Environmental impact of mineral fertilizers: possible improvements through the adoption of eco-innovations

Kathrin Hasler

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU

Abstract

Agricultural production has kept pace with the population growth (FAO, 2012). One major input for a productive agriculture are fertilizers. Despite their effect on yield and quality, they also have considerable effects on the environment leading to emission of greenhouse gases, acidification, eutrophication and use of scare resources (Ruttan, 2002; Kitzes et al., 2007). However, unlike other agricultural inputs, fertilizers cannot be substituted and a reduction in the fertilizer use can lead to major yield decreases or a production shifting to less suitable areas. By considering the above mentioned statements this thesis aims to expand the knowledge of the environmental impact of fertilizers in general and innovation supply chain thinking, knowledge exchange and innovation adoption within the fertilizer supply chain in particular with the main research question:

To what extended can the environmental impact of fertilizers be improved by accelerate the adoption and diffusion of (eco)-innovations within the fertilizer supply chain?

To answer this question, the thesis was divided into two main theoretical perspectives. The first part focuses on the environmental impact of mineral fertilizers and relevant alternatives. The second part focuses on innovation adoption and diffusion.

In these thesis LCA calculations of different fertilizer types (e.g. urea, ammonium nitrate) and production types (single nutrient fertilizers, bulk blends or complex fertilizers) try to examine the amount of emissions during fertilizer production, transportation and application. With literature data of emissions during the fertilizer production, completed with data from expert interviews along the fertilizer supply chain a holistic LCA calculation was conducted. The results showed that especially urea should be used with special care in temperate climate zone and produced with best production technologies. Additionally, the production and application of phosphorus should always be part of agricultural LCA studies, because this plant nutrient also can have effects on the results in the impact categories use of scare resources and salt water eutrophication. With an optimized fertilization strategy, the environmental burden can be reduced by up to 15%.

Chapter 3 focuses on greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon footprint, used with special care and an accurate developed framework, can be a good tool to estimate these greenhouse gas emissions (Finkbeiner, 2009; Hillier et al., 2009; Pandey et al., 2011). By calculating the carbon footprint with a basic LCA approach a scientific accepted method was used. The carbon footprint of different mineral fertilizers (urea, ammonium nitrate, calcium ammonium nitrate and urea ammonium nitrate), stabilized nitrogen fertilizers (using different inhibitors), secondary raw materials (feather meals, blood-and-bone-meals and leguminous crops meals) and a combined irrigation and fertilization were compared in order to find a more sustainable solution. Here especially the uses of a double inhibitor to delay the nitrogen transformation in the soils can have an effect on the carbon footprint results.

The second part of this thesis concentrates on the fertilizer supply chain and the adoption of eco-innovations. Eco-innovations are one option to reduce the environmental impact of fertilizers without compromising on fertilizer productivity. Although numerous eco-innovations in the domain of fertilizers are available, they have no sufficient adoption rate. Here a systematic literature review combined with the types of eco-innovations within an expanded technology acceptance model (TAM) was used to estimate the main drivers. The study distinguishes between disruptive and continuous as well as process, product and other types of innovations to get a better understanding for specific situations. The distinction between the types of innovations was made, because it was assumed that the nature of the specific innovation influences the adoption. The results lead to the assumption that disruptive innovations are mostly pushed by a high quality support and a well-functioning information flow; continuous innovations are more pushed by a good access to credits and an informative environment.

Chapter 5 tries to explaining the low adoption of eco-innovation in the German fertilizer supply chain in particular. Expert interviews along the fertilizer supply chain (researcher, producer, traders) and a detailed questionnaire with closed and open questions were used to estimate the necessity to change. Furthermore, the knowledge of different eco-innovations was used to evaluate the knowledge sharing of the fertilizer supply chain. Findings suggest that drivers for eco-innovations are perceived differently by the various actors in the fertilizer supply chain. The overall knowledge on eco-innovations decreases downstream the chain.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Omta, S.W.F., Promotor
  • Bröring, S., Promotor, External person
  • Olfs, H.-W., Co-promotor, External person
Award date5 Dec 2017
Place of PublicationWageningen
Publisher
Print ISBNs9789463436922
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • environmental impact
  • business management
  • fertilizers
  • agricultural production
  • germany

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