A slurry treatment solution that turns liquid manure into nitrogen-rich fertilizer has been shortlisted for an award that recognizes eco-friendly technology.
Using a technique called plasma conversion, N2 Applied’s technology ‘locks in’ both methane and ammonia to liquid slurry to produce sustainable fertilizer on-farm.
The plasma-treated fertilizer has been scientifically proven to cut ammonia and methane emissions almost entirely. It also retains nitrogen to further eliminate the need for chemical fertilizer use while maintaining comparable crop yield.
Now, the company behind the technology has been nominated for a ‘Tech For Good’ award in the UK Business Tech Awards in recognition for its efforts towards creating the eco-friendly solution.
Nick Humphries, chief agronomist and UK director of N2 Applied, explained: “We have developed an innovative solution that uses only air and electricity to locally produce environment-friendly fertilizer and at the same time, stop methane and ammonia emissions from livestock slurry. We believe this is the most effective and integrated solution to solve the challenge.”
N2 Unit as the technology is called, has been used across the UK, Northern Europe and South Africa, with Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) becoming the first UK purchaser and Arla Foods UK conducting a trial at its Innovation Farm where it used the technology to process manure from the farm’s 500 cow dairy herd.
The company’s recently-published annual trial data from international testing sites has been assessed independently by scientists including by Oxford Agricultural Trials. It showed wheat crop utilized 85% of the nitrogen applied to the fields via the company’s fertilizer compared to 58% for an ammonium nitrate chemical fertilizer and 53% for untreated slurry.
With the rising cost of fertilizer, N2 Applied’s solution offers an ‘attractive’ option to farmers who have to contend with a volatile market, claims Humphries. “The sky-high price of chemical fertilizer this year is a tipping point - it has shown us that this cannot be where the future lies for UK food production,” he told us. “We can no longer be so reliant on chemical fertilizer produced around the world and must instead find sustainable alternatives that farmers have greater control over. Plus, we must make rapid cuts in methane emissions to reduce the impact of climate change, and ammonia reduction has long been desirable.”
To adopt an N2 Unit, farms need to swallow the upfront cost of the unit itself, plus the cost of electricity. “The costs of our solution are in the initial hardware purchase and the electricity required to power it,” Humphries said, adding that having a renewable source on-farm would make the technology more efficient to run.
“The resulting fertilizer material costs no more to produce [compared to conventional alternatives] - and given the soaring cost of chemical fertilizer and the low-emission alternative we provide the market, this sustainable approach offers an attractive path.”
Each N2 Unit is suitable for a farm of up to 200 cattle on average, with larger farms able to scale up by installing multiple units. “The benefits for the environment, farms and the food sector are now proven, and a widespread roll-out of this technology will be game-changing,” Humphries told DairyReporter. “The right drivers and incentives are key to driving change, and rising costs have brought that challenge forward.
“Government, industry and food production value chains need to work together to identify how best to make this transition affordable and viable as soon as possible.”
The business has won or been shortlisted for several awards and accelerator programs, such as The Norrsken Awards - the biggest Nordic prize for impactful startups - The Manure Challenge US and Foodbytes! by Rabobank. “Being shortlisted for such a prestigious award marks both the positive progress we’ve made as our technology has been piloted on UK farms and its potential to become a significant enabler of more sustainable food production,” concluded Humphries.