UK fertiliser manufacturer shuts down ammonia production amid cost concerns

By William Dodds

- Last updated on GMT

Fertiliser is a vital tool for farmers in the UK. Credit: Getty / Henry Arden
Fertiliser is a vital tool for farmers in the UK. Credit: Getty / Henry Arden

Related tags Food security Agriculture Sustainability

CF Fertiliser has announced the closure of its ammonia plant in Billingham, citing rising energy costs.

Ammonia production at CF Fertiliser’s plant in Billingham has been stopped due to high costs, with the firm set to rely on imported ammonia.

Production of ammonia at the plant was put on pause 10 months ago and the firm has now confirmed it has been stopped on a permanent basis.

Going forward, imported ammonia will be used to produce AN fertiliser and nitric acid at its Billingham facilities.

In a statement announcing the move, a CF Fertiliser spokesperson said that continuing to manufacture ammonia was unlikely to prove cost effective in the future due to rising energy price projections.

The company believes that ample global availability of ammonia for import, including from CF Industries’ North American production network, will enable more cost-competitive and efficient production and sales of ammonium nitrate fertiliser and nitric acid for its UK agriculture and chemicals customers moving forward​,” the spokesperson added.

NFU concerned with Billingham closure

The National Farmers Union (NFU) expressed concern with the decision, citing the fact that fertiliser availability is crucial in maintaining food production in the UK.

Fertiliser is a vital tool that helps British farmers and growers produce food for the nation,” ​NFU deputy president Tom Bradshaw said.

“It’s important that the government now look closely at how this shift to a reliance of imported ammonia could impact our domestic food production and highlights the need to maintain access to all nitrogen fertiliser products, including urea​.”

Ammonia emissions study

The move by CF Fertilisers came alongside the publication of research by the University of Birmingham which showed that more than a third of nitrogen-based fertiliser used on UK farms breaks emission laws.

The data collected found that 34% of synthetic non-urea fertilisers studied exceeded the maximum ammonia gas emissions allowed.

While ammonia is a very good nutrient to have in soils, its emission into air is a grim matter​,” said Professor Sami Ullah from the University of Birmingham

Emissions of ammonia pose numerous ecological and human health concerns. For example, plant species like mosses and lichens in peatbogs and forests are vulnerable to excessive ammonia being re-deposited back on land, which threatens ecological functioning in otherwise nitrogen-scarce natural ecosystems. Once in air, ammonia can also react with other atmospheric pollutants forming particulate matter, which results in serious health problems in humans​.”

In other news, new University of Oxford research has shown the environmental impact of different diets​.

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