With approximately 83 million people being added to the world population every year, the fertilizer industry was and continues to be in high demand. Fertilizers provide nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus to plants and crops, enabling the mass production of the world’s food source. However, fertilizers, also contribute to greenhouse emissions, groundwater pollution and influence eutrophication. This negatively impacts the environment simultaneously becoming a socioeconomic issue. Technological advancements such as nitrogen sensors, bio stimulants and ultrasonic irradiation are predicted to transform the fertilizer industry by decreasing environmental damage and enhancing the nutrient content of crops. This report aims to discuss how the environmental damage caused by artificial fertilizers can be erased by up and coming technological advancements whilst also still allowing the fertilizer industry to “feed the world”.
Chemical Background: Fertilizers
Plants as well as crops need micro-nutrients such as nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) which are water soluble compounds often found in fertilizers promoting plant growth and development. The fertilizer industry once mainly utilized chemical elements to the soil by adding compost, animal manure, dried and ground animal blood and bone or ground nutrient-rich rocks mixed with chemicals that allowed the plants to absorb the nutrients to make organic fertilizers. However, technological advancements soon created new ways to synthesize the compounds needed for plant growth, therefore enabling the development of artificial fertilizers with the most popular being nitrogen and phosphorous.
Solubility in water
Other properties advantages/disadvantages
Gas or aqueous solution
· Toxic gas, difficult to handle
· Easily synthesized
· Relatively non-toxic
· In soil reacts to release ammonia over time to provide longer term supply of nitrate by oxidation
· Powerful explosive must be handled and stored with great care
· Low N content
Table 1: SACE Stage 2 Chemistry Workbook
The table above illustrates the properties of common fertilizers, highlighting their solubility and the disadvantages in regards to environment e.g. toxicity. The nitrogen cycle allows the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen (N2) into nitrate ions (NO3) allowing plants to absorb it as nutrients, promote root development and leaf growth. Plants then use up the desired amount of nitrogen and the remaining nitrogen-rich compounds are broken down by bacteria and released back into the atmosphere as nitrogen (N2).Nitrogen is required to create chlorophyll which is crucial in the process of photosynthesis which allows plants to create their own food. Once the pl...