free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 314. PEAK OIL AND FERTILIZER: NO PROBLEM

Saturday, November 17, 2007

314. PEAK OIL AND FERTILIZER: NO PROBLEM

The idea that nitrogen fertilizer production is dependent on oil and gas is a myth -- a really stubborn and persistent myth. In fact, just this morning I woke up to find yet another uninformed bozo spreading the big lie:
If we are unprepared for Peak Oil the potential outcome may be devastating for our way of life and that of the world. Unfortunately Peak Oil is expected to coincide with Peak Food because oil is required for food growth and delivery.Source
We can debate the part about delivery, but the part where it says "oil is required for food growth" is nothing but pure, straight-from-the-rump bullshit.

I have previously addressed this issue in a number of posts: 28. ISN'T FERTILIZER MADE FROM CRUDE OIL?, 174. ARE HIGH FERTILIZER PRICES A THREAT TO THE FOOD SUPPLY?, and 176. THE OIL-BASED FERTILIZER MEME. But this myth really dies hard. So allow me to explain again, and hopefully enlighten a few more people to the actual facts.

I'd also like to enlist the help of the rational wing of the peak oil movement. Can we redouble our efforts to challenge this myth, and ensure that the general public has access to the truth instead of endless repetition of the same lie?

The key facts are very simple:

1) You don't need oil, natural gas, coal or any other fossil fuel to make nitrogen fertilizer.
2) All you need to make nitrogen fertilizer is air, water and energy.

back40, a soil scientist from the blog Muck and Mystery, has a great post describing the situation*:
Natural gas, methane, is a common feedstock for nitrogen fertilizer production since it has four nice hydrogen atoms, which is what is of use for fertilizer, and it is used as an energy source for heat and pressure production to enable the catalyzed reactions to take place.

But that's just one way to make ammonia, the simplest type of nitrogen fertilizer. At the turn of the century ammonia was a waste byproduct of coke production from coal that was sold as an industrial chemical and later as fertilizer. This is still so. But coal is still a fossil fuel albeit a much more abundant one. This debunks the peak oil whingers but not the anti-fossil whingers.

The earlier post Fire Down Below noted Iceland's use of geothermal energy and efforts to greatly increase production. One of their proposed uses of all that energy is to make hydrogen from water and export it around the world. They could use that hydrogen to make ammonia fertilizer and export that instead. It might be easier and more profitable.

Any energy system could be used to make hydrogen. We've heard of wind farms planning to use their peak output energies to make hydrogen as a way of storing the energy from intermittent winds. The hydrogen is a sort of battery in the sense of being charged up when the wind blows and drawn down between times, and thus overcoming one of wind's limitations as an energy system. Hydroelectric power has been used to make hydrogen and fertilizer too. All of these energy sources and hydrogen sources use no fossil fuels, just air and water, to make fertilizer.
There are numerous historical examples of firms making fertilizer from hydroelectric power:

Norsk Hydro:
A week after meeting, Eyde and Birkeland submitted a patent for artificial fertilizer. They obtained money from the Swedish financiers, the Wallenbergs, and a mere three years later a hydroelectric plant had been built out of the wilderness at Notodden and a Birkeland-Eyde arc furnace was producing the first Norgesalpeter - Norwegian Saltpeter, i.e. calcium nitrate.Source
Yara:
Among pioneers in nitrogen fertilizers
In 1909, a new power plant was built at Nera Montoro and the work to develop ammonia synthesis technology started, headed by Dr Luigi Casale. Italian scientists and engineers were very much part of the fertilizer technology race of the early 20th century.

Ammonia production based on the Casale process started at Nera Montoro in 1922/23 with a capacity of 14 tonnes per day. Synthesis gas for the ammonia converter was based on hydrogen from water electrolysis and nitrogen from the air.Source
A New York Times article from March 5, 1922, describes various projects to produce fertilizer using hydroelectric power: Food from the Air.

