Fertilizers have been around since the early 19th century. However, it’s only in recent years that fertilizer production has become more streamlined, resulting in abundant production of crops. At the same time, it’s fairly well known that fertilizer production can negatively affect our atmosphere – but does this mean fertilizer releases CO2?
Fertilizers do not release CO2. However, the Haber Basch process, which is used to make nitrogen fertilizers, does. CO2 is a byproduct of making ammonium nitrate, which is the primary growth ingredient in fertilizers. The fertilizer industry is responsible for 1,250 million tons of CO2.
In the rest of this article, I will discuss how the production of fertilizer releases CO2, how CO2 benefits plants, what effects on global warming it has, and a few ways the fertilizer process could become greener. So, if you would like to learn more about CO2 concerning fertilizer, keep reading.
How Does Fertilizer Production Produce CO2?
It’s no secret that fertilizer manufacturing can release tons of harmful chemicals into the air, which is not great for our planet. But how exactly does fertilizer production produce CO2? Let’s look at it in further detail.
Fertilizer production produces CO2 due to the Haber Basch process. This process uses nitrogen and hydrogen to create ammonia, with CO2 as a byproduct of this. Some fertilizer companies will recycle CO2 to create more ammonium nitrate, but the gas often escapes, increasing air pollution.
The escaped CO2 often ends up entering bodies of water or leaching into the soil. This isn’t harmful in small doses. It can dramatically boost plant growth and help with photosynthesis. However, when too much of it enters an ecosystem, it can have catastrophic effects, especially since they are so energy-intensive to produce.
The Haber Bosch Process
To fully understand how CO2 is produced during the creation process of fertilizer, you need to understand the Haber Bosch process. Here’s how it works:
- Hydrogen and nitrogen are compressed and sent through a reactor, producing ammonia.
- The gasses are then cooled.
- Once cooled, the ammonia becomes a liquid that is removed to use in fertilizer.
- Any leftover hydrogen and nitrogen will be recycled for later use.
- CO2 is produced as a byproduct of ammonia, which is altered to become ammonium nitrite.
The process is complicated and not something that can easily be replicated without proper equipment. The ammonia created during this process is a primary ingredient used in fertilizers. However, it’s also the ingredient that releases CO2 during its creation.
Why CO2 Is Necessary
CO2 isn’t inherently bad. It is incredibly important when it comes to ensuring the health and growth of plants.
Plants absorb CO2 through the air and soil. Using the sun, the plant then begins to convert the CO2 into sugars from which they can sustain themselves. At the same time, they are also altering the water they have absorbed and converting it into oxygen. The oxygen is then released back into the air, and the sugars are stored in the plant’s cells for later energy usage.
These same plants produce the oxygen that is essential to human life. Humans breathe out CO2, which, as discussed, plants need to thrive. This results in a perfect partnership – or at least, it was the perfect partnership before industrialization resulted in the overproduction of CO2.
What Is CO2’s Effect on Global Warming?
If CO2 helps in plant growth, it’s a good thing, right?
Not exactly. Too much CO2 is a problem and causes global warming. You’ve probably heard a lot about global warming – but what does CO2 have to do with it?
CO2 causes heat to be trapped within the Earth’s atmosphere. It is a necessary part of the atmosphere as our planet would be too cold to support human life without it. However, too much CO2 in the atmosphere results in overheating of the Earth’s surface.
The sudden rise in temperature can have catastrophic results on plants, animals, and delicate ecosystems.
CO2 is responsible for nearly 80% of the current global warming crisis. This is due to how much excess carbon dioxide is produced by human activities. Not only does the production of synthetic fertilizer result in the release of CO2, but the burning of fossil fuels also contributes to the increase of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) in our atmosphere.
The other concern regarding carbon dioxide is that this greenhouse gas remains in the atmosphere longer than other greenhouse gases. CO2 emissions remain in the atmosphere for as long as 10,000 years, while methane is cleared in a decade and nitrous oxide in a century. So, our present CO2 emissions aren’t simply a danger to us today, they also dictate planetary temperatures centuries in the future.
As you can see, CO2 does have a significant impact on the rising temperature of our planet. But somehow, these fertilizers are still widely used throughout the world. So, if fertilizers are so bad, why are we still producing them?
Why Fertilizers That Produce CO2 Are Necessary
Despite all the negative effects producing fertilizer has on our planet, its production is still necessary to keep up with the supply and demand of food. These fertilizers: help speed up crop production and allow these plants to produce larger fruit.
- Help replenish nutrients that have been depleted from the soil
- Help boost crop production and prompt faster plant growth
- Induce the production of larger fruit
So fertilizer does have some essential benefits. However, it also has plenty of drawbacks. Luckily by using more organic-based fertilizers, you can reduce CO2 emissions. This is because most organic fertilizers don’t release CO2 and are created using completely natural ingredients.
So if you don’t want to add to the fertilizer CO2 production crisis, you can purchase organic fertilizers or make your own.
Ways Fertilizer Companies Can Reduce Their CO2 Emissions
Fertilizer companies are responsible for emitting more than 1,250 million tons of CO2. Given these numbers, it’s clear that companies need to reduce their CO2 emissions and look for new ways to recycle the CO2 released during the fertilizer creation process.
One option that has gained popularity recently is carbon mining. During this process, carbon molecules are sucked back into a core reactor. Here, the gas is converted into solids, trapping the CO2. The solids are then sent through a generator where gypsum, calcium nitrate, and ammonia are added. This process produces numerous useful compounds, including:
- Calcium carbonate
These compounds can later be used as components in a range of different products. Aside from the useful byproducts, carbon mining allows companies to reduce their CO2 output. However, the process isn’t perfect, and not every company has access to this technology.
Another method that companies are considering is using algae to capture CO2. If you want to learn more about this specific process, I recommend checking out SciShow’s YouTube video on ways to deal with CO2. They do a great job of explaining how this process works.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Organic Fertilizers Release Greenhouse Gases?
Organic fertilizers do release greenhouse gasses. In fact, it produces greater N2O emissions than urea fertilizers. However, organic fertilizers release significantly fewer greenhouse gasses than synthetic ones. The production of these fertilizers is also less harmful to the environment.
Is Synthetic Fertilizer Bad for the Environment?
Synthetic fertilizer is bad for the environment. These fertilizers have been shown to kill beneficial soil microorganisms. Furthermore, they leach into groundwater and nearby water bodies, increasing water pollution and harming aquatic life.
They also increase nitrate levels in the soil. These nitrates are absorbed by plants and consumed by humans. This, in turn, damages your respiratory and vascular systems. In severe cases, it can even be fatal.
Fertilizers themselves don’t release CO2 – the process used to make fertilizer does. CO2 is responsible for the increased temperature of our planet, and CO2 overproduction is a significant problem that should be addressed as soon as possible.
As it stands, fertilizers are still an essential part of agriculture. However, companies should take steps to limit the emission of CO2 during the fertilizer production process, such as carbon mining and using algae to trap CO2.