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Making Agriculture More Sustainable

Funding Year: 
No Continent
Research Areas: 
Food Security

Fertilizer manufacturing has caused global food production to grow exponentially in the past 100 years. However, the process used to manufacture ammonia, a main ingredient in fertilizers, consumes 2 percent of the world’s natural gas and energy, and emits 300 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year. This project aims to develop a more sustainable approach that is also safer and more affordable.

One of nature’s way of fixating nitrogen is through hot lightning discharges, which dissociate nitrogen and reacts it with oxygen and water vapor. The researchers will exploit a colder discharge plasma whereby nitrogen is fixated directly in liquid water. This process would be powered by electricity without greenhouse gas release, requiring no natural gas to drive it. The approach has the potential, through use of renewable energy, to eliminate the carbon footprint that has plagued fertilizer production for over a century.

Learn more about the Realizing Environmental Innovation Program and other funded projects.

Principal Investigators:

Mark Cappelli (Mechanical Engineering)

Juan Rivas-Davila (Electrical Engineering)

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