The Minnesota Central Research and Outreach Center (MCROC) is currently developing a prototype system to manufacture nitrogen fertilizer from wind, air and water:
The WCROC Wind to Hydrogen to Ammonia pilot facility is currently under design. The major equipment will be ordered Fall 2007. Construction is targeted for Spring 2008 and the facility should be in operation in Summer 2008. The system will feature a 400 kW electrolyzer and a modified Haber Bosch reactor that will produce a maximum of 1 ton per day or 365 tons of ammonia per year. The reactor will be approximately the size of a 50 gallon drum. Once in operation the facility will produce anhydrous ammonia for use on the West Central Research and Outreach Center fields in addition to some excess which will be sold or used in other energy systems.Source (Also see here.)
Even Richard Heinberg concedes that fossil fuels are not necessary to produce fertilizer:
Organic or ecological agriculture can be even more productive in some situations than industrial agriculture, but local success cannot make up for the fact that the total amount of nitrogen available to crops globally has been vastly increased by the Haber-Bosch ammonia synthesis process, which is currently dependent on fossil fuels. Ammonia synthesis could be accomplished with hydrogen, which could in turn be produced by hydroelectric hydrolysis; but the infrastructure for such production is currently non-existent. (Source: The Party's Over, P. 197)
Clearly no fossil fuels whatsoever are needed to manufacture nitrogen fertilizer. All you need is an energy source (hydroelectric, solar, wind, wave, geothermal, nuclear etc.), air and water. And none of these are even remotely facing a supply crisis.

Therefore, the supply of fertilizer is not threatened by peak oil, peak gas or even peak coal.

Of course, we can expect the doomers to make yet another last ditch rebuttal: "Yah, well, so what. Just because we can make nitrate without fossil fuels doesn't mean that we will."

Sorry, but I can assure you with 100% certainty that we will continue producing huge volumes of nitrates from the air, long after fossil fuel has been entirely exhausted. How do I know this? Simple: In addition to being fertilizer, nitrates are the active ingredient of gun powder and bombs. So, yes, nitrate facilities will be up and running, as a matter of national security, so we might as well use them to feed ourselves in peace time.
by JD
----
*) Part 2 of this article Fossil Fertilizer is also really good. Great summary of the history and future of nitrate.

33 Comments:

At Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 5:23:00 AM PST, Blogger bc said...

The problem I see with artificial fertilizer is not a shortage, but a lot of environmental damage caused by over use. Not just run off, but the sterile monocultures created by intensive farming.

I seriously question, do we actually need artificial fertilizer? Or do we use it because it is cheap and avoids the need to put thought into farming?

 
At Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 12:42:00 PM PST, Blogger dc said...

Spot on, bc. You beat me to the punch.

 
At Monday, November 19, 2007 at 12:03:00 PM PST, Blogger skintax era said...

"All you need is an energy source (hydroelectric, solar, wind, wave, geothermal, nuclear etc.), air and water. And none of these are evenly remotely facing a supply crisis."

It seems disingenuous to me to say in one breath that alternatives(electric cars, hydro for fertlilizer etc)are the answer to PO and it's associated problems, and then in another say that alternative energy isn't "even remotely facing a supply crisis".
Of course there isn't a current supply crisis in hydro, solar, nuclear, wind or wave. The load isn't on them yet. Nearly all cars still run on petrol or diesel. Most fertilizer is produced with natural gas. Nearly all transportation and manufacturing relies on oil.
When the majority of cars need electricity to function, when most fertilizer production requires an alternative energy source, when cheap, easy oil is removed from all food production, transport and manufacturing processes, then we'll get an idea of whether we're facing an alternative energy supply crisis. Until then confidence in supply seems premature at best.

"Therefore, the supply of fertilizer is not threatened by peak oil, peak gas or even peak coal."

Australia gets 80% of it's electricity from coal. China gets a new coal fired power station on line every 10 days or so. Peak coal sounds pretty threatening for their future alternative fertilizer production.

 
At Tuesday, November 20, 2007 at 2:06:00 AM PST, Blogger Yarra said...

I haven't looked around this site for some time, but I still don't understand how hydrogen could be exported (unles in the form of methanol) as it is very leaky and a bitch to transport. That implies that IF it is used to make ammonia, that it would have to be turned into ammonia locally and the fertiliser transported.
Comments people?

 
At Thursday, November 22, 2007 at 4:28:00 AM PST, Blogger The Dude said...

October 23rd discussion at OilDrum.com May be of interest.

The statement you quoted at the beginning referred to PO affecting food growth and delivery, which are largely carried out at present using diesel fuel, so their statement is apt and not "total BS."

