide a natural mitigation of the ammonia problem since it can help reduce its volatilisation from both mineral nitrogen and manure.

A laboratory study was conducted to compare emissions from conventional urea with those from granulated Polysulphate with urea (using different ratios). For this work, four soils were used with contrasting physical and chemical characteristics. Over a period of 14 days the ammonia emissions from the Polysulphate with urea were significantly lower than those from urea alone on all soils, but at different levels.  On average a reduction of ammonia emissions of 25-35% was observed.

Unleashing the potential of nanofertilisation

Soren Husted, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Despite continuous progress in the development of more efficient fertilisers and fertilisation strategies, poor nutrient use efficiency (NUE) remains a major obstacle in the green transition of agriculture which is aimed at securing crop productivity and quality while minimising adverse environmental impacts. The inefficiency of conventional fertilisers is related to the inherent chemical properties of essential plant nutrients. For example, several nutrients (e.g. P, Mn, Fe, Zn) may become unavailable to plants following soil application, due to chemical fixation and microbial immobilisation. Other nutrients are lost into the aquatic environment via leaching or into the atmosphere via volatilisation. For instance, only half of the globally applied fertiliser N is utilised by crops, causing eutrophication, soil acidification and greenhouse gas emissions. Due to the low NUE of soil-applied fertilisers, nutrients are often applied in quantities far exceeding crop requirements. This wasteful practice represents an environmental threat, an economic loss for farmers, and an unsustainable use of natural resources.

To support a sustainable intensification of agriculture it is clear that crop production needs innovative solutions far more effective than the current portfolio of soil- and foliar-based fertilisers. Nanotechnology has an obvious potential to generate new and powerful tools for smart delivery of agrochemicals, including growth regulators, pesticides and fertilisers. Recent advances, especially within biomedical research, are now providing exciting tools that await implementation in agriculture. Extrapolating these advances to plant nutrition will allow design of nanofertilisers capable of delivering nutrients according to crop needs via a time-dependent or stimulus-responsive release. These advances open brand new avenues for the development of engineered nanoparticles (NPs) to improve NUE.

This IFS presentation aims at providing a broad overview on how recent advances in nanotechnology have been utilised in plant nutrition, reporting both the progress made and the challenges still to be overcome. It will show recent experimental data showing how we have developed biocompatible foliar and soil based nanofertilisers to improve nutrient uptake in a range of crop plants. The implications of these developments for the production of fertilisers will also be covered.

Thursday 7th December 2023

On Thursday there were separate presentations for those interested in either crop nutrition or fertiliser production. The crop nutrition abstracts are shown first, with the production ones below.

Thursday 7th December 2023
MAIN AUDITORIUM PRESENTATIONSUMNEY THEATRE PRESENTATIONS
9.15Conference program starts
Optimising crop production by combining organic-based and mineral fertilizer sources: Agronomic performance, soil and environmental considerations
Andres Rangel Becerra, Yara GmbH & Co, Germany
Experiences with Ultra-Low Energy Plant Operation
Chuanbo Gao, Stamicarbon, Netherlands
Plant-availability of sulphur in slurries and digestates: a review
Prof Jørgen Eriksen, Aarhus University, Denmark
New granulation technology for urea and multi-nutrient fertilisers
Ken Monstrey, Casale, Switzerland
Tea / coffee break
Protein prediction and beyond; what can roots tell us about the N status of wheat?
Mechteld Blake-Kalff and Laurence Blake, Hill Court Research, UK
Golden batch – digital optimisation of NPK fertiliser production
Marianne Ytterbø, Yara International, Norway
A new data-driven approach for more efficient forage production
Anders Rognlien, Yara International, Norway
Sensing and locating ammonia and other gaseous leaks over large areas
Simon Bunegar, Grand perspective, Germany
Lunch
Poster session
Digital technologies for field vegetables and potatoes: availability and potentials
Lizzie Sagoo, ADAS, UK
Nitric Acid Emission Monitoring: A Moving Target
David Inward, SICK AG, Germany
Digital tools for precise crop nutrition: showcase and discussion
Investigating the inclusion of micronised sulphur in urea prills
Toon Nieboer, Kreber, Netherlands
17.15 (approx.)Conference programme ends
19.15 – c.21.00Conference dinner

AGRONOMIC TOPICS

Optimising crop production by combining organic-based and mineral fertilizer sources: Agronomic performance, soil and environmental considerations

Andres Rangel Becerra, Yara GmbH & Co, Germany

Organic materials, such as manures, compost, anaerobic digestates, and biosolids, have a long history of use in European agriculture, providing essential nutrients and organic matter to soils. While these materials contribute positively to soil health and crop productivity, their surplus in specific regions, coupled with inadequate management, poses environmental risks, including nutrient excess, unbalance, enhanced leaching, and greenhouse gas emissions.

