Nitricity, obtaining nitrogen and fertilizer from the air thanks to solar energy

Gianluca Riccio

Environment, Technology

nitrogen nitricity

The company has developed an experimental reactor that generates low-cost and environmentally friendly nitrogen fertilizers.

Nitricity has created an experimental reactor that produces economical and environmentally friendly nitrogen fertilizers using solar energy. Their on-site fertilizer production eliminates fertilizer transportation emissions and provides a sustainable alternative to Haber-Bosch process, which uses fossil fuels to fix nitrogen.

Nitrogen pulled from the air is used by Nitricity to produce nitric acid, the most essential nutrient in the fertilizers that plants use to grow all our food.

The process adopted

In October 2021 the company began commercial operations with an installation of 144 solar panels: the most classic of pilot projects.

On its official website, Nitricity then provided the results of an experimental study on its “serious” pilot project in Fresno, California. The starting solar system was a complex of 16 ground-mounted panels producing 75-85 V and a maximum output of 2,4 kW.

The system was connected directly to an underground irrigation system, used to fertilize a tomato crop. The study shows the success of the experiment, with tomatoes in quantity and quality comparable to those obtained from the control system (i.e. a normal mass-produced nitrogen fertilizer).

Nitrogen and fertilizers from the air: the pilot project

nitrogen fertilizers
An image of the pilot project. Nitricity's recipe for obtaining nitrogen and fertilizers? Water, air, renewable energy.

Nitricty claims that their technology will appeal to a wide range of customers. The system is easily available, allowing farmers who are far from fertilizer production centers to benefit from the innovation.

On the environmental level, it's a bang: the Nitricity process challenges the industrial production of ammonia, a process that directly creates more CO2 than any other human-driven chemical process on earth. The main raw material for modern nitrogen fixation is natural gas, and its conversion to ammonia generates heavy pollution.

It's not all: Nitricity's distributed and localized nitrogen solution also avoids transport emissions. The process of distributing fossil-based nitrogen fertilizers can cause market inefficiencies, resulting in the cost of fertilizer for a farmer two to five times higher than what would be available from a factory. Due to their direct link with natural gas, the production costs of the fertilizers fossil based are unpredictable and costly.

Four accounts with nitrogen

A practical example of the application of Nitricity technology, with the case of a wheat producer:

  • 1 hectare of wheat needs about 112 kg of nitrogen.
  • 112 kg of nitrogen (via ammonia or urea) is now produced in a coal or NG factory, which emits around 136 kg of CO2.
  • With the current process, then, 300 grams of N2O per hectare are emitted. This means that one hectare emits around 200kg of CO2 due to N2O emissions into the soil.
  • In total, 1 hectare of wheat can emit up to 340kg of CO2 emissions from fertilizer production and application.

Nitricity technology mitigates nearly 100% of these emissions.

If these fertilization systems are combined with solar-powered greenhouses and other sustainable land management methods, solar energy will likely be necessary for our food supply in the future.