Less Synthetic Nitrogen Now Means A Healthier Planet Tomorrow.
To have cleaner air and water, we need to re-imagine crop nutrition using far less synthetic nitrogen than today. Today’s food production relies on high-yielding crops, and those high-yielding crops rely on the presence of nitrogen to deliver 50 percent of the world’s food supply. Yet it comes at an environmental cost.
One percent of the world’s total energy is used to produce fertilizer. The energy intensive Haber-Bosch process, which is the primary industrial approach to making ammonia, uses high temperatures and high pressure to combine nitrogen from the air with hydrogen to manufacture ammonia. Farmers apply ammonia to the fields where cereal crops are planted. This ammonia converts to a nitrate and fertilizes the plants. These plants only use a portion of these nitrates for fertilizer and the rest often leaches into our ground water, rivers and streams. It eventually ends up in our oceans, creating about 500 dead zones around the world, the largest is where the Mississippi pours into the Gulf of Mexico.
While atmospheric nitrogen is stable yet unusable by cereal crops, it can change very quickly when in the soil and in a usable form by the crops. Nitrogen not used by the crop can volatilize and become a gas. The synthetic nitrogen fertilizer decomposes in the soil and creates a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This emission is responsible for about 5 percent of global warming.
Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer accounts for about $150 billion in negative economic, environmental, and human health impacts. Even more worrisome is the impact to our soil and its glorious microbiome. After decades of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use, it has shut down the natural nitrogen fixation processes of soil microbes. Yet every year we use more synthetic nitrogen fertilizer to fuel the world’s nutrient-hungry crops. The population keeps growing, people need food, cereal crops provide half of the world’s nutrition, and cereal crops need nitrogen. It’s a world-altering cycle we must change by offering farmers a reliable, clean alternative before fertilizer causes further damage.