In response to growing environmental concerns and regulatory initiatives like the Green Deal and Farm to Fork, there’s a rising emphasis on reducing nutrient losses from agriculture and promoting the closure of nutrient cycles. This has encouraged the development of “organic-based” fertilisers—products that combine organic matter and nutrients from organic and/or mineral origin. This market is not only expanding rapidly in Europe but also gaining traction overseas.

Understanding the agronomic and environmental performance, as well as the impact on soil health, is crucial for improving the development of organic-based fertilisers (OBFs). Studies, conducted in laboratory, greenhouse, and field trials, systematically evaluate the effects of commercial and test OBFs alone or in combination with mineral fertilisers (integrated nutrition) on crops such as maize, oilseed rape, and wheat. These fertilisers, composed of agricultural, forest, and animal waste, alone or enriched with NKS minerals, are assessed for their Nitrogen Fertiliser Replacement Value (NFRV), risk of nitrate leaching, ammonia volatilisation, nitrous oxide emissions, and remaining stable carbon fraction in various soils.

The integration of OBFs with mineral fertilisers is proving to be a sustainable approach for optimising crop yields while maintaining or improving soil health.

Plant-availability of sulphur in slurries and digestates: a review

Jørgen Eriksen, Aarhus University, Denmark

Sulphur deficiency has become a widespread issue in areas that were previously considered to have sufficient sulphur levels. As a result, there has been a growing interest in exploring the plant-availability of sulphur present in organic fertilisers and waste materials. This paper aims to provide a comprehensive overview of sulphur content in animal waste, focusing on its connection to feeding practices and storage methods. Additionally, it evaluates various technologies, including slurry acidification and biogas digestion with desulphurisation, to assess their impact on sulphur preservation during storage and their potential to serve as a sulphur source for plants.

A noteworthy, and potentially important, finding was that the availability of sulphur in digestates may not be as high as anticipated.

Protein prediction and beyond; what can roots tell us about the N status of wheat?

Mechteld Blake-Kalff and Laurence Blake, Hill Court Research, UK

Improving nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) has become increasingly important to growers due to the steep rise in fertiliser prices since 2021. This has focussed attention on improving practices that no longer make economic sense, such as applying “just a little extra” nitrogen (N) as an insurance. One of these practices is the application of late N fertiliser to milling wheat to enhance protein for breadmaking quality. To help growers decide whether they actually need to apply this late N or not, we developed a protein prediction test which is based on nitrate accumulation in the roots.

Ten AHDB-funded field experiments were carried out between 2019 – 2021 on three different breadmaking varieties of wheat (Zyatt, Siskin & Skyfall) testing the effect of applying different amounts of N at GS 32, GS 39 and GS 70 on grain protein content. Roots were sampled about 14 days after each fertiliser application, a protein prediction was made and compared to the actual grain protein content at harvest. We found that the protein prediction test increased in accuracy in predicting grain protein content the later in the season the crop was sampled. The results closely reflected the N status of the crop at the time of sampling. For example, if the crop was sampled during a prolonged drought, the N status of the plants was low because there wasn’t enough moisture to facilitate N uptake into the crop. Then after rainfall, the N status increased rapidly as long as there was a sufficient N supply in the soil. There was little or no nitrate in the roots unless the crop demand for growth had been satisfied and high protein levels only occurred at surplus levels of N. We found that nitrate in roots increased linearly within the first 14 days after fertiliser application but that after that time it was linearly related to daily crop N uptake.

The relationship between nitrate in the roots, soil N supply and crop demand together with climatic conditions will be further explored in this paper. Since nitrate in roots accurately reflects the current N status of the crop, can we use the root as an N sensor? Would it be a good indicator of NUE? Could we use it to calculate daily N uptake from which we can better assess how much N is still left in the soil? Would this also be applicable to feed wheats and other cereals?

