This article was originally published in Altinget on 18 June 2021.
By Jeppe Grue, technical director for green fuels and thermal energy, Denmark.
Power-to-X has a huge potential for agriculture and is essential to achieving Denmark's climate targets. However, the technological solutions have to be scaled up and implemented if this is to be realised. We need to be clear about the framework conditions for Power-to-X and accelerate development across the whole value chain – as quickly as possible.
The Danish Government and the parties in parliament are currently debating historic CO2 reductions in agriculture, and there is a lot at stake.
In particular, the reliance on technology has been criticised as wishful thinking and ‘pie in the sky’. Not least because the Government is assuming that as much as five million tonnes of CO2, out of a total reduction target of 7.1 million tonnes by 2030, will come from new technology.
Technological solutions cannot stand alone, but we also cannot escape the fact that technology like Power-to-X is essential if we are ever to succeed with the green transition. This is true of agriculture and of other sectors, where we cannot simply replace ‘black energy’ at the socket with green electricity from sun and wind.
Agriculture accounts for about a fifth of Denmark’s climate footprint and is still emitting the same amount of CO2 as in 2010.
But Power-to-X could enable agriculture to move from being a major climate challenge to being part of the solution – and in fact to help ensure that heavy transport and industry can switch to a sustainable future, because agriculture could play a crucial role as both consumer and producer in a Power-to-X value chain.
This means, for example, that in the coming years, agriculture could replace the use of fossil-based artificial fertiliser with climate-friendly alternatives based on green ammonia.
A concrete Power-to-X project which could make this possible is Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners’ forthcoming 1 gigawatt electrolysis plant in the city of Esbjerg, which will turn offshore wind energy into around 600,000 tonnes of green ammonia – enough to cover the fertiliser needs of the whole of Danish agriculture and reduce CO2 emissions by 1.5 million tonnes.
Moreover, technologies such as hydro-thermal liquefaction (HTL) and pyrolysis can turn straw, slurry, and other waste products from agriculture into sustainable oil, which can be used with green hydrogen from solar and wind power to produce aviation fuel, for example.
The organic nutrients released from the process can be fed back into agriculture as fertilisers, and the technologies also raise the possibility of storing CO2 in the ground as bio-coal. In practical terms, for example, it is estimated that Stiesdal’s SkyClean project could halve the CO2 footprint from agriculture.
So, there is no doubt that the technological potential is huge, but before it can be realised, the technologies have to be brought up to an industrial scale and implemented. For this to happen, we need above all to be clear about the framework conditions for Power-to-X and to accelerate development across the whole value chain – as quickly as possible.
We are in the same position now with Power-to-X that we were in with wind turbines 20 years ago, but unlike then, Denmark is not a ‘first mover’.
The market and the whole infrastructure around Power-to-X need to be expanded further, and Power-to-X products need to be able to compete with, and ultimately outcompete, fossil-based alternatives.
If we succeed in this, Denmark and Danish agriculture have a unique opportunity to be climate leaders and to export new green solutions to the rest of the world. However, we have plenty to do if political ambitions and green visions for Denmark are to be turned into substantial CO2 reductions as early as 2030.