The proposal to build a $1 billion zero-carbon fertilizer plant in Richland has reached two key milestones that together signal “strong project viability,” the company behind the proposal recently announced.
The first is a purchase and sale agreement between the company — Atlas Agro — and the Port of Benton, which owns the 150 acres in the North Horn Rapids Industrial Park where the plant would be built. The second is the start of a front-end engineering and design study that will “advance the engineering to inform a final investment decision,” Atlas Agro said in a statement.
“(The) announcements reflect major momentum toward Atlas Agro’s goal of supplying locally produced, green fertilizers that can support farmers and help decarbonize the Pacific Northwest’s agriculture economy," said Dan Holmes, Atlas Agro’s North American executive director, in the statement.
Atlas Agro signed the agreement with the port in March, but it doesn’t mean the plant is a done deal. Instead, it kicks off a period where Atlas Agro determines whether it will be feasible to build the first-of-its-kind plant, which would produce green fertilizer from air, water and renewable energy.
That question of feasibility is where the engineering and design study comes in. Técnicas Reunidas, an engineering, procurement and construction contractor, is working with Atlas Agro on the study.
Under the purchase and sale agreement, the 150 acres cost $1.39 per square foot, or about $9 million. If Atlas Agro ends up wanting more land, the price would be $2.09 per square foot.
Atlas Agro was to put down $400,000 in earnest money. It has a year to assess whether the land will work for the plant and give notice that it wants to move ahead with the purchase.
Diahann Howard, port executive director, said her agency fully supports the proposal.
“Atlas Agro’s vision aligns with the port’s commitment to sustainable growth and decarbonizing the economy,” she said in a statement. In an interview, she described the proposed plant as an exciting opportunity for the Tri-Cities region and the state.
It could be an economic boon.
The plant is expected to create up to 235 full-time jobs, plus hundreds more during construction and more than 1,000 indirect and induced jobs.
It also would drive regional contracting opportunities, the company said.
State officials praised the proposal.
“Washington welcomes Atlas Agro and is excited to watch it develop the world’s first commercial-scale green fertilizer plant,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement. “This is a meaningful example of what’s possible as we build a clean, green hydrogen sector in our state and seize the economic opportunities of a zero-carbon future.”
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, described the plant as a game changer for farmers in the state and Pacific Northwest.
“Not only will this plant provide much-needed access to sustainable fertilizer and help drive down input costs, it will help lower emissions and create hundreds of good-paying jobs in the Tri-Cities area. Washington state has been a leader in sustainable agriculture, and as Senate Appropriations Chair, I’m going to keep working to build on this kind of progress by expanding our investments in climate action and support for our farmers,” she said in a statement.
How Atlas Argo will power the plant remains a question, and company officials say they’re working on an answer.
“The Pacific Northwest attracted Atlas Agro due to its competitive landscape for renewables development, and the company is pursuing an all-of-the-above strategy that considers the significant number of existing and emerging renewable generation sources within the region,” the company said.
Though the question isn’t answered, officials believe existing residential and industrial utility rates wouldn’t be affected.
Along with economic benefits, the plant would help drive decarbonization in agriculture and reduce reliance on foreign-made, carbon-insensitive fertilizers, the company said, noting the current nitrogen-based fertilizer industry is responsible for more than 2% of global greenhouse gases.
Farmers would benefit by being able to use the more environmentally-friendly, cost-competitive fertilizers, and Atlas Agro also is exploring using hydrogen-fueled trucks for delivery and the plant could “eventually provide a green hydrogen fueling source as fleets transition to zero-emission vehicles,” the company said.
Atlas Agro says it will use its own proprietary advancements to make the green fertilizer.
It will use “a closed-loop system that produces green hydrogen from electrolysis of water and uses the Haber-Bosch synthesis process to make calcium ammonium nitrate.”
The process has existed for years, but Atlas Agro’s improvements, along with supportive state and federal policies, mean the company is positioned to build and run the Richland plant on a “cost-competitive level with fossil-based foreign imports,” Atlas Agro said.
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