Overall, the protein prediction test was found to be an effective tool to help growers decide if it was necessary to apply late fertiliser or not.

A new data-driven approach for more efficient forage production

Anders Rognlien, Yara International, Norway

Conventional approaches to managing fertilisation for forage crop production have not been successful in Norwegian agriculture. The reason for this lack of success is that forage is not a crop for sale, and the value of the crop is measured in the feeding response on farm. Unfortunately, farmers have limited insight into grass yields and forage quality, and it is difficult to manage fields correctly without better information on feeding and production results in the barn. In Norwegian agriculture we are therefore focusing on closing the gap between agronomy and animal sciences.
 
A solution that helps to overcome these limitations is one where the livestock production drives different forage qualities and quantities to strengthen the interaction between livestock and forage production. Our concept is to use different data sources and technologies to define different key performance indicators in the production chain from the field to the barn to optimise a grass-based forage production system. The production chain is divided into four phases: 1) milk and meat production, 2) feeding, 3) harvesting and 4) cultivation. A case study shows that with the help of this methodology, it is possible to reduce feed costs, increase feed utilisation, increase the proportion of home-grown feed, and increase the utilisation of feed protein. The resulting learning points will be of interest to grassland farmers everywhere.

Digital technologies for field vegetables and potatoes: availability and potentials

Lizzie Sagoo, ADAS, UK

This INNO-VEG project aimed to (i) evaluate the suitability of using crop sensing data to carry out measurements in field experiments and (ii) to define and implement a new approach for delivering cost effective research in the field vegetable and potato sectors. A key advantage of using crop sensing data to assess treatments is the ability to upscale from small plot to field scale experiments, as crop sensing data can be relatively easily collected from larger field areas using drones or tractor mounted sensors. 

Crop sensing is simply the process of using sensors to collect information about a growing crop. Differences in reflectance at specific wavelengths can be expressed as a Vegetation Index (VI)– these can be calculated in many ways, but the most well known is the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). Since reflectance from the crop is determined by the size and vigour of its canopy, VIs have been shown to correlate well with crop characteristics such as above ground biomass and crop vigour. The INNO-VEG project focussed on seven VIs: NDVI, MCARI2, MTCI, CIgreen, CIRedEdge, NDRE and REIP.

In 2019 a programme of 46 small plot field experiments was carried out across the UK, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands to develop an overarching ‘Protocol’ for integrating crop sensing data into field research methodologies. In these experiments, the results from traditional field measurements (i.e. hand harvest or experimental harvest machine assessments of yield and crop quality) were correlated against VI data to evaluate the suitability of crop sensing data to assess treatment differences in field experiments. These experiments covered several horticultural crop groups including potatoes, brassicas, alliums, leafy salads, carrots, vining peas, and cucurbits to ensure the ‘Protocol’ has broad relevance for field vegetable and potato research. There was a good relationship between VI data and crop yields for most crops tested, although the strength of the correlations varied between crops and depending on the timing of the measurements relative to the crop growth stage.

In 2020, field validation experiments were set up to test the ‘Protocol’ in larger field-scale experiments and to develop this into a ‘Framework for farmer-led research’. Drone mounted sensors were used to collect crop reflectance data. This data was processed to calculate spatial VI data, which was statistically analyzed using the ADAS Agronomics process to estimate average treatment effect(s). In 2021, the Framework was tested in 20 farmer led field scale experiments. In these experiments, the farmers took a greater role in planning and setting up the experiments.

Both the ‘Protocol’ and ‘Framework’ are available to download from the ‘Resources’ section of the INNO-VEG project website (https://inno-veg.org/en/Resource). The ‘Protocol’ is aimed at researchers, agronomists and farmers who want to use crop sensing technology to assess their crops and aims to support them to make best use of the technology. The ‘Framework’ provides farmers with the information they require to set up and run field scale experiments including experimental design, application of treatments and sourcing crop sensing data.

Co-authors: Dowers, J., Roques, S., Williams, J.R., Ampe, E., Van Oers, C. and Cohan, J.P.

Acknowledgements: This project has received funding from the Interreg 2 Seas programme 2014-2020 co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund under subsidy contract No 2S05-032.

