In this week's C&EN, a story on fertilizer manufacturing innovation (article by Matt Blois):
Surrounded by 2,400 hectares of tomatoes, peppers, and other vegetables near Fresno, California, the white shipping container looks small. Inside, light flashes through the porthole windows of a buzzing plasma reactor powered by two rows of adjacent solar panels.
The plasma oxidizes nitrogen from the air and sends it to absorbtion colmns where it bubbles up through water. Nitrogen oxides react with hydrogen and oxygen in the water to form a nitric acid solution, which is stored in tanks. A pipe connected to the farm’s irrigation system delivers the diluted nitric acid as an alternative to conventional nitrogen fertilizer.
Nitricity, the start-up operating this pilot-scale fertilizer factory, says its technology is one way to shorten a supply chain that has recently been pummeled by hurricanes, winter storms, export controls, coal shortages, high prices for natural gas, and a viral pandemic. Those disruptions sent costs for nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium fertilizers to historic highs in 2021. Heavy sanctions on Russia and Belarus after the attack on Ukraine in February 2022 further increased the price of natural gas and cut off a major source of fertilizers, pushing up prices even more.
I'm guessing that this kind of modular system has its limits and its economics would require relatively high value crops, but this is fascinating and bears some watching...