International ammonia measurement experiment in Dronten

Tuesday June 14, 2016 15:14

New technology allows for more accurate measurements and results.   Teams of scientists from the Netherlands, France and Switzerland will be performing a week-long, large-scale and rarely performed experiment in Dronten to measure ammonia emissions from fertilisers. They hope that this will prove that new technologies will allow for better and more accurate measurements of concentrations of ammonia in the air.

The results could provide a valuable contribution to the discussion on the subject that is taking place throughout Europe, and to the policy measures that need to be introduced in order to further reduce harmful ammonia emissions. One example is the spreading of fertiliser. This has an enormous impact on the agricultural sector. The Netherlands has one of the highest concentrations of ammonia emissions in Europe. Strict measures have resulted in a great reduction of acid rain since 1990, and yet the current level of emissions in the Netherlands is actually higher than the emissions ceiling as agreed in the EU’s National Emission Ceiling Directive. New measurement techniques could correct this picture, as the current methods cause certain emissions to count double as a result of turbulence effects and vertical dispersion.

Ammonia emission measurements are carried out using a method that was developed in the 1990s using gas wash bottles. These record, every 30 minutes, the average ammonia concentrations from the middle of a piece of fertilised land. With new technology, we can take readings every second, from a distance. Modern computers are capable of performing good analysis upon these fast readings.


From 13 to 17 June, an array of instruments that has never been assembled in Europe will be set up in a field in Dronten. The 12-metre long LIDAR-truck from RIVM fires laser pulses through the air, there are 2 RIVM mini DOAS systems that use mirrors and light to map out ammonia compounds and 3 wet chemical instruments from ECN that vacuum up the air and store the ammonia in water. A mobile spectrometer in a measurement van provided by INRA from France drives back and forth to observe the direction in which the ammonia plume drifts. A measurement system buzzes up and down on a little elevator above the field. Even the standard methods with gas wash bottles and so-called passive samplers are put into action. Once the equipment has been set up, the manure will be spread on Tuesday 14 June in two circles, 40 metres in diameter, called fertiliser plots. The accuracy of the measurements is controlled using an artificial source of ammonia, with an emission level that is exactly known. During the course of the week an innovative fertiliser injector will also be tested, developed by the company Slootsmid.

The measurements are coordinated by ECN in cooperation with the Louis Bolk Institute, RIVM, VU and Slootsmid. The execution of the project has been made possible by financing from SBIR and the Mesdagfonds, as well as funding from Switzerland, France and Italy, where similar problems also occur. Equipment is being provided by VMM from Belgium and 2 commercial parties, Envicontrol (Zaltbommel) and Aerodyne (USA).

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Category: Corporate, Environment