When a lot of people think of Ontario, New York – the state whose motto is “Let There Be Nature” – they think of its apple orchards and hipster enclaves.
But Ontario has been hiding a secret of a geological nature and it is the actual birthplace of much of the continent’s ammonia that defines how the U.S. drought affects different crops.
And it may even be our secret weapon for conquering our drought problems.
When ammonia is combined with the sun’s energy to form nitrates, it brings with it favorable conditions for growing corn and pumpkins. It also releases beneficial organic nitrogen on a global scale, which, in turn, has had a powerful environmental impact.
A team of scientists and environmental activists have taken back control of that effect – rather than algae or weeds replacing crops – and have opened up an “Ammonia Industry to the masses.”
When ammonia is combined with the sun’s energy to form nitrates, it brings with it favorable conditions for growing corn and pumpkins.
All in the name of healthy lives and stronger economies.
This project – called Omicron – is part of a new line of products – called Vitroene, a new enzyme, developed by a team at Ontario’s University of Guelph.
The team is using another naturally occurring herbicide – NK603 – rather than poison to establish their unique pipeline of products, in theory ending agriculture’s dependence on ammonium nitrate fertilizers.
The team hopes to change the way small farmers produce enough nutrients for their crops.
In other words, they will handpick nitrogen-fixing plants instead of sprinkling harmful fertilizer on the crops to ensure their ultimate survival.
“It is a new technology that can produce a product where we do not currently make one,” said Miguel Hernandez, Ph.D., director of product development for Omicron LLC.
One of the manufacturers of an ammonia solution – DuPont – is already working with Omicron to design a pipeline.
“They are fascinated by this technology and they are developing a pipeline with Omicron that allows them to produce ammonia in very portable containers, using percolation technology,” said Philip Hallstrom, a professor of chemistry at the University of Guelph.
The ammonia from that pipeline would be sprayed from a conveyor belt on vegetables or grain crops before moving to an onboard evaporator that converts nitrates into nitrogen fertilizer.
The end result, according to Alex Sans, an Omicron Scientist, will increase the amount of nitrogen available for plants by up to 200 percent.
“It will allow us to potentially replace some of these ammonia plants that are on this continent and it may help us reduce our amount of nitrogen emissions in some areas where there are problems with their application,” Sans explained.
“It won’t be an overnight answer, but it will keep us from running out of nitrogen and it may help us increase our production of arable land and lower our carbon footprint,” said Hallstrom.
Hernandez also thinks a reduction in nitrogen emissions could also help push up the value of renewable energy.
“The fertilizer business is forecasted to be worth about $130 billion a year, but if we can get these ammonia applications to reduce this carbon intensity – we can lower the costs and perhaps even help our electrical production because the electricity producers can recover the energy they put into producing this ammonia.”
By avoiding the need for so many expensive fertilizers farmers can save a lot of money – even if they still need to drink a lot of water during their season.
“I can’t tell you how many gallons of water is used to grow just one crop,” Hallstrom noted.
Making sure farmers don’t waste it – and that they get all the fertilizer they need – will hopefully solve a lot of problems.
It might even get us out of the drought quagmire we are currently in.