Digital tools for precise crop nutrition: showcase and discussion

Torkild Birkmose, SEGES, Denmark

Yuki Fujita, Nutrient Management Institute (NMI), The Netherlands

Stefan Geyer, Higher Federal Teaching and Research Institute (HFTRI), Austria

Digital aids to crop nutrition management are proliferating, with many interesting examples being developed. The aim of this session was to illustrate this trend by demonstrating three real life examples of how digital technology is being deployed in this area.

Each presenter provided a short overview of the tool(s) they have developed. This was followed by a discussion, involving questions from delegates, covering aspects such as learning points derived so far, broad principles that are emerging about the best, and less successful, ways to use digital technology for crop nutrition management.

Summaries of information that will be presented on these digital tools is provided below.

 

SEGES – Future Cropping

This presentation will explain how SEGES, an independent, non-profit research and development organisation and is the leading agricultural knowledge and innovation centre in Denmark, has built a data platform, CropManager, which integrates a wide range of data from sensor and satellite technologies with existing field information and real-time climate data. Based on these data, we have developed new tools and technologies to support real-time decision making in the field, in close collaboration with universities, private companies and other stakeholders.

 

NMI – Farm-Soil-Water Plan

Every region differs in the opportunities and challenges for the local surface- and groundwater quality. In addition, each agricultural field varies in its contribution to the nutrient loading of the water system and in the pathway in which nutrients reach the water system. Effective measures farmers can take to minimize losses thus also differ locally. Together with partners, Nutrient Management Institute (NMI), developed an open-source assessment tool (translated as) the Farm-Soil-Water-Plan (BBWP) to bring focus in this spatial diversity and to effectively achieve targets.

The tool can be used on a farm level. On a map farmers first identify which fields belong to his/ her farm. Based on open-source data on landscape and field morphology, soil quality, hydrology, and nutrient loading of the soil, the tool subsequently qualitatively attributes the potential risk of nutrient losses from each selected agricultural fields to the water system. The difference between fields in their relative contribution to the nutrient loading is presented on the map. Depending on the local water quality problem (surface or groundwater), pathways (leaching, erosion, surface run-off), and targeted nutrient (nitrogen or phosphorus), locally effective measures are recommended. Per field measures can be selected and the cumulative impact on decreasing nutrient losses is shown. The selected measures can be stored in the app and an appropriate reward can be given by e.g. the local water boards.

The tool has also been successfully applied in regional and local projects. Regional and national authorities often set targets and promote agricultural measures to improve water quality. A holistic assessment tool such as the BBWP identifies agricultural fields with high potentials to improve water quality on a large spatial scale and identifies which local measures are most effective. It helps bridge policy targets and locally effective measures.

 

HFTRI – TerraZo

TerraZo, developed by Josephinum Research, is a web application designed to facilitate site-specific fertilisation for farmers without requiring high acquisition costs for new equipment or expensive software. Based on Sentinel 2 satellite data and field trials, vegetation indices are calculated, and fertiliser recommendations for each subarea are generated using models.

The application maps that are  generated can  be easily  exported  and imported into compatible tractor terminals, enabling seamless utilisation in the field. Alternatively, smartphones or tablets can be used for site-specific fertiliser application. As a result, variable and site-specific N-fertilisation leads to savings in inputs and tailored plant nutrition. In addition, site-specific fertilisation ensures a balanced N-budget, higher N-efficiency, and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The creation of the application maps requires not only technical expertise but also the incorporation of agronomic and location-specific characteristics of the fields. Both aspects simplify the technical barriers for the user and support them in site-specific fertilisation through proposed fertiliser quantities. It is important that the user can customize all suggestions to accommodate their personal preferences and experiences.

Another important point is that when such a system is established on a wide scale, new knowledge is transferred directly to the point of application. This can lead to widespread adoption and implementation of site-specific fertilisation practices. By incorporating advanced technologies and data-driven approaches, practice and science can benefit from each other and more informed nutrient management decisions can be made.

In order to put this into practice, seminars, training courses and practical events as well as several projects with farmers are carried out as part of the Innovation Farm.

 

FERTILISER PRODUCTION TOPICS

Experiences with Ultra-Low Energy Plant Operation

Chuanbo Gao, Stamicarbon, Netherlands

An Ultra-low energy (ULE) design was launched by Stamicarbon in ‘symposium 2012’. Compared to the traditional pool condenser concept, the steam consumption of the ULE process was dramatically reduced to about 560 kg/ton (23 bara, 330 °C). In the meantime, the CAPEX of the plant is equivalent to the reference concept. Two plants with ULE concept have been in operation since early 2021 in China, achieving the anticipated level of performance.

