Research Breakthrough — Fertilizer from the Air

While a long way from  LENR, since we deal with world-changing developments on this site, here’s an interesting press release and video from the University of Nottingham in the UK, which could herald a revolution in the world of agriculture. Researchers have found a way to fix nitrogen into a wide variety of crop plants from the atmosphere into using bacteria found in sugar cane.

Regarding the significance of this breakthrough, Professor Edward Cocking, lead researcher in this project states, “helping plants to naturally obtain the nitrogen they need is a key aspect of World Food Security. The world needs to unhook itself from its ever increasing reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertilisers produced from fossil fuels with its high economic costs, its pollution of the environment and its high energy costs.”

World changing technology enables crops to take nitrogen from the air
A major new technology has been developed by The University of Nottingham, which enables all of the world’s crops to take nitrogen from the air rather than expensive and environmentally damaging fertilisers.

Nitrogen fixation, the process by which nitrogen is converted to ammonia, is vital for plants to survive and grow. However, only a very small number of plants, most notably legumes (such as peas, beans and lentils) have the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere with the help of nitrogen fixing bacteria. The vast majority of plants have to obtain nitrogen from the soil, and for most crops currently being grown across the world, this also means a reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.

Professor Edward Cocking, Director of The University of Nottingham’s Centre for Crop Nitrogen Fixation, has developed a unique method of putting nitrogen-fixing bacteria into the cells of plant roots. His major breakthrough came when he found a specific strain of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in sugar-cane which he discovered could intracellularly colonise all major crop plants. This ground-breaking development potentially provides every cell in the plant with the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. The implications for agriculture are enormous as this new technology can provide much of the plant’s nitrogen needs.

  • Chuck

    If I grab a bag of fertilizer, I see that there are three assay numbers. One for potash (potassium), another for phosphorous and finally, a third for nitrogen.

    Nitrogen is simple to fix from the air–legumes do it all of the time; there are processes, such as the Haber process to do the same that have been used for over a century.

    What the described process doesn’t give is potash or phosphorous, the latter being obtained today from phosphate rock. And the current sources of phosphate, like oil, are being rapidly depleted. So, like oil, getting phosphate rock is going to mining the seabed, an expensive operation.

    • Roger Bird

      I am no expert on fertilizers. But I am a jack of what artificial fertilizers are doing to people. Your list of ingredients says absolutely nothing about magnesium and a profusion of trace minerals. It is obvious even to me that N-Fix does not contribute potash or phosphorous to the soil. But, since when does **healthy** growth need potash and phosphorous. **Rapid** growth may need potash and phosphorous. And it is obvious that some farmers are going to continue to add potash and phosphorous just so they can get that rapid growth. So I will hazard a guess and say that N-Fix is not going to fix all of our health-agricultural problems.

  • Curbina

    As an Agronomic Engineer, I have to say this is hardly news. The problem is that the fertilizers are a very good bussiness, and if you see the companies doing the most fertilizer sales, you’ll have one of those moments of realization of why we still are using massive amounts of them.

    On the other hand, anyone who has read the book “Gaia: a new way of understanding life on Earth” by Dr. Lovelock, will probably realize that this is not such a good idea as it seems, to begin with.

  • Robyn Wyrick

    I am a big fan of bio-engineering. But I am an equally big fan of caution.

    In the world of “disruptive technologies” biotech is arguably the most disruptive, and the most promise for good.

    Unfortunately the technology it disrupts is not Mimeograph, or the Cathode-Ray tube, it is potentially the ecology on which all life depends.

    As others have mentioned in earlier posts, letting something like this get into the wild can have unintended, and unforeseeable consequences.

    As an example, back in the 1990s, Monsanto was researching how to insert the bacteria Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacillus_thuringiensis) into corn and other crops. BT is a naturally occurring bacteria that is deadly to many crop-eating insects, and has been used for decades as an organic, public domain pesticide. One of BT’s excellent characteristics was that it was short lived – and did not produce a persistent selective environment that would force the adaptation of pests to build resistance. It just kept working year after year.

    In the 90s, ecologists warned that using BT genes inside the genes of food crops would create a persistent, selective environment, and produce BT-resistant “super” pests. (http://www.iatp.org/news/peasants-oppose-gm-corn-genetic-imperialism) I went to one conference in 1999 where a presenter claimed that Monsanto itself was aware of the concern, and knew that it would take as little as five years of widespread BT introduction to start developing BT-resistant pests.

    Well, a dozen years later we began to see the consequence. (http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/08/monsanto-superweeds-and-superinsects-compounding-drought-damage-corn-country) There are stories all over the country now of BT-resistant super-bugs that are decimating crops.