 
At Tuesday, November 27, 2007 at 4:29:00 PM PST, Anonymous Starvid said...

So what's the problem of shipping fertilizer?

Guano was shipped from South America way back in the age of sail... or at least in the early 20th century.

(Go check it up someone).

 
At Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 7:20:00 PM PST, Blogger Darren said...

JD, for someone so arrogant, you display very little evidence that you are numerate (or even particularly intelligent).

I see that skintax era has written the obvious rebuttal (which you would have anticipated if you had two brain cells to rub together).

 
At Friday, November 30, 2007 at 5:23:00 PM PST, Anonymous George said...

Food production is not entirely based on fertilizer. There are also the tractors to run, the supplies to get, the transportation of goods, the plastic used for storage, etc, etc, etc. Also, we water is also a finite resource, and if you take a look at Atlanta, GA and the possiblity that they will be trying to bus in water for millions of people in the next few months, it becomes a little more dire.

 
At Sunday, December 2, 2007 at 2:14:00 AM PST, Blogger Dave Lankshear said...

Hi JD,

1. First the good news. We can reduce the NEED for nitrogen in our soils in the first place by using Biochar which then becomes the soil equivalent of a "great barrier reef" in that microbial life flourishes around the carbon, infusing nitrogen into the soil. Google biochar, it can give us sustainable food, sustainable fuel, and dramatically suck Co2 out of the atmosphere solving Global Warming.

2. Now the bad news. Nitrogen is only one of the 3 main fertilizers which we just call NPK... Nitrogen,
Phosphorus, and Potash (K) which these days runs by the chemical symbol of K because of it's origins in the word Kalium.

PK are mined and transported around the world. And here's the kicker: peak phosphorus is coming our way. My kids could live to see it.

 
At Sunday, December 2, 2007 at 2:16:00 AM PST, Blogger Dave Lankshear said...

I forgot to add, the Biochar process will be lucky to run agriculture. It might produce SOME sustainable fuel, but not today's quantities... not at all. But it's still very worth doing for the 3 goodies we'll get out of it. It completely rejuvinates the soil so that it requires less nitrogen fertilizer, stores water better, and generally improves soil quality.

Now to solve the PK problem....

 
At Thursday, December 6, 2007 at 6:29:00 PM PST, Blogger Dezakin said...

Phosphorus doesn't seem to be any bit of a problem. Its not like it gets used up, and its not that rare.

 
At Thursday, December 6, 2007 at 6:33:00 PM PST, Blogger Dave Lankshear said...

Sorry?

It does get used up, it is quite rare, and if we continue on our current course it'll all end up on the bottom of the ocean.

Check these important studies.

There are answers to it, but it's going to require reinventing how we do sewerage and farming. As in, back to the drawing board.

 
At Friday, December 7, 2007 at 8:21:00 PM PST, Anonymous sofistek said...

I didn't notice any mention of quantities in this "rebuttal". Is it likely that we could make sufficient quantities of artificial fertilizers for the foreseeable future, without natural gas supplying the hydrogen and energy?

 
At Friday, December 7, 2007 at 8:33:00 PM PST, Blogger Dave Lankshear said...

Biochar can reduce the quantities of Co2 in the atmosphere, reduce the quantity (but not eliminate) the need for Nitrogen fertilizer (I understand it gives us about 3 to 4 crops before needing to be topped up), and can give us some fuel — all from agricultural waste (so there's no "food v fuel" problem).

Biochar is magnificent, and could be a real breakthrough... it's starting to get more mainstream acceptance as an international forum of soil scientists kicked off in Terrigal Australia (an hour or so north of Sydney). Catalyst covered it, it's really a huge breakthrough.

A bit of biochar, a bit of crop and cow rotation, and ultimately recycling the PHOSPHORUS from our sewerage and we'll hopefully get by. Peak oil is still an enormous stuff up though.

 
At Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at 9:31:00 AM PST, Blogger Dezakin said...

On phosphorous: Bullshit. Its the 11th most abundant element in all volcanic and sedimentary rocks, comprising a full .1% of the crust. Upgrading this is trivial.

On quantities of fertilizer: Given SASOL Agri has been making fertilizer from coal derived hydrogen rather than natural gas for decades, scaling isn't seen by me as much of an issue.