This presentation explained the design concept and demonstrate performance data from the existing plants. 

New granulation technology for urea and multi-nutrient fertilisers

Ken Monstrey, Casale, Switzerland

 

Golden batch – digital optimisation of NPK fertiliser production

Marianne Ytterbø, Yara International, Norway

Have you ever experienced baking the perfect cake, but when you wanted to repeat it, you were not able to re-create it exactly right the second time around? When making NPK fertilisers, Yara operators experience this issue daily. Each production plant typically produces a high number of individual product grades with different optimal process parameters. In addition, the optimal ways to run the plant are also influenced by external conditions such as ambient temperature, the incidence of clogging in the plant or the types of raw material used.

Yara Digital Production, in collaboration with the Finnish production site at Uusikaupunki, set out to solve this problem. Together they defined and built the Golden Batch tool. The tool continuously monitors the production process and saves good production runs as ‘golden batches’ to a database, so that operators can easily retrieve them and use them as a reference in the future. Using the Golden Batch tool has enabled operators to achieve higher production rates with more intensive, focused and regular utilisation of the best reference batches when running production. Stable production can also be reached faster with a visually clear overview of target values after start up or a grade change.

This presentation will explain how the Golden Batch tool was built and developed.  It will also cover the roll out of this tool across Yara production sites and the value that has been derived from using the tool.

Sensing and locating ammonia and other gaseous leaks over large areas

Simon Bunegar, Grand perspective, Germany

Until now, accidental ammonia releases, especially if not instantly detected, have posed a threat that is nearly uncontrollable and extremely difficult to manage. Common sensing technology, as well as distribution simulation technologies, are unable to model a fast-developing hazard situation accurately as events unfold.

This presentation explains in detail the successful implementation of a novel ammonia warning and mapping system that detects ammonia emissions in real-time throughout the entire Chemelot industrial park, Geleen, NL. Rapid identification and pinpointing of the source, as well as real-time mapping of the distribution of the gas cloud, provides a warning at the earliest possible stage of an accidental release. This robust detection system is unaffected by fog or dust, and works fully automated on a 24/7 basis.

Even though ammonia is one of the best-known chemicals regarding safety measures for handling and storage, in order to prevent hazardous releases no reliable measures have been developed for early warning and situation assessment in the case of such incidents. This inherent risk was commonly accepted as unavoidable. But growing productivity-demands clash with ever-growing nearby cities, resulting in constantly increasing risk. Considering the increasing worldwide demand for ammonia, reliable warning measures are becoming ever more important. The prospect of ammonia playing a major role in the transportation and storage of hydrogen fuel may significantly increase the demand for ammonia storage and ammonia production.

Actual and near-miss incidents that the system handled will be presented, showing how real-time measurement data helped to coordinate the initial response by the fire brigade. Also presented will be the day-to-day operation with a system that is routinely used by control staff. Dashboards and executive reports on asset integrity help to improve daily maintenance and plant optimisation.

The infrared optical sensing technology is designed to automatically monitor vast areas in a kilometer’s radius around each sensor. Therefore, entire industrial parks are covered by a handful of sensors, which drastically reduces the complexity of the system. Based on a passive spectroscopic technology (FTIR) the scanfeld sensors provide chemical identification and quantification of airborne substances, mainly gases that can present dangers to plant operators, the environment, and the immediate neighbourhood. It can identify ammonia, but also other relevant process gases.

The practical application and verification are demonstrated for a particular use case – the Chemelot park in The Netherlands. Here the installation of two scanfeld units allows the 24/7 monitoring of multiple processing units handling ammonia, urea, and melamine. Connected to the operator’s DCS system, the system is fully integrated in the operation of the plant and is an integral part of the plant management. The use of two units permits the localisation and quantification of gas clouds in the case of release events. The real time tomographic reconstruction of the clouds assists by providing precise warning of neighbouring areas and aids accident mitigation.

Two aspects of the scanfeld solution are presented in more detail. Firstly, it represents an early warning solution which enables plant operators or emergency responders to react swiftly in the case of unexpected emissions. Further, the system collects data continuously which allows the long-term evaluation of industrial installations. Statistical methods as well as big data analysis can provide more insight about technical emissions, long term trends, and operations in general, thereby providing data for the optimisation of production and preventive maintenance. 

