Making Nitrogen and Soil
Green plants must have nitrogen to build their bodies and to make the protein found in seeds. Industry produces nitrogen fertilizers. According to agricultural reports on nitrogen use, the amount of nitrogen washed away into rivers, lakes, and oceans is almost the same as that industrially produced. Nitrogen produced in soil by nitrobacter is fully utilized by green plants. Legume plants produce feed for this nitrobacter and, in turn, more nitrogen is produced in the soil.
There is a material difference between the use of industrially produced nitrogen and nitrogen produced by legumes. The industrial form feeds only the plant roots and not soil biota, so biota dies and soil becomes exhausted and abandoned. Legumes’ nitrogen feeds biota which produces humus, and the humus releases nitrogen into the soil and plant roots, so the soil remains fertile. Industrial nitrogen is used in industrial monoculture to harvest crops each year until the soil is spent and then abandoned. Using legumes, crops must be rotated and cannot be harvested each year, but the soil stays fertile and production is sustainable over time.
Industrial production of nitrogen fertilizer involves separation of nitrogen from air, and is quite an energy-intensive process that uses fossil fuels, which in turn produces greenhouse gases. To make nitrogen fertilizer, a large amount of hydrogen is required. It is produced by decomposing the basic elements of natural gas – hydrogen and carbon. Carbon is burned when it comes in contact with oxygen and makes carbon dioxide. Furthermore, soils generate nitrous oxide from nitrogen fertilizer. Nitrous oxide is one of the most powerful and harmful greenhouse gases. The effect of its release is approximately equal to that of carbon dioxide that weighs the same as the nitrogen fertilizer itself. The end result is that there is twice as much damage from industrially produced nitrogen fertilizer: large amounts of greenhouse gases are emitted (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and leaked methane), and there is an enormous pollution of our rivers, lakes, and oceans, with this nitrogen suffocating various forms of marine life.
I have one invention that solves only the greenhouse problem caused by producing nitrogen fertilizer. This invention is of use only for our problem as it stands now, to satisfy people’s addiction to having crops now, with no concern for tomorrow.
I have invented a combination of processes to separate nitrogen from air with energy efficiency near the thermodynamic limit, meaning that the energy efficiency of the process is significantly higher than that of today. Hydrogen is produced in the same way as in the Fuelcor process. The rest is a conventional process of combining nitrogen and hydrogen into ammonia, the Haber-Bosch process. Both processes in my invention use nuclear energy, so no greenhouse gas emissions occur, and, with the enormous economic advantage of nuclear energy over fossil energy, the cost of production is substantially decreased. In combination, a substantial increase in performance over cost value is achieved and the use of natural gas is eliminated.
The much better solution, however, will be to increase the amount of humus in the soil and maintain it on an annual basis, without using legumes. This serves two purposes: nitrogen will be available to crops in monoculture, and soil fertility will be sustained. This is for people who engage in action that is mindful of living for today and tomorrow.
Soil biota uses plant nitrogen in combination with plant carbon to make humus. For each atom of nitrogen, one carbon atom is used, and three additional carbon atoms are burned with oxygen to provide energy to biota to combine nitrogen with carbon. Seventy-five percent of carbon dioxide absorbed by plants during growth is released back into atmosphere.
The direction for future invention is to provide energy to biota from nuclear energy instead of fossil energy from plant carbon and additional nitrogen using my invention, but in a chemical form digestible by soil biota without producing nitrous oxide. A double benefit is then achievable: increase in humus content limited only by latitude on Earth, and total elimination of carbon dioxide from both green plant decomposition and nitrogen fertilizer production. This is the only known economical process of taking carbon dioxide into the soil: use plants that use nuclear fusion energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide into carbon, and then convert carbon into soil humus for increased soil fertility. This is a work-in-progress.