 
At Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at 1:38:00 PM PST, Blogger Dave Lankshear said...

Yes, a nice polite post as expected.

Dezakin, I think you need to go back to the drawing board and learn the definition of "peak" something... because your attempt at debunking peak phosphorus just ended up confirming it!

The very fact that our kids generation will be moving from concentrated phosphorus mines to scouring through concentrations of 1% of volcanic ROCK (how do you DO that exactly? And what will that Cost!?) is the very definition of PEAK phosphorus. We are moving from an era of cheap and easy to get to phosphorus to an era of ever declining production of a much harder to get to fertilizer resource. Indeed, it seems production of nearly every non-renewable resource is nearing peak in the lifetime of babies born today.

 
At Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 4:07:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another myth spread by peakists is that the "green revolution" was from oil, but it wasn't, it was from genetically modified crops produced by Norman Borlaug. We'll always have those, as long as the sun is shining.
http://www.reason.com/news/show/27665.html

 
At Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 4:28:00 PM PST, Blogger Dave Lankshear said...

What absolute rubbish! Borlaug's new crops were only a small part of the whole 20 year period we refer to as the "Green Revolution". Why don't you spend just a little time at Wikipedia before writing such misleading tripe?

Nitrogen fertilizer is one of the backbones of the Green Revolution. I'm hopeful that we can make it without natural gas, because after all if there's enough renewable baseload energy electricity can do the same thing (splitting water for hydrogen for the process). I'm also hopeful that Biochar systems can reduce our need for Nitrogen fertilizer in the first place.

But coming out with such bald faced misinformation does not help people deal with reality.

 
At Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 4:46:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Only a "small part"?!

Gasoline tractor Invented:1892, Froelich

Nitrogen Fertilizer invented: 1909, Haber-Bosch

While indeed important to food production, my claim refered to the "Green Revolution," a term coined in 1968 in direct response to the acheivements of Norman Borlaug:
From my earlier link:
In the late 1960s, most experts were speaking of imminent global famines in which billions would perish. "The battle to feed all of humanity is over," biologist Paul Ehrlich famously wrote in his 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb. "In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." Ehrlich also said, "I have yet to meet anyone familiar with the situation who thinks India will be self-sufficient in food by 1971." He insisted that "India couldn't possibly feed two hundred million more people by 1980."

But Borlaug and his team were already engaged in the kind of crash program that Ehrlich declared wouldn't work. Their dwarf wheat varieties resisted a wide spectrum of plant pests and diseases and produced two to three times more grain than the traditional varieties. In 1965, they had begun a massive campaign to ship the miracle wheat to Pakistan and India and teach local farmers how to cultivate it properly. By 1968, when Ehrlich's book appeared, the U.S. Agency for International Development had already hailed Borlaug's achievement as a "Green Revolution."

 
At Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 4:52:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And Here's where the fertilizer component can come from:
http://www.ans.org/pi/ps/docs/ps74.pdf

 
At Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 5:00:00 PM PST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said "Go to Wikipedia." Have you even gone there yourself? Here's What Wikipedia has to say about the "Green Revolution."

From Wikipedia:

"The term "Green Revolution" was first used in 1968 by former USAID director William Gaud, who noted the spread of the new technologies and said, "These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution. It is not a violent Red Revolution like that of the Soviets, nor is it a White Revolution like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green Revolution."[3]

The Green Revolution began in 1943 with the establishment of the Office of Special Studies, which was a venture that was a collaboration between the Rockefeller Foundation and the presidential administration of Manuel Avila Camacho in Mexico.... J. George Harrar, who would later become president of the Rockefeller Foundation, headed the Office of Special Studies. Its lead scientists included Norman Borlaug, Edwin Wellhausen, and William Colwell. Researchers from both the United States and Mexico were involved in this program. The main initiative of the Office was the development of high-yielding maize and wheat varieties. Borlaug received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on wheat breeding.

 
At Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 5:43:00 PM PST, Blogger Dave Lankshear said...

Yes, Borlaug's was a fantastic achievement.

Yes, the term "Green Revolution" was coined to describe his achievement.

