The Nitrogen Element – Sustainable food production?

Mar 1, 2022

The European Chemical Society, EuChemS, organised the science policy workshop ‘The Nitrogen Element – Sustainable food production?’ on 26 April 2022, from 10:00 to 16:30 CEST.

This webinar was chaired by Alessandra Quadrelli.

This online event was an initiative designed by the EuChemS Periodic Table Task Group. The Task Group is chaired by Nicola Armaroli and its members are David Cole-Hamilton, Christophe Copéret, Rinaldo Poli, Floris Rutjes, Maximillian Menche (EYCN Chair), and Alessandra Quadrelli as a guest.

Objectives of the workshop

The purpose of the webinar was to answer key questions such as: How does ammonia production fit within the planetary nitrogen cycle at the basis of nutrition? To what extent can the impact of ammonia production be reduced without compromising food production? Are there alternatives to the Haber-Bosch process and at what costs? Can we promote the sustainable use of this essential element?   

Programme and speakers

Morning session
from 10:00 to 12:30

  • 10:00 – 10:05 | Opening Floris Rutjes (EuChemS President) & introductory remarks by  Alessandra Quadrelli (CNRS) 
  • 10:05 – 10:20  | The EuChemS Periodic Table 
    Nicola Armaroli (CNR) 
  • 10:20 – 10:40  |The nitrogen cycle of terrestrial ecosystems & planetary boundaries
    Nina Buchmann (ETH Zurich) 
  • 10:40 – 11:00  | The Haber-Bosch Process and sustainable paths to the future 
    Thoa Thi Minh Nguyen (Haldor Topsøe) 


  • 11:10 – 11:30  | How could Europe halve nitrogen waste by 2030? From Haber Bosch to the Circular Economy  
    Mark Sutton, (UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH))
  • 11:30 – 12:30 |  Panel Discussion
    led by Alessandra Quadrelli 

Afternoon session
from 13:30 to 16:30

  • 13:30 – 13:50 | Do we need the Haber-Bosch? Improved nitrogen use efficiency related to livestock farming
    Rune Ingels  (N2Applied)  
  • 13:50 – 14:10 | Can Precision Agriculture help to meet fertilization reduction
    Wouter Maes (Ghent University)
  • 14:10 – 14:30 | “Impossible” anammox bacteria for sustainable removal of nitrogen from wastewater
    Mike Jetten (Radboud University) 


  • 14:40 – 15:00 | Heading for real-zero: from hydrocarbons to hydronitrogen
    Bill David (University of Oxford)
  • 15:00 – 15:10 | Significance of the ‘Resolution on Sustainable Nitrogen Management’ adopted at the 5th UN Environment Assembly (Feb. 2022)
    Mark Sutton (UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH))
  • 15:10 – 15:30 | Earth System Science, sustainability and the nitrogen cycle
    Sarah Cornell (Stockholm Resilience Centre)
  • 15:30 – 16:25 | Panel Discussion
    led by Floris Rutjes (EuChemS President)
  • 16:25 – 16:30 | Conclusions
    Alessandra Quadrelli (CNRS) 

Alessandra Quadrelli, CNRS and CPE Lyon

Alessandra Quadrelli is director of research of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, CNRS, at the IRCELYON laboratories and chairs the CPE Lyon Engineering School Sustainable Development Chair.  She serves as associate editor of the RSC journal “Green Chemistry”. Her research focuses on organometallic mechanisms on surfaces (like silica, MOFs and 2D wafers) for heterogeneous catalytic reduction  of N2 and CO2  en route to renewable energy storage.

More info: Alessandra  considers her Top-3 professional achievements: A new mechanism for N2 cleavage (SCIENCE, 2007), the creation of the “CO2 forum” conferences ( and the synthesis of a MoS2 monolayer by Atomic Layer Deposition, ALD (NANOSCALE, 2017). Her overall research has led to 85 publications in international peer reviewed papers (h = 27,  Scit 4200 as of 2021), 4 patents, 11 book chapters,  2 co-edited books and 53 invitations to international congresses there included 1 pleanary at ICEC 2020 and  5 keynotes (EUROPACAT, ICOMC, EuCHEMS-GC, ISHHC, ACHEMA).

