Jan 262012

Yet more land goes back to nature

Daily News TV

26 January 2062

Thanks to the ammonium nitrate fertilizer from self-sustaining NitroFix units, more than 100 million hectares of farmland have now been returned to the wild. That was the message delivered by the Secretary of the UN, Lucy Wang Hui, as she switched on the world’s millionth NitroFix unit, in Kenya, and announced that it meant another 100 hectares of farmed land was no longer needed.

In 2015 the UN decreed that low-yield organic farming as promoted by the Soil Association was harming the Earth’s ecology by growing food which was then transported thousands of miles to supermarkets. What was particularly damaging was that such farming produced lower and lower yields as the nitrogen content of the soil could not be fully replaced by local sources of animal manure and compost.

“What was sustainable agriculture when the food was eaten locally became unsustainable when the produce was exported” said Wang Hui to the gathering of foreign dignitaries. “Farmers originally benefited from the higher prices that people in the West paid for their organic produce, but as crop yields fell it became clear that this type of farming was unsustainable globally.”

The anti-organic movement which originated in the UK was spearheaded by food chemists who re-educated the public into a deeper understanding of what plants need in the way of nutrients and especially of the all-important nitrogen.

“No one talks of artificial fertilizer anymore because this is now saving the planet” said Dr William Patel, the UK’s representative at the event, and President of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

NitroFix units now supply 20 per cent of the nitrogen fertilizer the world’s plants need, and with no adverse environmental impact. The UN aims to raise this to 50 per cent in the next ten years. Not only that, but it will mean an end to fertilizing farmland with human sewage and the excessive use of water that is required to wash crops from such farms, in order to make them free of disease pathogens. Sewage is now only used to fertilize woodland, energy crops, or for methane generation.

Our Science Correspondent writes

As far as plant roots are concerned there is no difference between the nitrate and ammonia which comes from rotting waste and that which comes from the NitroFix units, which are now seen on farms around the world. They use electricity to generate nitric acid from nitric oxide, which is produced by combining oxygen and nitrogen of the air via the Birkeland Eyde process developed in the early 1900s. The nitric acid is then reacted with ammonia, generated from nitrogen and hydrogen, the latter being produced by electrolysis of water. Both processes use catalysts developed around 10 years ago.

The result is a solution of ammonium nitrate suitable for spraying as fertilizer. The electricity to drive NitroFix units is generated on site by windmill, watermill, or solar power, and even a small unit will produce several tonnes of ammonium nitrate per year. “It’s a gain-gain situation for agriculture and the world’s ecology” says Dr Patel whose UK-based company provides the catalysts for the processes.

The chemical reactions behind NitroFix are now taught at junior schools and almost every child knows the poem that explains how O2 + N2 = NO, NO + H2O = HNO3, H2 + N2 = NH3, and NH3 + HNO3 = HN4NO3.

“One day we might even get them to balance the equations!” jokes Patel.

Jan 172012

Rape crop yields disappoint investors

The Financial Times

17 January 2062

The Ministry of Fuel announced that the UK’s yield of rape seed oil had been badly affected by the weather this year.

“June was too hot and July was too wet” said the Minister yesterday “and that spelt disaster for farmers growing organic rape seed.”

It is believed that in some areas yields were as low as 2 tonnes per hectare. However, the Minister denied that she was thinking of sending some of the crop to Holland where new processing plants are able to extract more than 700 litres of diesel per tonnes of rape seed.

“We are not convinced that their methods use only organically derived chemicals to produce the fuel”, she said. “The Leicester plant can extract 300 litres per tonne, and while this means it is more expensive, at least it is eco-friendly, and I know those UK residents who have cars are more than willing to pay the extra.”

Giles Fairweather, the Professor of Agriculture at the University of Nottingham, thinks that more could be done to boost crop yields. He pointed out that even though the annual ration for a private car is only 100 litres per year, this will still mean importing bio-diesel from Germany if the allowance is not to be cut further.

“The answer is surely to start growing the GM rape that has been developed in China and which grows well in dry conditions. That will yield 4 tonnes per hectare even when grown organically, and more than 8 tonnes per hectare when agrochemical fertilizers are used. Instead of increasing the area devoted to rape seed year after year we could be reducing it, as in China, if only we followed their methods”, he said.

As the Minister was speaking, Police were still questioning the driver of a tanker of supposed Alpine water which was stopped at Dover yesterday and which is now believed to have had a secret compartment filled with more than 10,000 litres of biodiesel. The vehicle has been impounded and its owners could face a fine of up to €50,000. Diesel smuggling is now thought to be costing Customs and Excise more than €1 billion a year in unpaid fuel levies.