But no, it's not all that term NOW encompasses. From the same article:

Technologies

The projects within the Green Revolution spread technologies that had already existed, but had not been widely used outside of industrialized nations. These technologies included pesticides, irrigation projects, and synthetic nitrogen fertilizer....

...The production increases can be attributed roughly equally to irrigation, fertilizer, and seed development, at least in the case of Asian rice.[12] While agricultural output increased as a result of the Green Revolution, the energy input into the process (that is, the energy that must be expended to produce a crop) has also increased at a greater rate,[13] so that the ratio of crops produced to energy input has decreased over time. Green Revolution techniques also heavily rely on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, some of which must be developed from fossil fuels, making agriculture increasingly reliant on petroleum products.[14] Proponents of the Peak Oil theory fear that a future decline in oil and gas production would lead to a decline in food production or even a Malthusian catastrophe.[15]


Reference 12 about the "equal parts" belongs to Conway, 1997 chpt. 4, if you wish to follow it up.

The seeds were about a third of what we today refer to as the "Green Revolution". It was a process named after much of the event had already unfolded in the previous decades.

All I objected to is the fact that you are playing semantic games to undermine the importance of fertilizer.

 
At Monday, March 3, 2008 at 7:38:00 PM PST, Anonymous billy said...

"Natural gas prices affect nitrogen fertilizer costs"

Iowa State University, agronomy:

http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/icm/2001/1-29-2001/natgasfert.html

 
At Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 3:34:00 AM PDT, Blogger Steve W said...

JD - I am quite new to the whole debate over peak oil and its potential consequences. Over the last few weeks I have read a good deal of material on web sites that stand on both sides of the argument. The general impression I am getting is that the pro-crisis people quote a lot of convincing facts and figures to support their argument, while sites such as yours quote a lot of personal opinion but don't back it up with anything concrete.

This post on oil and fertilizer is a prime example. The other side claim that without oil to make fertilizer, modern agriculture will collapse. You on the other hand claim that we don't need oil to make fertilizer (with which I agree totally) and you have the information about the available technology to back up your point of view. But there is something that you are completely missing here.

You quote Richard Heinberg as saying that fertilizer can be made without fossil fuels and claim this as support for your argument against a crisis. However, you totally fail to understand the implications of the qualifier in the last sentence of the quote "...but the infrastructure for such production is currently non-existent."

It's true that fossil fuels are not technically essential to most things we do, and they can be replaced by sustainable alternatives. But that fact doesn't change our current situation, namely that we have chosen to make almost everything we do dependant on fossil fuels. At the present time, we simply don't have the infrastructure to use alternative forms of energy in the quantities we need in order to support the size of our population. And, as pointed out in the Hirsch Report, that infrastructure would take in the order of 2 decades to implement.

Our problem then is that we need to invest untold billions of dollars in creating this whole new infrastructue, all of which has to be invested against what is presently only a possible future risk. Expecting our governments to accept this is futile. Any politician who suggested this kind of investment would be committing political suicide and from what I know, very few of them are willing to risk that. So no, we will not make the investment required, we will procrastinate until the crisis arrives and then attempt to react to it, as this is the way we always behave in this kind of situation.

Current world events are beginning to strongly suggest a peak oil crisis. With oil approaching $130 a barrel, protests and riots are now widespread around the world. As attempts are made to switch from oil to something sustainable, riots are now breaking out over the shortage of grain due to the use of grain to produce bio-fuels. Over the last couple of years we have used most of the world's reserves of grain, largely in this area, to the extent that there is now no longer sufficient for food. Does this sound like sustainable energy? Bio-fuels are a non-starter as we can barely grow enough grain to feed ourselves. The figures I've heard are that it takes 90kg of grain to produce sufficient ethanol to fill a car tank. This same amount of grain can feed a child for a year. So every time we fill our cars with ethanol, a child dies of starvation.

My conclusion has to be that there will most definitely be a major international crisis after peak oil because we will fail to prepare for it, regardless of the availability of technology you believe will see us through it.

 
At Wednesday, June 4, 2008 at 4:11:00 AM PDT, Blogger Dave Lankshear said...

Welcome to the debate Steve W.

Thank you for pointing out what should be obvious to JD but he fails to acknowledge it each and every time... and that is time.

