MIT Engineers Developing Smaller Scale, Cheaper Fertilizer Production Technique

MIT Engineers Developing Smaller Scale, Cheaper Fertilizer Production Technique

MIT chemical engineers are developinig a smaller-scale alternative, which they envision could be used to domestically produce fertilizer for farmers in remote, rural areas, reminiscent of sub-Saharan Africa. Fertilizer is commonly hard to obtain in such areas due to the cost of transporting it from large manufacturing units

In a leap toward that kind of small-scale manufacturing, the research crew has devised a way to mix hydrogen and nitrogen using electric currents to produce a lithium catalyst, the place the reaction takes place.

Graduate scholar Nikifar Lazouski is the lead author of the research, which featured today in Nature Catalysis. Other authors include graduate students Minju Chung and Kindle Williams, and undergraduate Michal Gala.

For over100 years, fertilizer has been manufactured using the Haber-Bosch process, which combines atmospheric nitrogen with hydrogen gas to type ammonia.

The hydrogen fuel used for this process is often obtained from methane derived from natural gas or other fossil fuels. Nitrogen could be very unreactive, so high temperatures and pressures are required to make it react with hydrogen to form ammonia.

Utilizing this process, manufacturing facilities can produce thousands of tons of ammonia/day, but they’re costly to run, and they emit quite a lot of carbon dioxide.