Nitric Acid Emission Monitoring: A Moving Target

David Inward, SICK AG, Germany

Nitric acid production brings with it a need to measure and report emissions to atmosphere, which unusually comprises two distinct requirements. 
 
There is a conventional need to report emissions to air for the sum of oxides of nitrogen (i.e. NO + NO2) and ammonia for compliance according to prescribed emission limit values for those species. 
In addition to this, the unwanted generation of nitrous oxide (N2O) must also be reported.  However, for greenhouse gases the regulations differ, in that a mass emission must be reported.
 
 These contrasting reporting mechanisms add complexity to the demands placed on the continuous emission monitoring analysis system.
 
The tail gas composition resulting from nitric acid production is quite unique, so it follows that applying a conventional emission monitoring technology may not be the best fit. Furthermore, in recent years, significant developments in abatement technologies, coupled with the implementation and fiscal relevance of global carbon trading schemes have radically altered not just the tail gas composition, but fundamental expectations on the sensitivity and precision of the N2O mass emission reporting.
 
This paper looks in detail at the changing requirements for reporting emissions from nitric acid production and evaluates a hot extractive multi-component analyser for its’ suitability to fulfil the measurement task. Its lessons and conclusions will be of interest and relevance to all involved in nitric acid production.

Investigating the inclusion of micronised sulphur in urea prills

Toon Nieboer, Kreber, Netherlands

Sulphur is essential for life on earth. As one of the fundamental “macronutrients,” including nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K), Sulphur has a key role in crop development and growth. Sulphur levels in agricultural soils have been declining for years, severely limiting crop production in many parts of the world. A way to counteract this deficiency is by adding sulphur to our existing fertilisers. The goal of this research is to investigate the ability to add Sulphur in the form of Micronized elemental Sulphur (MST®) in an aqueous suspension, to urea, just prior to prilling. The formed prills were tested on three different product criteria: Particle size distribution (ISO 13320:2020.1), bulk crushing strength (ASTM D7084-04) and caking tendency (Uni-axial compaction testing, RH 75%, 25°C, 168 hrs).

The sulphur was supplied in the form of MST®, a specific method of producing sulphur particles as developed and patented by Sulvaris Inc. MST® has an average particle size smaller than 10 microns. This small particle size distribution of the sulphur leads to an exponential increase in the available surface area, which is essential for microbial oxidation to convert otherwise insoluble sulphur into the soluble sulphate nutrient form. The concept was to add the MST® via an aqueous suspension into a molten urea stream, just prior to prilling in the Kreber pilot facility. The Kreber pilot facility is a 24-meter high mobile prilling tower, capable of producing batches of prills of urea with a size of up to 1.6 mm. During these pilot tests several different batches of prills were formed. Samples of each batch were analysed in both as is and dried forms.

Addition of MST® to the prills did not significantly change the particle size distribution or the dust formed during the prilling process (D50 =1.55 mm, D10 = 1 mm, D90 = 2.2 mm). This led to the conclusion that the prill formation is not altered by the addition of the MST®/water suspension. The bulk crushing strength decreases after MST® is added to urea to approximately 35% of the pure urea bulk crushing strength, with a higher concentration leading to a lower crushing strength. This is mainly due to the moisture still present in the prills. However, when the product is dried, the crushing strength increases again to acceptable levels, around 60% of the pure urea. This is not expected to be an issue within a full-scale commercial process due to taller prilling towers offering much higher residence times but remains to be tested. The caking tendency decreased after the addition of MST® to urea, with a maximum decrease in yield stress measured of 80%.

This result is unexpected, as the caking tendency was expected to rise due to the addition of moisture to the urea. The hydrophobic nature of the elemental sulphur lowers the bridge formation between the individual prills and subsequently led to a lower caking tendency.

In conclusion, these pilot tests have proven the concept of using an aqueous MST® suspension as a method of adding elemental sulphur to urea. The product is measured to be of a feasible quality for fertiliser production. Subsequent tests will focus on increasing the sulphur amount and moving this process to industrial bulk prilling.

Friday 8th December 2023

On Friday there were two presentations for delegates interested in crop nutrition, two for those interested in fertiliser production, and one presentation and a discussion panel of interest to all delegates.