While I can imagine a "bright green" eco-industrial civilisation, and am reasonably optimistic that we will make it there, that does not negate the following facts:
1. The market cannot function properly with the wrong information, and big oil and OPEC and the lack of an "international oil cop" have successfully pulled the wool over government and market eyes. Therefore:
2. The Hirsch report concludes that we should have started 20 years before peak, and here we are.
3. Imagining a post-oil industrial future is not the same as living in one. It's time to build this stuff, and the only way I can imagine that is selling both the stick and the carrot, the dire consequences of inaction if we leave it "too late" and the benefits and rewards for the nations that get there first. JD only wants the good news... so while he goes on reporting what's possible, and I thank him for it, he does not report what actually IS right now, and that's where he and I part company.

It's the end of the oil age and unless all nations sign the "Oil Depletion Protocol" we're stuffed.

Steve W, check my page on what you can do. Adopt Simpol and make your local domestic vote count for international matters like signing the ODP!

that:-
1. We future

 
At Sunday, August 10, 2008 at 8:20:00 AM PDT, Blogger Gunnar said...

So, do you believe recovering energy and nutrients from waste water and using the latter where we need to fertilize soils is not an appropriate strategy for reducing our current use of oil?

 
At Thursday, September 4, 2008 at 2:51:00 AM PDT, Blogger DB said...

Doomers,

Ammonia produced from hydro power is very, very doable.
Infrastructure to transport it is ALREADY IN PLACE via ammonia pipelines all over the midwest.
Diesel tractors can easily be converted to run on Ammonia too.

As for peak phosphorus?
What a joke. TREES and WEEDS bring phosphorus up to the surface from the subsoil without the need to extract it.

So what is the answer to that?
Yes, someone else already mentioned it: Biochar.

Want to know how?
Let the weeds grow, pull them up.
Burn the suckers into biochar.
Spread over your vegetable patch.
If you don't like that, try taking a piss on the ground. Human urine is full of phosphorus.

Renewable, simple, easy.

Next bullshit doomer myth please.

 
At Friday, September 12, 2008 at 4:38:00 PM PDT, Anonymous kolm said...

Steve W.,

it is very simple: The world's current energy usage for fertilizer production is way less than 15 Exajoule per year (OECD mean is estimated at 1700 MJ per hectar, and the world has less than 10^10 hectares or arable land). World's total energy consumption was (not even counting biological direct energy) 500 EJ, from which 6%, or 30 EJ, came from nuclear. So you could proceed to a process twice as wasteful as Haber Bosch (which is way worse than Eyde-Birkeland would be), and still keep up the fertilizer production, all with the existing nuclear power. (Mind you that I always estimated quite pessimistically, so in reality the numbers will not even less alarming.)

Since food is kinda way up on about anybody's list of Nice Things To Have, I can't exactly worry about a lack of energy for producing fertilizers.

Mr. Heinberg is correct in noting that nobody built an infrastructure nobody needs right now. How that alone should be in any way remarkable or even alarming remains a mystery to me.

 
At Wednesday, October 1, 2008 at 12:15:00 PM PDT, Blogger kelly said...

Our oil into food conversion is not solely about fertilizer. The machinery to: plow, plant, harvest, transport, produce products, package, and transport to market are ALL OIL BASED.
The author of this blog is either disingenuous or ignorant. If peak oil isn't real, then why would we even consider such boondoggles as oil shales and tar sands which produce at 3:2 ratios. Light sweet produces at about 20:1.
I really don't understand why would consider such idiotic approaches if we had all these other choices you talk about.

 
At Saturday, January 17, 2009 at 10:28:00 PM PST, Anonymous hjayes said...

I remember as a young scientist, my first taste of vegies grown by the 'muck and magic' system, as it was then labelled, and realizing that Liebig had missed something very important: chemicals simply do not provide all the needs of plant,soil and animals, and to believe so is simplistic in the extreme.

We do not practice agriculture of any kind on an inert, lifeless, structureless base (exempt from this the wierd system of expensive hydroponics practised on unconsolidated sands of the South Australian Riverland), and the persistence of those wedded to purely chemical means is in fact committing mayhem on a beautiful, complex system that is the soil.

Now I'm not an unthinking advocate of organics but I can say this with quiet certainty: plants exhibit a far greater control over their environment than we have so far perceived and in the natural state activate soil microbiology, by means of root exudation, to produce from the soil mineral base exactly the mix of nutrients required at any given moment within their life cycle.

