Fertilizer created from wind power at Morris ROC.

MN Impact: Transforming Energy from Wind to Nitrogen Fertilizer

December 7, 2014

The Issue

Fertilizer accounts for roughly 14 percent of the carbon footprint of corn production. If fertilizer can be produced in a renewable way, both the environment and farmers would benefit.

What Has Been Done?

In the summer of 2013, the U of M’s West Central Research and Outreach Center officially launched a process believed to be one-of-a-kind, which takes the energy from wind, converts it to hydrogen and then to ammonia that can be used as fertilizer on surrounding farmlands.

Making fertilizer from wind has been on the center’s agenda since before 2005, when the first 1.65 megawatt wind turbine was installed at the center. Annually, the center will produce about 25 tons of fertilizer and sell it to farmers via local area co-ops. Researchers are using life-cycle analysis models to evaluate exactly how much fossil fuel can be saved by using the system.

Impact/Results

Members of the World Wildlife Fund, which is working with companies like General Mills and Cocoa-Cola that are responding to consumer demand for sustainable products, recently visited the center.

A growing field to market movement within agriculture and the food sector is working toward sustainability throughout the food chain. A plant like this could produce enough fertilizer for a group of farms or a small-town cooperative.

Researcher discusses conversion process to nitrogen fertilizer.

Michael Reese, Director of renewable energy research at Morris, at the pilot plant that converts wind power to hydrogen and ammonia for fertilizer.