Nitrogen was discovered by Daniel Rutherford in 1772


What is the difference between nitrogen and CO2

Nitrogen is a chemical element and CO2 is a chemical compound. A chemical element can no longer be split. That is different with CO2, which is a compound of the element carbon (the letter C…

Chemical element with symbol N, atomic number 7, group 15 and period 2

Nitrogen: What is it and why is it harmful?

You have probably heard and seen the word nitrogen repeatedly. But what does nitrogen actually mean? And what are the recent developments in the field of nitrogen measures? View the text below and find out everything about nitrogen, what the problems are, get an answer to the question 'what is the difference between nitrogen and CO2' and read more about the measures taken regarding the current nitrogen problem.

What is nitrogen?

Nitrogen (N2) is simply a completely colorless and odorless gas that is all around us. It is a natural and non-harmful substance that in normal quantities is not harmful to the environment or to humans. Nitrogen is even important for plants and is an important nutrient for plant species. Nitrogen is therefore almost always and everywhere present. For example, no less than 78% of the air consists of nitrogen.

Nitrogen can normally be easily broken down naturally by means of soil bacteria, such as with the so-called nitrogen nodules. These nitrogen nodules are made in the roots of legumes.

However, when compounds take place in the air, nitrogen can be harmful and can pose a threat to our living environment. This compound is a compound of nitrogen oxides (NOx), which occur in the air through various exhaust gases, with ammonia (NH3), a substance that mainly occurs in manure that is spread over agricultural land. The largest sectors that play a role in the large amount of nitrogen emissions are industries, agriculture and livestock. Livestock farming is the biggest emitter, because in 2019 livestock farming was responsible for no less than 46 percent of the full percentage of nitrogen damage to vulnerable nature.

The amount of nitrogen can end up in the soil and groundwater and cause damage to the environment. When nitrogen oxides get into the soil, these substances can acidify the soil. Also, the nitrogen can bond with water, such as when it rains. This creates the compound nitric acid (HNO3), also known as the cause of acid rain. Excessive nitrogen content can therefore lead to considerable damage and emissions should therefore be reduced. For more information about nitrogen, please visit the website of the RIVM.

Difference nitrogen and C02

Nitrogen is not the same as carbon dioxide (C02), although it resembles and is often compared to it in many ways. Both gases are natural and occur in the atmosphere. The high C02 content in the air is harmful to the environment and the general quality of life on Earth as the nitrogen content. C02 emissions are caused by factories and by emissions from cars and airplanes. C02 is known as the most prominent greenhouse gas and helps to retain heat on Earth. The amount of C02 has increased considerably in the last 150 years due to human activities.

However, the nitrogen content is not harmful to the climate, while a high C02 content can contribute to climate change. The nitrogen rises and then falls again. As a result, the nitrogen ends up in the soil and can lead to pollution of the environment.

However, CO2 rises and does not fall like nitrogen, so it eventually ends up in the ozone layer and can cause global warming. Both CO2 and too high a nitrogen content are bad for plants and trees and can cause a sharp decline in biodiversity.

What is the problem with nitrogen

Many people wonder what is actually so harmful about nitrogen and why it poses a problem for society. Finally, nitrogen is a natural substance that is important for the growth of plants and animals. Nowadays there is a lot of discussion about the theme and there is plenty of discussion about an acceptable percentage of nitrogen present. This is also referred to as 'nitrogen problem' and can be understood by looking at three important points, namely the amount of nitrogen in the air (Concentration), how it ends up in the air (Emission) and how it ends up in the soil. comes (Deposition). Scientists currently agree that there is too high a concentration of nitrogen in the air and soil in the Netherlands. According to NatureMonuments this high nitrogen content causes major environmental problems, whereby too high a concentration of nitrogen can lead to the disappearance of plant and animal species. The nitrogen problem can also endanger food production and the general health of the population.

To tackle the problem, the government is calling on various sectors to reduce their emissions of ammonia and nitrogen oxides. For example, nitrogen emissions must be significantly reduced in traffic, various industries and in agriculture. Various measures have been taken to tackle the problems on a large scale.

What are the measures taken against nitrogen?

In 2015, the government came up with the 'Nitrogen Approach Program' (also known as PAS). In this approach, types of measures were described, namely measures related to nitrogen emissions at source, such as nitrogen emissions from agriculture, traffic and industry, and measures to effectively repair the current damage caused by nitrogen in nature. In order to restore nature sustainably, it is important that the nitrogen deposition is brought back to the critical deposition value (KDW). How high this value is differs per nature reserve. The cabinet announced on 1 November that it would allocate half a billion euros to tackle nitrogen.

160 Natura 2000 areas were mapped out by the cabinet, in which the nitrogen content was carefully examined. Of all these areas, an excess of nitrogen was found in the soil in no fewer than 118 areas. A quarter of a billion euros in budget has been made available to restore these nature reserves. With this budget, acidified nitrogen soil is removed and groundwater levels are raised. The purpose of this is to make natural areas wet again.

In addition, the following were issued by the cabinet: measures against nitrogen affected:

  • The daytime speed limit has been lowered to 100 km/h
  • An adjustment was made to the animal feed that uses less ammonia
  • Extra money was made available to encourage pig farming to stop
  • Extra money was made available to make stables more sustainable
  • A measure was introduced that made netting possible for livestock farmers
  • It has been decided not to require a permit for grazing and fertilizing
  • Financial aid was arranged for extensification or conversion to circular agriculture

Who suffers from the measures against nitrogen emissions?

Reducing nitrogen in the air is a major challenge for many sectors. The problems surrounding nitrogen have been in the news a lot because of the many protests. Science agrees that the current nitrogen content poses a threat to society and that various measures must therefore be taken. However, the measures have caused much controversy and many disagree with the measures taken.

For example, many farmers do not agree with the measures taken and feel that too little thought is given to them. Many farmers in the Netherlands produce food on a large scale and export a large part of their production abroad. The agricultural land is used too intensively and large amounts of nitrogen end up in the soil. The government therefore wants to ensure that the soil is used less intensively, so that many farmers have to produce less. A decrease in production naturally leads to a lower yield, which the farmers do not agree with. Many farmers have to give up pieces of land or significantly reduce or make their current business processes more sustainable. Despite many farmers being eligible for substantial subsidies and various claims for financial aid, they do not see their future positively due to the nitrogen emission measures.

In addition, many industries are protesting because of the nitrogen emissions. They also have to drastically make their business processes more sustainable, in which production and effectiveness are lost. Companies must reduce their CO2 emissions and ensure less nitrogen content in the air and soil. Many entrepreneurs with zoning plans for business parks were also confronted with the nitrogen measures. For example, various housing plans or new roads were scrapped. In total, this would amount to no fewer than 18,000 projects that could not go ahead. This obviously hit the public and private sectors hard for construction and infrastructure entrepreneurs, dredgers and landscape gardeners. As a result, many jobs would be lost and many people would have to cancel their projects and assignments.

To drastically reduce the nitrogen content in the air and soil, the efforts of many sectors are important and many companies will have to work together and commit to a more sustainable society. Unfortunately, this requires sacrifices. If every sector will follow the measures properly, the measures will lead to a decrease in nitrogen deposition in the short term. By working together a lot and looking for sustainable solutions, the nitrogen problem can create opportunities for everyone and the reduction of nitrogen ensures a more pleasant living environment for everyone.