Clean, economical, and practical – those are the foundational building blocks of a technology that will let farmers produce their own inputs on the farm.
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Using water, air and electricity, a containerized production system by Waterloo-based FuelPositive will produce ammonia for a variety of uses including agricultural fertilizer or fuel for grain drying and internal combustion engines.
Green ammonia is also considered a key enabler of the hydrogen economy. The first onsite demonstration system is now farm-ready and was installed earlier this fall on an 11,000-acre farm near Sperling, Man., owned by Tracy and Curtis Hiebert.
Why it matters: The world depends on ammonia fertilizer for food security, but producing that fertilizer is an emissions-heavy process. The global fertilizer supply chain is also unstable and subject to severe price fluctuations.
“The way our system works, as long as you have a source of green electricity, you can produce green ammonia on your farm,” says FuelPositive CEO Ian Clifford. “Our business model is to completely disrupt the way fertilizers, and ultimately fossil fuels, are used on-farm.”
The journey started approximately two years ago when Clifford was introduced to a modular, scalable ammonia technology being developed at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa by Ibrahim Dincer, a professor of mechanical and manufacturing engineering.
FuelPositive acquired the technology, which is designed to produce green anhydrous and aqueous ammonias, in April 2021 and began working on scaling and commercializing the system.
Hydrogen produced from water through electrolysis and nitrogen extracted from the air are combined and fed into a patent-pending, proprietary synthesis process that produces anhydrous ammonia that can be stored on-farm and is ready for use when needed. The system is monitored with onboard intelligence capabilities but can also be managed remotely and optimized in real time to adapt to fluctuations.
“We designed the system so that there is very little for the farmer to actually do. We don’t want to create more work for farmers,” Clifford says. “The key here is tremendous flexibility in terms of producing your own inputs, especially fertilizer.”
The initial price of the system, which can produce about 100 tons of anhydrous ammonia a year, has been set at $950,000, with ongoing operating costs tied to the cost of electricity.
Manitoba is an ideal place for trialing the technology, says Clifford, due to the province’s predominantly hydroelectric grid that provides relatively low-cost energy. Farmers could also minimize fluctuations in those energy costs by using solar or wind energy to power a system off-grid.
“Our systems are designed to run for decades; it will be 30 to 40 years before it needs refurbishment so it’s not like buying a tractor, but more like buying a grain handling system,” he says. “We’re trying to eliminate supply chains for farmers and create a stable cost and supply of a commodity like fertilizer for decades.”
Early interest in FuelPositive’s technology has been strong in Canada, particularly from growers of crops with heavy nitrogen needs like grain and potatoes. A new production facility is being built in Kitchener-Waterloo and Clifford estimates the company, which is now accepting pre-sale inquiries from interested farmers, will be ready to move into mass production of the systems in 18 to 24 months.
“We’re interested in selling to farmers, not distributors, but there is nothing to stop two or three farmers from going in and buying a system together,” he says. “We want to supply the end user, not be in a situation where the output is being resold.”
Earlier this fall, FuelPositive was one of five Canadian emerging technology companies invited to present its innovation at the 13th annual Canada UK Energy Summit in London, U.K.
In late November, FuelPositive announced the appointment of Mario Tenuta as its agricultural greenhouse gas mitigation advisor.
Tenuta is the senior industrial research chair in 4R nutrient stewardship and a professor of applied soil ecology at the University of Manitoba.