Floris Rutjes, EuChemS President

Floris Rutjes (1966) received his PhD at the University of Amsterdam in 1993 under the supervision of the late Prof. Speckamp. After a post-doctoral stay with Prof. Nicolaou at The Scripps Research Institute (La Jolla, USA) and an assistant-professorship at the University of Amsterdam, he became full professor in organic synthesis at Radboud University (Nijmegen, NL) in 1999. His research interests comprise the synthesis of biologically active heterocyclic molecules, new bioorthogonal click-probes for chemical ligation, and continuous flow synthesis in microreactors. He has received several awards including the Gold Medal of the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society (2002), the AstraZeneca Award for Research in Organic Chemistry (2003), and in 2008 was announced ‘Most entrepreneurial scientist of the Netherlands’. Currently, he is Director of the Institute for Molecules and Materials at Radboud University and president of the European Chemical Society (EuChemS)

Nicola Armaroli, member of the EuChemS Executive Board (Chair)

Nicola Armaroli got the Ph.D. in Chemical Sciences in 1994 at the University of Bologna. Since 2007 he has been Research Director at CNR, the Italian National Research Council. He is member of the Italian National Academy of Sciences and Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC). Within EuChemS, he is an elected member of the Executive Board and a former chairman of the Working Party on Chemistry and Energy  He serves as associate editor of Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences (Springer Nature), member of the Editorial Board of Chemistry-A European Journal (Wiley-VCH) and Polyhedron (Elsevier Science) as well as director of Sapere, the first Italian science periodical, established in 1935.

His scientific activity is concerned with photochemistry and photophysics, in particular luminescent materials and systems for the conversion of light into electricity and fuels. He also studies the transition of the global energy system towards more sustainable models, also in relation to climate change and scarcity of natural resources.

He has received several awards as a recognition of his work.

Nina Buchmann, ETH Zurich

Nina Buchmann is a tenured Professor of Grassland Sciences at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. She holds a PhD degree from the University of Bayreuth, Germany, worked as a postdoc at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA, and headed her own research group at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena, Germany. The main research topics of Nina Buchmann include (1) plant and ecosystem physiology, (2) biogeochemistry of terrestrial ecosystems, in particular biosphere-atmosphere gas exchange, and (3) interactions among biodiversity, ecosystem functions/services, and sustainable resource use. She is the National Focal Point for ICOS Switzerland and with her groups runs the Swiss Fluxnet, a network of six long-term ecosystem greenhouse gas flux measurement sites, covering all major land-use types in Switzerland (grassland, cropland, forest). Nina Buchmann published more than 340 articles and co-wrote a textbook on “Plant Ecology”. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences in Germany, Fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 2018, and a “Highly Cited Researcher” in 2018 and 2019. Just recently, she received the Distinguished Alumni Award 2022 of the University of Utah, School of Biological Sciences.  

Sarah Cornell, Stockholm Resilience Institute

Sarah Cornell is a global environmental change scientist. In her role as associate professor and principal researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, she leads a research group that seeks to integrate global perspectives into social-ecological systems approaches for dealing with risks, resource use and societal responses to environmental challenges. Much of her work involves interaction with the worlds of policy and business. 

Sarah began her academic career as an atmospheric chemist studying the human perturbation of nitrogen’s global biogeochemical cycle. She has over 20 years of interdisciplinary research experience working on human dimensions of global change, first at UEA’s Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment, then the Tyndall Centre. Before moving to Sweden, she was the science coordinator for QUEST, the UK Natural Environment Research Council’s directed programme for Earth system science. She has been involved in international strategic networks for global change research that connects social and biophysical sciences, including Future Earth and UNESCO’s BRIDGES sustainability science coalition. She is an associate editor for the journal Environmental Science and Policy.

Bill David, University of Oxford

Bill David is Professor of Energy Materials Chemistry in the Inorganic Chemistry Laboratory at the University of Oxford and STFC Senior Fellow at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society and is a member of the Society’s Net-Zero programme. Bill’s research interests are based around sustainable and scalable zero-carbon chemical and electrochemical energy storage and power provision, focussing on high-power sodium-ion batteries and exploring the options for developing ammonia as a green fuel.

Rune Ingels, N2Applied

Dr Rune Ingels finished his M.Sc. in Chemical Engineering at Institute of Technology of University of Trondheim, Norway. He worked at Yara Int. from 1982 until 2010 as Process Engineer, on the production of Green Ammonia and licensing fertilizer technologies to China, also as R&D Director and VP Technology Strategy. He seconded to Qafco 1987-1993, seconded to Sluiskil 1999-2002 and seconded to Lifeco 2009-2015. He was the CEO Tinfos ASA from 2015 to 2017. The company is operating, financing, and constructing Small scale Hydro Electric Power Plants.

