Lead Researchers: Nico Pinkowski, Charles Hillyer
Contact: Nico Pinkowski
Industry Partner: Nitricity 

Abstract:
For the past century, nitrogen fertilizer has been produced in centralized facilities hundreds to thousands of miles away from farmers who need the fertilizer. Immense market inefficiencies and safety hazards are involved in the distribution chain that leads to a farmer’s cost of fertilizer being 2-5 times higher than production gate costs. Environmentally, the industrial production of nitrogen fertilizer today relies on coal or natural gas and is responsible for over 1.6% of global CO2 emissions. Even more CO2 emissions are expected in the distribution of nitrogen fertilizer from hundreds of centralized plants to billions of acres of farmland. Nitricity has developed a technology that produces nitrogen fertilizer on-farm using air, water, and renewable electricity and will test this technology with the Center for Irrigation Technology (CIT). The purpose of this collaboration is to test if Nitricity’s solar-based nitrogen fertilizer system, coupled to a CIT irrigation system, can supply the nitrogen requirement of a small crop of processing tomatoes. Crops grown using the Nitricity fertilizer treatment will be compared to crops grown using conventional fertilizer applied on the same schedule.

Immense market inefficiencies and safety hazards are involved in the distribution chain of nitrogen that leads to a fertilizer costs being 2-5x higher for producers compare to production gate costsIndustrial production of nitrogen fertilizer relies on coal or natural gas and is responsible for over 1.6% of global CO2 emissions. Onsite nitrogen fertilization production system with using solar energy has the potential to decrease the cost of Nitrogen production while also shrinking the producers’ carbon footprint. 

Nitricity built and installed a solar-based nitrogen fertilizer production system at the Center for Irrigation Technology testing site that was used to produce 100% of the nitrogen fertilizer required by a field crop of tomatoes grown in 10 beds, each 50 feet in length.  

 

The solar-fertilizer system developed is on track to produce 200-lbs N/acre in a year. However, based on the start date in 2020, the fertilizer production system produced and injected 70 lbs. N/acre during its first season of operation. Soil, fertilizer, petiole, and Brix samples were collected over the course of the season for the test plot of tomatoes receiving nitrogen and under the tomatoes in the control plot that did not any. Crop quality and yields from the test and control plot were comparable at 33±14 tons/acre and 35±9 tons/acre, respectively. The ability to fertigate frequently is intrinsic to on-site fertilizer generation, and results from this project suggest that such application may improve fertilizer use-efficiency. Nitricity and CIT will continue to work jointly to synthesize the results of the testing effort, identify areas for improvement, and discuss the feasibility of expanding the system to fertilize larger areas of land.