2013 was proclaimed as the “Year of Air”, a key date on which the European Union proposed reviewing their Air Quality Policy in order to define a new strategy to improve the quality of the air and, as a result, the wellbeing of all citizens.
There were a number of studies, many of which were centred on trying to find ways to mitigate the harmful effects of the emissions of a number of different gases into the atmosphere, fundamentally methane (CH4), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O) and ammonia (NH3).
Different studies have shown that a high percentage of the ammonia gas that is emitted into the atmosphere comes from the agricultural sector and, more specifically, from pig and poultry farming where, in 2011, the animal residues (both solid and liquid waste) accounted for as much as 94% of the European total. A problem in need of a solution.
Ammonia Trapping is a completely innovative project that consists of developing a membrane with the capacity to trap molecules of ammonia gas (NH3) released into the atmosphere.
Following this process, the resulting ammonia is transformed into ammonium salt, a fertiliser of great agricultural and economic value.
The LIFE Program is the main financial instrument of the European Commission for the support of environmental and nature conservation projects. This project is carried out with the contribution of the European Union’s LIFE financial instrument and its number is LIFE15 ENV / ES / 000284.
Its main goal is to make a contribution to the application, updating and development of Community policy and regulations in matters of the environment, particularly with regard to the integration of the environment in other policies and sustainable development within the European Community, along with the exploration of new solutions to Community-wide environmental problems.
Turning a broad-spectrum environmental problem into a solution: The purpose of Ammonia Trapping. Define well the objectives to beat and know what actions to take will lead to the success of the project.
The Implications of Ammonia Emissions
Ammonia emissions constitute a serious problem for the environment, public health and climate change.
The increase in emissions over recent years is worrying for the following reasons:
- Worsening of air quality.
- Toxicity for plants.
- Increase in ammonia depositions, causing the eutrophication of ecosystems and acidification of soils, resulting in a loss of biodiversity.
- Ammonia has the capacity to form secondary particles (PM2.5) the Inhalation of which affects the cardiovascular system of both citizens and animals.
The Ammonia Trapping Project consists of 3 main phases:
- Design of prototypes that are capable of trapping ammonia in the atmosphere as well as dissolved ammonium.
- Construction and installation of the prototypes on farms.
- Monitoring of ammonia trapping through the prototypes that have been installed.
This Project has been made possible due to the participation of:
- University of Valladolid
- ITACyL (Technological Institute of Agriculture of Castile and Leon)
- General Foundation of the University of Valladolid
- DEPORCYL (Porcine Developments of Castile and Leon)
- Enusa, Industrias Avanzadas, S.A.
- Ingeniería y Desarrollos Renovables S.L.,
- INDEREN Avícola Ciria S.L.
Ammonia Trapping Scenario
The Ammonia Trapping prototypes are located in:
- Indoor pig and poultry farm buildings, to trap ammonia in the air.
- A poultry droppings composter, to trap ammonia during the composting process.
- Liquid manure and digestates storage tanks, to trap ammonium in the liquid phase of these substrates.
Consequently, 2 prototypes have been developed, depending on the action required:
- One prototype traps ammonia in the atmosphere, after it has been volatilized.
- A second prototype traps the ammonia from liquid waste (liquid manure and digestate), where ammonium is found (NH4+). With this prototype it is possible to trap the ammonium in the liquid before it is converted into ammonia and is volatilized.
More Sustainable Nitrogenous Fertilisers
The manufacture of current fertilisers is costly for the environment given that, for the manufacture of one tonne of NH3 1.6 tonnes of CO2 are released into the atmosphere.
It is estimated that 87% of the total energy used for the manufacture of mineral fertilisers is used for ammonia synthesis; which make sit the fertiliser with the greatest requirements in terms of both fuel and raw materials.
With the membranes of the Ammonia Trapping Project we can recover the ammonium from farm waste for titration as a fertiliser.
The fertiliser is produced within the membranes themselves given that, on combining the trapped ammonia with the sulphuric acid that circulates through the membranes, ammonium salt (ammonium sulphate) is formed, a fertiliser that is the same as the commercial fertiliser but produced at a lower cost for the environment.
Beneﬁts obtained through the use of Ammonia Trapping
The benefits of the Project will not only be environmental in nature but are also expected to bring economic benefits.
- Improvement in air quality, animal wellbeing and workers health.
- Improvement the quality of in soil and waters (avoidance of acidification).
- Decrease in CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
- Improvement in the economic sustainability of the livestock sector (given that the decrease in the amount of nitrogen in the liquid manure will allow for increased applications on the ground and requires reduced storage capacity at the farm) and in the agricultural sector in general by taking advantage of a by-product to decrease the cost of nitrogenous fertilisers (the manufacture of which is high cost in both financial and environmental terms).
- Development of the European rural environment. The prototypes are modular and transportable, which means that they can be taken to areas where the soils are poor.
- It is estimated that the adoption of technologies that allow for a 50% reduction in NH3 emissions could result in a benefit of somewhere in the region of 190 million Euros per year, in terms of the prevention of human illnesses.