He’s the CTO of N2 Applied since 2010. He Co-founded this plasma-based nitrogen fertilizer technology company. The technology is processing livestock slurry making Nitrate Enriched Organic fertilizer, NEO and stopping ammonia and methane emissions.

Mike Jetten, Radboud University

Prof Jetten (1962) is a world leader in the field of environmental microbiology. He did his PhD (1991) at WUR on aceticlastic methanogens, followed by a post doc at MIT on metabolic engineering of amino acid producers. From 1994-2000 he was assistant professor at TU Delft on Nitrogen cycle microbiology. Since 2000 he is professor of Microbiology at Radboud University, Nijmegen. He received the prestigious ERC Advanced Grant in 2008 for his research on anammox bacteria, the Spinozapremie in 2012, and a second ERC Advanced grant in 2013 to study the ecology of methane oxidizers. Since 2013 he scientific director of the Gravitation consortium on anaerobic microbiology (Soehngen Institute of anaerobic microbiology). He is a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences, the European Academy of Science and EMBO. In 2013 he was bestowed with a knighthood for his exceptional services to science and society. In 2017, he was recognized as exceptional mentor and awarded with best PhD supervisor of the year by the National PhD council in the Netherlands. In 2019 he was award an ERC Synergy grant together with Utrecht University. He has published more than 500 papers that have been cited more than 70000 times. FWIW H index is 129. He has supervised 60 PhD theses and 36 post docs, and 22 PhD students and 8 post docs are currently working in his laboratory. In September 2015, his team started the first Microbiology master education in the Netherlands. He has been invited more than 250 times for keynote lectures and organized many international meetings and conferences. He holds several patents.

Wouter Maes, Ghent University

Wouter Maes is professor in monitoring with UAVs at the Department of Plants and Crops, Ghent University, Belgium. He is also Research leader of the satellite lab on remote sensing of plant health at the FABI institute of the University of Pretoria, South Africa. His research focuses in particular on the application of UAV sensing technology for Precision Agriculture purposes, encompassing thermal, hyperspectral as well high resolution RGB sensing.

Thoa Thi Minh Nguyen, Haldor Topsøe

Thoa Nguyen is currently R&D Senior Director at Haldor Topsoe, a Danish company supplying catalysts, technology, hardware and engineering for the Chemicals, Clean Fuels and Clean Air industries. She has worked as metallurgist in gold processing in Autralia and been with Haldor Topsoe R&D since 2008, working in a number of different processes, such as ammonia, reforming, water-gas-shift, fuel production, etc., both within catalyst and technology development, having roles from research engineer to project manager and people manager. In her current role, she has the overall responsibility for technology development within gasoline, diesel, marine and jet fuel, taking them from ideas to the lab, pilot and subsequently to commercialisation. She completed her Ph.D. at Cambridge University, UK using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) on trickle-bed reactors after graduating from Adelaide University, Australia in Chemical Engineering.

Mark Sutton, UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

Professor Mark Sutton is an environmental physicist based at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), in Edinburgh. An expert on atmospheric ammonia, he leads international research activities on nitrogen at the science–policy interface. He is a former chair of the International Nitrogen Initiative (INI) and currently directs the UNEP/GEF International Nitrogen Management System (INMS) and the UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund’s South Asian Nitrogen Hub (SANH). Professor Sutton is also a co-chair of the UNECE Task Force on Reactive Nitrogen (TFRN) and vice chair of the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management (GPNM).  


Find out more about the EuChemS Periodic Table depicting element scarcity here.

In 2019, the European Chemical Society (EuChemS) issued the periodic table of the relative abundance of chemical elements, in an effort to raise society’s awareness of the limited mineral resources available on Earth. It has received remarkable attention worldwide from the scientific community, the general public and governmental agencies and has been widely distributed in European secondary schools. This table is a living document, to be periodically updated in the light of developments that may affect the availability of specific elements or the sustainability of the fundamental cycles connected to them, addressing responsible sourcing, usage and environmental footprint within our world. In this context, EuChemS promotes discussion between the scientific, industrial and political communities to evaluate whether the color codes of specific elements associated with availability and sustainability should be reconsidered. After revisiting carbon, a key element towards a sustainable society, and lithium, an enabler of the energy transition, we tackle the evaluation of nitrogen, a key nutrient element.   

A strategic choice at the dawn of the twentieth century, the Haber-Bosch process for chemical ammonia production from airborne nitrogen quickly turned into a vital resource. The chemical fertilizers derived from ammonia became instrumental in feeding an exponentially growing population. Almost one century later, dramatically poor nitrogen usage is complicating this life-enabling technology with life-threatening water and air pollution.