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Editorial comment

Writer, historian, broadcaster, and all-round national treasure, Sir David Attenborough, not only saw in his 98th birthday this month, but also celebrated a milestone 70 years on our screens, having captivated audiences through his boundless exploration of our planet and the creatures that inhabit it. The celebrations are a reminder of just how far-reaching Attenborough’s influence has been. With a host of plant and animal species having been named in his honour, including the ‘Attenborosaurus’ and the ‘Attenboroughi’ butterfly, and a Guiness World Record and a knighthood to add to his list of accolades, Sir David has well and truly earned his reputation as a spokesperson for conservation and a leader in the fight against climate change.

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Back in 2019, at a screening of the BBC nature series, Seven Worlds, One Planet, Sir David offered his advice to a five-year old child who asked what he could do to save the planet. “Don’t waste electricity, don’t waste paper, don’t waste food. Live the way you want to live but just don’t waste. Look after the natural world, and the animals in it, and the plants in it too. This is their planet as well as ours. Don’t waste them,” Attenborough said.1

Five years on, Attenborough’s words carry more weight than ever. Currently, a staggering 2.12 billion tons of waste are generated globally every year. Food waste makes up a hefty 1.3 billion tons of this waste, which is equivalent to around three trillion meals.2 Alarmingly, in 2022, Tesco reported that forgotten food was costing families approximately £800 annually, labelling Britain a nation of ‘dinner binners’. Waste in every capacity is a social, humanitarian, environmental and financial problem, and its reduction is vital across all sectors; the fertilizer industry is no exception.3

The process of fertilizer production is notoriously energy-intensive and both heat and energy are by-products which often go to waste. It is refreshing, however, to see several key producers becoming more innovative in utilising waste, to enhance both plant efficiency and sustainability.

Alfa Laval’s system upgrade for Kemira’s sulfuric acid plant in Helsingborg, Sweden, is one shining example. The heat generated in the plant’s absorption and drying circuits using the old direct cooling system was simply emitted into the sea next to the plant. A full reconstruction of the cooling system was performed, using plate heat exchangers in a closed loop cooling circuit. Heat could then be recovered to use for the district heating network, resulting in economic and sustainability gains. The project produced annual savings of 240 GWh and covered 25% of the city’s heating needs and all domestic hot water in the summer months.4

As part of the EU’s ambition to become carbon-neutral by 2050, carbon capture, storage, utilisation and reuse offers another opportunity for innovation. Yara appears to be a step ahead of the curve, with its clean ammonia initiative designed to capture 800 000 tons of CO2. Carbon is then liquefied, loaded onto ships, and subsequently locked away below the seabed in Norway. Earlier in the year, Linde Engineering also signed a contract with Yara to build a CO2 liquefaction plant in the Netherlands adjacent to the company’s ammonia plant.

Navigating waste management and utilisation is a recurring theme in this issue of World Fertilizer; Stamicarbon discusses its granulation process which incorporates acidic scrubbing for ammonia capture and avoids disposal streams entering the atmosphere (p.15). Nanoprecise also considers how energy wastage stemming from minor faults in engines and motors could be mitigated (p.19), and both JESA and Novaphos examine the possibility of by-products and co-products of fertilizer production being utilised in other industries (p.32 and p.42). There is always potential for further action and innovation in this sphere, but the industry has certainly put its best foot forward on the journey to minimising environmental damage, maximising efficiency and promoting sustainable development.

*References are available on request.

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