Researchers and agriculture put a spotlight on the environmental impact of nitrification inhibitors

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Can nitrification inhibitors reduce agricultural emissions of greenhouse gases without adversely affecting the environment? Aarhus University, Arla, SEGES Innovation, Danish Crown, University of Copenhagen and GEUS must now find the answer to this in a three-year project in which Innovation Fund Denmark is investing DKK 11.3 million.

Nitrification inhibitors can be an important tool in the fight for a more climate-neutral agriculture. They can give the farmer a better utilization of nitrogen and can at the same time reduce the emission of nitrous oxide from the agricultural land when the farmer brings fertilizer to the fields.


Nitrous oxide is a potent greenhouse gas, and therefore the use of nitrification inhibitors in agriculture is attractive. But before these are used on a large scale, it is important to be sure that they do not have adverse side effects - for example, that they do not negatively affect soil microorganisms and the water environment.

A new project with the participation of Aarhus University, Arla, SEGES Innovation, Danish Crown, University of Copenhagen and GEUS must now find an answer to this.

- Climate change is a huge challenge for which we need to find solutions. Nitrification inhibitors have great potential in terms of reducing agriculture's CO2 emissions, but this must not happen at the expense of our nature and environment, says Thorkild Qvist Frandsen, Senior Consultant within Agriculture Sustainability at Arla. He continues:

- Therefore, we must be absolutely sure that the nitrification inhibitors do not have negative consequences for the water environment or for the microorganisms that live in the soil, before we go out and recommend the use of nitrification inhibitors to our farmer.

Specifically, the new project, which has been named amoA, will investigate the environmental impact and seepage patterns in agricultural soils for two nitrification inhibitors that are currently on the market.

- In the project, we look with critical eyes at the nitrification inhibitors, so that we can hopefully come up with either a blue stamp or a warning in relation to continued use. We do that, among other things by subjecting the nitrification inhibitors to a very sensitive test that e.g. looks at whether the substances enter and affect the RNA in the soil's microbiome and thus the soil's fertility, says Carsten Suhr Jacobsen, professor and head of Department of Environmental Science at Aarhus University.

New evaluation tool on the way

Today, nitrification inhibitors are not subject to the same strict control requirements that apply to e.g. pesticides. Therefore, another important goal of the project is to develop a research-based evaluation tool that in the future can contribute to the recommendations regarding the use of nitrification inhibitors and to a better environmental assessment of new nitrification inhibitors on their way to the market.

The amoA project runs over a three-year period, but the first results are expected to be ready as early as 2024.


Facts about the project

  • Innovation Fund Denmarks investment: DKK 11,300,000.
  • Total budget: DKK 15,000,000.
  • Duration: 3 years
  • Official title: amoA - Impact evaluation framework for nitrification inhibitors


Facts about nitrification inhibitors

Nitrification inhibitors are used in agriculture to ensure better nitrogen utilization, but have also been shown to have great potential in terms of reducing the emission of nitrous oxide from agricultural land. Nitrification inhibitors work by inhibiting the microorganisms that carry out the nitrification process in the soil when the farmer applies ammonium-containing fertilizers to his soil. Nitrous oxide is a by-product of the nitrification process, and the emission of this gas is therefore reduced by slowing down the nitrification process.