This is a whole of life activity, as is our own human practice of varying our diet from day to day in response to body signals.

This process, 'nature's smorgasbord', is vital to health and growth. When under attack from pest or disease, the plant is able to activate a number of defence strategies which include intake of solubilised silica to toughen leaf cells, intake of 'off-flavour' complexes which render the cells unpalatable, and production of pheromones which attract predators to the offending pests.

The complexity of this process is illustrated by the discovery of emission from the roots of one plant - wild tobacco - more than 100 000 differing hormones. Check the Max Planck Institute for the
reference.

Man-added chemicals in the rootzone mask this process and result in distortion of nourishment. A nice thick steak smothered in mushroom sauce is great ('scuse me, vegetarians) but just try living on it all day, EVERY day.

When we interfere with the natural process and impose on our crops a regime which is quite clueless, we deserve the visitation of pest and disease and the necessity for ever-increasing toxic controls that beset modern agriculture.

There is an alternative and we call it bio-mineral culture. It's provided superior crop response and soil improvement in the dry soils of South Australia, and costs one third of the chemical equivalent. ALL nitrogen is fixed by bacteria, ALL phosphorus comes as part of the natural base, and only 1.4% is required because a very interesting synergy is devised which greatly increases plant metabolic P efficiency.

This is'nt snake oil, it's real, and is currently before the Australian Government's soil discussion group. The biggest hurdles to it's adoption? Chemical fertilizer lobbies and a century of misinformation on the means by which plants and soil interact.
B Hayes
katalyst2@hotmail.com

 
At Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 11:20:00 AM PST, Blogger devin lafo said...

whether or not you need fossil fuel to create nitrogen based fertilizer, the fact of the matter is that fossil fuels are indeed used to create these fertilizers (as indicated by the incredible jump in fertilizer prices in the last 8 or 10 years that amazingly correspond to the jump in oil prices)

besides, fertilizer production accounts for about 30% of all agricultural energy use, yet should not be needed at all in a sustainable agricultural model.

the only reason that we need so much artificial fertilizer is because we are depleting our topsoil at an average rate of 30 times the rate that it can naturally rebuild itself, and this is due to our massive moncropping industry.

there are so many problems with our mainstream agricultural model that i don't see the point in arguing the little issues of which energy source can be used to produce the millions of tons of artificial fertilizer used each year that only feeds the degredation of soil even further.

stop kidding yourself.
we have a serious problem here

 
At Saturday, August 13, 2011 at 7:35:00 PM PDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The article is a tad simplistic. The major factor in any risk model is time. Thats the one thing we don't have a lot of. It's all very well to talk about sustainable alternatives now but as of now most Governments throughout the world are doing precisely nothing to address the issue. Furthermore sustainable aternatives may work with a world population of 1 billion but 6 Billion +. I don't think so. As things stand now almost all fertlizer comes from natural gas. As for phoshorus being naturally occur. Thats nice, I doubt it but how do you propose to get it to the crops. Lots of things are naturally occurring. That doesn't mean you can mine them or harvest them. When peak oil hits (and no oil) the immediate pressure will be on the elctrcity grid. The next thing the Govt will do will be converting trucks to LNG. Won't be long before it's peak everything. These resources are all FINITE. Our whole mind set has to chnage. We need to live more sustainably with much lower populations. Don't worry though. Peak Oil will solve that problem whether you like it or not.

 
At Tuesday, April 3, 2012 at 1:10:00 PM PDT, Anonymous FAT from the UK said...

I just came across this blog while searching for an accurate, well balanced and thorough analysis of CO2-e emissions (GHG) associated with synthetic fertilisers production.

I must say guys, you seem desperate to prove a point without really understanding what you are talking about. Simply quoting some chemistry and few random facts may make you feel better, but you are way off-the mark. Don't you wonder where most of our energy comes from? Where do you think most of the ingredients (by weight) for this fertiliser come from? Its neither thin nor thick air!

Try this for size 10. http://www.ieabioenergy-task38.org/publications/GHG_Emission_Fertilizer%20Production_July2004.pdf

I wonder if the blog author will allow this!

 

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