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Developing an organic fertilizer production system using nitrogen fixing Cyanobacteria

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Cyanobacteria (Developing an organic fertilizer production system using nitrogen fixing Cyanobacteria)

Reporting period: 2020-08-01 to 2021-07-31

Global consumption of Nitrogen-based fertilizers today exceeds 120 million metric tons a year, mostly originating in the Haber-Bosch process. This industry is a sizeable resource consumer, using 3-5% of the global natural gas supply and accounting for 1-2% of global energy expenditures. It’s also a major contributor to global warming, releasing about 10 tons of CO2 for every ton of N fertilizer produced . This is one of the major concerns that has led to double digit growth rates in organic agriculture in recent years. However, organic fertilizers currently on the market are expensive, unstable and fail to support robust, commercial growth in hydroponic greenhouses or in advanced irrigation farms.
Our innovation produces Nitrogen fertilizer from air and water in an efficient and ecological manner at the actual site of the farm or greenhouse. Cyanobacteria grown in a controlled environment, constantly fix nitrogen from the air into a stable form of ammonia, using the sun as the energy source. The ammonia is then extracted and converted to nitrate by specialized bacteria in an automated process. This solution shifts the way greenhouses acquire their N inputs, from importing an industrial product with a high CO2 footprint to sustainably producing it in situ.
Our vision is to provide healthy, high quality fresh produce by deploying a network of ecological hydroponic greenhouses across Europe - combining the sustainability of organic agriculture with the efficiency and high yields of precision irrigation.
In the first term of the Cyanobacteria (CB) project, Growponics has advanced both its technical and commercial capabilities in accordance with the work packages (WP) detailed in the grant application. We have successfully completed our tasks, and met the objectives of the first project period.
These objectives are the management and coordination of the project development towards a robust, automation ready, commercial scale bioreactor system, with a high yield CB strain growing in optimal conditions. A system that can be commercialized first as a pilot beta site, and then as fully commercial solution for the production of high precision, liquid organic fertilizer.
Commercially, we are ready to deploy the first version of a pilot beta site, and have already begun preparations.
We have progressed from small scale assays in flasks and in small columns, to a repeatable batch process in large scale (240L) columns, with a downstream process that converts the ammonia rich solution and the CB biomass to high grade, liquid organic fertilizer. This batch process was designed to be fully automatic, with both an indoor LED illuminated model, and an outdoor sunlight model. Automation and software have already begun to be developed, and implemented.
We have started to offer the CB bioreactor system to potential customers. Our first installations will serve as beta sites in various countries and climate conditions, to test its operation in the relevant environment. We are in advanced contact with several companies and organizations in Europe, the USA and Israel for the installations of such pilots during the second term of this project.
We have successfully established a repeating batch process for growing cyanobacteria (CB) in 3L glass columns in the lab, with temperature control, LED illumination, and air bubbling for agitation. We have demonstrated this process over several consecutive cycles. By adding a Glutamine Synthetase Inhibitor, we have achieved the release of more than 70 ppm of ammonia over 24 hours.
The repeating batch process was scaled-up to 2 meter high columns of 10cm and 20cm diameter. The columns were maintained in a temperature controlled growing room, with LED illumination and air bubbling for agitation. We have demonstrated a comparable growing cycle in the 10cm column, growing at a similar fast growth rate as the 3L columns in the lab.
Another scale-up ensued to 2 meter high columns of 30cm and 40cm diameter. The columns were maintained in a greenhouse, with the sunlight as the source of illumination. Air bubbling was used for agitation.
This is the first time that nitrogen fixing by cyanobacteria is performed in a repeatable manner at such large scales.
In the following year we expect to increase our ammonia production yield through process optimization, and to integrate the upstream and downstream units into a working, automated, computer controlled bioreactor system. It is our intention to build at least two pilot beta sites with this system, and to test it in field conditions, toward full commercialization. The dissemination of this technology will help to address climate change by shifting fertilizer production from the Haber Bosch process into our sustainable method. it will allow high yield precision agriculture farms to become organic, and supply large quantities of organic fresh produce to the market, promoting public heath, and it will create professional technical jobs at the beta sites, and later at the customers' sites.
Cyanobacteria Bioreactor System
Growponics' Team