Friday 8th December 2023
MAIN AUDITORIUM PRESENTATIONSUMNEY THEATRE PRESENTATIONS
9.00Conference program starts
Global trends in cropland nutrient budgets and use efficiency
Achim Dobermann, IFA, France
New simpler, lower cost processes to obtain low cadmium phosphate fertilisers
Nicolas Van Lierde, Prayon, Belgium
Ecological Intensification and the sustainable use of fertilisers
Jonathan Storkey, Rothamsted Research, UK
Impact of global trends on sulphuric acid production and pathways to a circular economy for sulphur
Agnes von Garnier, Metso Outotec, Germany
Tea / coffee break
The challenge of achieving a sustainable crop nutrient supply throughout the world– 33rd Francis New Memorial Lecture
Keith Goulding, Rothamsted Research, UK
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Panel discussion - Are we facing the end of commodity fertilisers?-
13.00 (approx.)Conference program ends
Lunch
14.00 – 15.30Guided walking tour of historic Cambridge

CROP NUTRITION TOPICS

Global trends in cropland nutrient budgets and use efficiency

Achim Dobermann, Chief Scientist, International Fertiliser Association, France.

We present a global reference database of country-level nutrient budget and use efficiency estimates (N, P and K) in cropland. The database, disseminated in FAOSTAT, covers 205 countries and territories, as well as their regional and global aggregates for the period 1961 to 2021. We discuss key trends as well as methodological uncertainties, data gaps and planned improvements.  

Ecological Intensification and the sustainable use of fertilisers

Jonathan Storkey, Rothamsted Research, UK

Ecological Intensification (EI) is defined as the enhancement of ecosystem services to complement or substitute for the role of anthropogenic inputs in maintaining or increasing yields (Bommarco, Kleijn & Potts, 2013). EI interventions (sometimes otherwise known as ‘nature based solutions’) that potentially maintain soil fertility and improve the efficiency of nutrient cycles include the use of legumes, organic amendments (manures, living and dead mulch), integration of livestock and reduced tillage. As opposed to yield response to mineral fertilisers that are manifested in the short term and relatively consistent, the benefits of EI can be cumulative, long term and vary depending on other components of the cropping system and environment.

Long Term Experiments (LTEs), for example the 180 year old Broadbalk winter wheat experiment at Rothamsted, are valuable platforms for elucidating these effects. We report on a large analysis that combined 25,565 yield records from a range of staple crops from 30 LTEs from Europe and Africa (MacLaren et al., 2022). The study found consistent effects of crop diversification (particularly the addition of legumes) and organic amendments on yield with mixed effects of changes in tillage.

The effect of EI on yield was dependent on whether combinations of interventions were applied and the rate of mineral fertilisers used on the plots – EI interventions were largely substitutionary as opposed to being additive. EI, therefore, has a role in supporting the reduction of mineral fertiliser use where high rates are having negative environmental inputs and supporting yields where access to mineral fertilisers may be restricted by cost or availability. The results highlighted the need to take a systems level approach to analysing the benefits of EI. The implications of this for the design of future field experimentation are discussed in the context of a new LTE that was established at Rothamsted in 2017 to complement the historical experiments.

Co-authors: 

Chloe MacLaren2, Andrew Mead1

 1Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, AL5 2JQ, UK

2Department of Crop Production Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Almas Alle 8, Uppsala 750 07, Sweden

PRODUCTION TOPICS

New simpler, lower cost processes to obtain low cadmium phosphate fertilisers

Nicolas Van Lierde, Prayon Technologies, Belgium

In the last decades several methods to remove cadmium from phosphoric acid and phosphate ore have been developed. The co-crystallisation process is one of the most studied technologies for cadmium removal from wet phosphoric acid. The process involves the co-crystallisation of cadmium in anhydrite calcium sulphate. Indeed, cadmium shows a high affinity for anhydrite (and hemihydrate to a lesser extent) compared to dihydrate gypsum.

Through continuous innovation, Prayon has recently improved its single DH process by developing the DA-HF process route, with double crystallisation-single filtration, achieving an enhanced DH process yield and weak acid strength without having to deal with a double filtration. Thanks to the single filtration, the DA-HF and DH processes are comparable in terms of the amount of equipment needed.

