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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Bacteria May Provide Biofuel, Cheap Nitrogen Fertilizer

By 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 that’s 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

Last Modified: 5/15/2017
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