Oct 31, 2022 - News

New N.C. State project aims to make fertilizer production greener

A fertilizing manufacturing plant in the U.K. Photo: Anthony Devlin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

N.C. State University is launching a new initiative aimed at finding greener ways to make fertilizer after landing a $6.5 million grant this month from the Novo Nordisk Foundation.

Why it matters: Creating fertilizers — which are critical for making soil productive enough to feed the world's growing population — is incredibly energy intensive.

The big picture: N.C. State researchers will join a crowded field of scientists across the world trying to create a greener future for the $231 billion fertilizer industry.

  • The grant pairs N.C. State, the state's premier agriculture school, with one of the world's largest grant makers for breakthrough technologies.

"We would absolutely not have the food supply that we have without chemically created fertilizer," Sonja Salmon, a professor and researcher at N.C. State's Wilson College of Textiles, whose department is leading the initiative, told Axios.

  • "But ... it's time to think: Can we do this in a different way?"

The intrigue: Instead of harnessing traditional green energy sources like wind and solar to make ammonia production cleaner, N.C. State is turning to its textiles department to find an altogether new approach.

What's happening: The Novo Nordisk Foundation has pledged money for the first five years of the new N.C. State initiative.

Yes, but: Nitrogenase, while abundant in nature, is difficult to harness.

  • That's where N.C. State's textile school will come into play, designing filters soaked with the enzyme that can capture nitrogen and trigger the reaction that produces ammonia.

The bottom line: N.C. State is tackling one of the dirtiest parts of the agriculture world. If it is successful, it could make the production of fertilizer more sustainable.


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