One of the key benefits of the DA-HF technology is that the cadmium content in the final concentrated acid can be significantly reduced by using its co-crystallisation in the calcium sulphate. Using the DA-HF process, and precisely adjusting some process parameters, such as sulphate excess in the reaction and solids content before the concentration step, achieves a very low cadmium level in the concentrated acid, without the use of any additive.

The free sulphate removal step on the concentrated acid (desulphation) by precipitation using fine phosphate rock further reduces the cadmium concentration in the acid.

The concentrated acid is finally settled to remove the solids and obtain a clear concentrated acid with less than 1 ppm of cadmium. The resulting sludge can be filtered to maximise P2O5 recovery and dispose of the calcium sulphate solid containing the cadmium.

The same principles can also be adapted to a single DH process to produce a concentrated acid with a low cadmium content. Just after the filtration step, the sulphate excess and the solids content of the weak acid are adjusted to precipitate the cadmium during the concentration stage. 

Impact of global trends on sulphuric acid production and pathways to a circular economy for sulphur

Agnes von Garnier, Metso Outotec, Germany

The threat of climate change has led many international organisations and companies to fundamentally re-think their energy infrastructure. The fundamental aim is to be greenhouse gas emission neutral by the middle of this century, following the International Energy Agency’s “Net Zero by 2050” roadmap. Achieving this goal is based on numerous pillars, mostly based on the transformation from a fossil fuel dominated infrastructure to renewable dominated energy systems (solar, wind, biomass, etc.).

The energy transition will affect all global commodities, including sulphuric acid. Today, approximately 70% of sulphur used in the production of sulphuric acid stems from oil and gas processing, and decreased use of fossil fuels in the coming decades will lead to a reduction in sulphur availability. Concurrently, acid demand is projected to increase with the growing global population and the increase in metals extraction to drive the energy transition.

Scenarios of the supply/demand gap differ significantly, nevertheless it is accepted that the feedstock for sulphuric acid production in future will shift towards a broader mix, i.e. metallurgical off-gases, pyrite tailings, natural sulphur and potentially the use of phosphogypsum depending on the regional conditions.

This presentation will focus on the energy transition and how it will impact sulphuric acid production technologies. It will consider the scope for digitisation to improve production processes, as well as production-based feedstock diversification and the avoidance of waste materials. It will also elaborate on Metso’s digital solutions. Optimisers, as well as simulation and instrument-based health monitoring solutions can help to achieve operational targets. The presentation gives an overview on digital solutions for Metso’s roasting, gas cleaning and sulphuric acid plants.

JOINT PRESENTATION

The challenge of achieving a sustainable crop nutrient supply throughout the world– 33rd Francis New Memorial Lecture

Keith Goulding, Rothamsted Research, UK

The primary requirement for sustainable agriculture at the farm level is economic viability: it must be profitable. Provided this is met, other requirements for sustainability include a cropping system that suits the local topography and climate, does not damage the environment but rather enhances it and has a sustainable nutrient supply. For any farm exporting produce, the nutrients in that produce must be replaced if the soil is not to be depleted, causing productivity to slowly decline. Currently fertilisers, especially nitrogen, are estimated to provide the nutrients to produce the food for half the world’s population. However the global population is predicted to increase to perhaps 10 billion and global food demand by 60% by 2050, and 9% of the world population – around 697 million people – are currently classed as severely food insecure.

Whilst the need to balance nutrient exports with a sustainable nutrient supply is generally understood in the developed economies, research continues to show it to be an issue on a global scale, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, but with specific problems in the developed world of both excess and deficiency. The paper will discuss the problem of achieving a sustainable nutrient supply to feed the increasing global population using data on soil analysis and nutrient budgets from the UK, Europe and beyond and the importance and continuing need for fertilisers.

Panel discussion – Are we facing the end of commodity fertilisers?

Chair: Simon Inglethorpe, Editor of Fertilizer International magazine

Panellists:

Nick Anderson, Head of Crop Technology, Velcourt (Farms) Ltd, UK
Howard Clark, Sales and Marketing Manager, ICL Boulby Mine, UK.
Achim Dobermann, Chief Scientist, International Fertilizer Association.
Mark Tucker, Sustainability and Business Solutions Manager, Yara UK Ltd
Soren Husted, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
 
Each panellist made a short presentation on this topic, from their different perspectives, before the discussion was opened to questions from the physical and virtual floor.