    But the story is worse than that. What the release of these genetically engineered crops did was to make it so that a public-domain pesticide, suitable for organic agriculture, is far less effective. Farmers all over the country now have to contend with resistant insects irrespective of whether they ever used Monsanto’s product. And where will they turn?

    Monsanto has some ideas about that.

    And this is why I’m very concerned about biotech generally.

    It’s vitally important to study and develop new opportunities in this field of science, but the profit motive is ruthless. Without a very robust precautionary principle, driving extensive study of consequences, we could unleash mass-extinctions, environmental collapse (like we are seeing with the mysterious bee population collapse) and other ecological nightmares.

    • Dan

      Thing is that it’s already in the wild and has been for millennia. All they’ve done is find a trick (no small thing) to get an existing bacteria to colonize plants other than the sugar cane that they normally colonize. The fact that you have to trick them into doing something they don’t normally do means that there is a natural barrier to this bacteria running wild out in the world.

    • AB

      The reason why widespread use of a single method of pest control eventually leads to superpests is because this practice kills most pest populations, until one pest species becomes tolerant. This pest species then finds an environment free of competitors and multiply very rapidly.

      This is a valid concern, but it is an argument against monocultures and homogeneous farming.

  • Barry

    It’s good to see, even Frank goes off topic now and then.

    • http://www.e-catworld.com admin

      I think this kind of thing is on topic — important breakthroughs like this are always in the spirit of ECW!

  • BC

    This seems more exciting and more apropos of the mission of this site:
    “New Water Splitting Technique Efficiently Produces Hydrogen Fuel”
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130801142331.htm

  • Jonas

    OR you could just use the ancient method of crop rotation, growing legumes every other year or so..?

    • Roger Bird

      You could try to talk farmers into doing that. See how well that works.

      • Jonas

        Don’t feel like I have such a mission, exactly. It’s what I’d do anyway.

    • Chris I

      Or the newfangled Hippie version of it:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oy_x5rXq19g

    • Robyn Wyrick

      Exactly. But then, who will own your crops, and sue you for saving seed?

      • Jonas

        I’m not sure I understand the question..?

        • Thinks4Self

          He is being facetious. Monsanto regularly sues farmers if they save seed from a crop grown with Monsanto patented seeds.

          • Chris I

            Oh that itself would be no issue; if the farmer accepted an agreement and then breaches it then it’s no big deal if Monsanto sues.

            The real thorny issue is when they sue the neighbors because their crops got impollinated under action of the wind…

  • Roger Bird

    Here is a good link that explains things better:

    http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/8564/20130801/world-changing-technology-multiply-global-agriculture-output-using-nitrogen-air.htm

    This will also make it possible for poorer farmers to take advantage of nitrogen fixation. This will help poor people and will bring down the cost of food everywhere.

  • Roger Bird

    Another thing about this is that it should be easy to break the patent. All one would have to do is use a different bacteria, I think. The overarching idea will be a green light for other people to try to do it in such a way that they can go around the patent. But the market is ginormous.

  • Roger Bird

    I guess I am ignorant, but I was not aware that our artificial fertilizers where used predominantly to provide nitrogen to our food crops. I will take their word for it. I do know that artificial fertilizers will be the death of modern society, if we do not change our ways. It is our lead pipes. If this technology can be successful, perhaps the end of modern society can be averted. I sure hope so.

    What is wrong with artificial fertilizers, you ask? They foul up the mineral balance and almost completely exclude many minerals from our diets. In particularly, magnesium is pathologically low. 325 separate metabolic functions require magnesium, and we are ALL too low in magnesium. A person can feel the difference by supplementing with magnesium. I cannot go more than two days without PAINTING myself with magnesium oil (magnesium chloride), in order to absorb it, or else it becomes painfully obvious that I have neglected to do this. It takes away the pain of inflammation very quickly. And this is mostly the result of current foods that are deficient in magnesium.

    And artificial fertilizers exclude almost all trace minerals.

    If this technology can be shown to the average farmer (whose main concern is money) to be cheaper, and if they go for it, this would change the world for the better. I will be posting this information to all of my health forums. This is extremely hopeful. I have to say that this and LENR are in the same league as far as hope for the salvation of the human race.

    • psi

      Thanks for the provocative and informative comment.

    • Gerrit

      Fertilizers are rated for their NPK content.

      N – nitrogen: promotes the growth of leaves and vegetation
      P – phosphorus: promotes root and shoot growth
      K – potassium: promotes flowering and fruiting

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NPK_rating

    • AB

      I’m curious, what kind of symptoms appear without, or go away with, magnesium?

