The broader impact/commercial potential of this I-Corps project is the development of nitrogen fertilizer on-farm from air, water, and renewable electricity. The $78 B global fertilizer marketplace is served today by this process through a complicated and expensive supply chain to the worldâ€™s 4 billion acres of farmland. Once on the farm, the fertilizer is applied in bulk, and more than half of it is lost to gas emissions and runoff, potentially damaging downstream ecosystems and poisoning nearby water supplies. The aim of this proposed technology is to offer an alternative method to produce environmentally sustainable fertilizer. The proposed system uses solar panels as an environmentally friendly power source, and applying fertilizer slowly instead of in bulk mitigates the problems with runoff and gas emissions.
This I-Corps project is based on the development of a plasma reactor powered by renewable electricity that converts air and water into nitrates in an aqueous solution. For the past 115 years, fertilizer has been produced using the Haber-Bosch process and now produces nearly one billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year. The design of the proposed technology is modular, decreasing the costs and allowing use in remote areas and developing nations. This proposed technology produces nitrogen fertilizer on-site intermittently using the power from the solar module and the inputs of air and water. This technology is tightly integrated with the solar array and the farmâ€™s irrigation system to provide growers with on-demand fertilizer. Preliminary studies indicate that the proposed plasma reactor technology appears to be an economically and environmentally sustainable nitrogen fixing technology.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.