Bacteria May Provide Biofuel, Cheap Nitrogen FertilizerBy Jill Lee
December 26, 1996
A quirk of nature may someday provide an inexpensive biofuel or improve the production of man-made fertilizers. Some soil microorganisms use enzymes that contain iron or iron and vanadium, elements naturally present in soil, to convert nitrogen in the atmosphere into a form plants can use for growth.
Hydrogen thats produced in the nitrogen-conversion process--but not used by the plants--could be collected and put to work as a biofuel, scientists say.
Another plus: Bacteria that use iron in this process could provide clues as to how iron might serve as a catalyst in making nitrogen fertilizers. Current ammonium fertilizer production uses extremely high temperatures and pressure, a process that requires lots of fossil fuel. An alternative process could lower costs and preserve fuel.
Scientific contact: Paul Bishop, Soybean and Nitrogen Conservation Laboratory, Raleigh, N.C., (919) 515-3770