      • Roger Bird

        With 325 different reactions, I guess it would depend upon the person. But inflammation would be very high on the list, or numerous kinds of inflammation and pain would be very high on the list. For me, it is just pain. My interpretation of that pain is that it is caused by inflammation. But we can’t always believe interpretations in health just as we can’t necessarily believe the hot-fusionist’s theory or the Widom-Larsen theory regarding cold-fusion. Experience trumps theory, and my experience is that it reduces pain. [However, theory often guides or influences experience, so they sort of work together. (:->) ]

      • Gerrit

        brown needles turn green again with magnesium

  • arian558

    Look like defkalion would have another live demo on 3th and 4th august.
    http://coldfusionnow.org/successful-defkalion-demo-has-scientists-wanting-more/

    • Gerrit

      that explains why Defkalion will not have a demo at NI-week. They plan to have one before.

      I am starting to like this.

    • http://www.lenr-forum.com/forum.php barty

      This blog-post is only talking about an interview with defkalion which will be broadcasted on August 3th at 20:00 o’clock on an itlian radio-station.
      This interview recording will be repeated (re-broadcasted) a day later in the night-program.

      Or did I missunderstood something?

      • daniel maris

        A bit ambiguous really I thought. Why would it lead in with that reference to new measurements in the first para if they weren’t talking about a further demo? But there were no specific details of a demo, that’s true.

    • Sanjeev

      Looks like a live interview to me, not a demo. May be some Italian speaker can confirm.

    • artefact

      I guess the transmission is only in italian language like the radio show on July 22nd…

  • AB

    Very clever. Of course, they were initially told that it couldn’t work.

    • freethinker

      Yes,

      it certainly does sound very promising.

      They were told it would not work.

      Have we heard it before?

      But note: The honorable professor says it will rid
      the world of the fertilisers
      that is a threat to the environment.

      I wonder, if that bacteria of his has
      a zero environmental footprint?

      Likely not.

      • Warthog

        I think I would want some very careful research done on how this technique might colonize “non-crop” plants like oceanic micro-flora. Just suppose ALL plants started “fixing nitrogen” as the “fixing” bacteria enter the “wild”. Remember, once upon a time, the earth had a reducing atmosphere. The change from reducing to oxidizing happened when “oxygen-releasing” bacteria “went wild”.

        • AB

          It probably doesn’t colonize other plants without help, or it would have already done so.

          • freethinker

            If in extensive use, it may mutate and present new interesting forms, which will keep us quite busy.

            That is the natural mutation scenario. Naturally, a perky little microbiology critter like this will be very tempting to manipulate for business purposes, and down the line create more interesting scenarios, some likely non beneficial to our environment.

            This is something that probably will get the goosebumps going and neck hair rising in the folks of the non-GMO community….

            • AB

              There is no genetic engineering (gene splicing and insertion) here according to my understanding.

              • fortyniner

                And in any case, ‘seed’ stock would be kept in order to restart the process following sterilisation in the event of contamination or mutation.

            • Ben

              I am against GMOs, but for the adoption of this bacterial technology, if it is successful. I’ve been reading tons of books on health, nutrition and agriculture, and this bacterial idea is much closer to nature than using artificial fertilizers, which use (and waste) tons of fossil energy and cause a great deal of pollution. It’s a well established farming practice to take nitrogen-fixing bacteria and either put them in the soil where crops are grown, or to mix the bacteria with seeds before they are planted so that the bacteria can “infect” the plant and provide the vital nitrogen.

        • daniel maris

          Yes, all such changes you be introduced very slowly and only after very careful study.

          We could grow a lot more food without needing more fertilisers and insecticide if we used more polytunnels.

          • Roger Bird

            And of course you are going to tell us what polytunnels are, aren’t you.

        • Dan

          Since these bacteria have been colonizing sugar cane for millennia I’d say that if they haven’t already gotten out of control they won’t start now.

  • Greg Leonard

    Really very persuasive.
    I wonder if they have given too much technical detail in this film.
    It would be a pity if the company failed because it was too easy for others to copy the technique.

    Looks like the demand for nitrogen fertilisers could be in decline soon.

  • fortyniner

    There is a whole world of bio-tech industrial processes that are waiting for a cheap source of heat energy to drive them. This is the natural territory of the ‘Mk 1’ LT technology.

    As well as fertiliser production, these include synthesis of liquid fuels, structural materials (synthetic timber), animal feeds or plastics feedstocks from plant waste and/or waste CO2 — and cheaper beer!