New technology offers on-farm nitrogen management

This pilot project offers a new solution providing universal access to nitrogen fertilizer by producing it on-site and on-demand using just air, water and renewable electricity.
BY JOSHUA M. McENANEY, PhD; NICOLAS H. PINKOWSKI; BRIAN A. ROHR, PhD; & JOHN A. SCHWALBE, PhD
On-farm nitrogen production
This pilot project utilizing solar-fertilizer technology is coupled with a drip irrigation system and is being used to fertigate tomatoes in Fresno, California.

A pilot project currently being conducted at the Center for Irrigation Technology in Fresno, California, could transform the future of fertilizer production and the fertigation process for growers. CIT is collaborating with ag tech startup, Nitricity, to test a new on-farm nitrogen fixation and advanced nitrogen management program.

This new unique strategy works to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fertilizer production and is targeting some of the biggest challenges in the current fertilizer marketplace. For the past century, nitrogen fertilizer has been produced as ammonia (NH3) in large facilities using the Haber-Bosch process, an artificial nitrogen fixation process. These facilities are often hundreds to thousands of miles away from farmers who need the nitrogen. The ammonia industry is responsible for 1.6% of global CO2 emissions from the Haber-Bosch process, 0.1% of emissions from the distribution of fertilizer from centralized plants to farmland and up to 6% of CO2eq emissions as N2O field emissions from current application practices.  

Market inefficiencies with the distribution process can lead to a farmer’s cost of fertilizer being two to five times higher than production gate-costs, which are tied to volatile natural gas prices. Furthermore, entrenched supply chains fail to reach developing economies; therefore, nitrogen fertilizer is exceptionally expensive where it is needed most.

This new solution provides universal access to nitrogen fertilizer by producing it on-site and on-demand using just air, water and renewable electricity. The successful realization of this solution will empower growers to have control over their own nitrogen supply, all while mitigating CO2eq emissions and enabling cost-effective nitrogen anywhere in the world. The solar-powered fertilizer process produces nitric acid, using air, water and solar energy. This nitric acid can be used directly, in the case of high soil pH, or neutralized to form calcium nitrate, potassium nitrate, sodium nitrate, magnesium nitrate or nitrophosphates. This solar-fertilizer system couples directly with existing irrigation systems and stores and injects fertilizer during the growing season. The technology is highly customizable and currently controlled and monitored remotely. 


This new solution provides universal access to nitrogen fertilizer by producing it on-site and on-demand using just air, water and renewable electricity.


The pilot project between CIT and Nitricity is coupled directly with a drip irrigation system and is used to fertigate processing tomatoes in Fresno, California. The project is partly funded by the Irrigation Innovation Consortium (www.irrigationinnovation.org). This solar-fertilizer technology can enable an irrigation system to provide and inject its own nitrogen fertilizer compounds. After the 2020 growing season, plans are to beta-test this technology on a larger commercial farm-scale pilot.  

Joshua M. McEnaney, PhD, is the CTO of Nitricity (www.nitricity.co) and a lead innovator/strategist for the company.
Nicolas H. Pinkowski is the CEO for Nitricity and is a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering at Stanford University.
Brian A. Rohr, PhD, focuses on customer discovery and modeling/machine learning of Nitricity’s research and development systems for accelerated development.
Jay A. Schwalbe, PhD, leads Nitricity’s technology development to make solar-based nitrogen fixation a reality.
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