The biological enzyme nitrogenase is a natural way of catalyzing nitrogen fixation from the air. Airborne nitrogen is generally unavailable for plants and therefore requires a symbiotic process. In legumes, as an example, symbiosis occurs with bacteria called Rhizobium that synthesize the nitrogenase enzyme. Nitrogenase reduces nitrogen to ammonia which is used for a host of growth and life sustaining processes, notably photosynthesis. When thinking about ways to mimic this natural process two routes come to mind: photo-fixation on the leaf and a chemical process in the rhizosphere—the area surrounding the roots. As our objective is to address the nitrogen needs of the plant, the desired production rate is small, and need not compete with such industrial processes as Haber-Bosch in efficiency and volume. It is only required to provide the plant’s needs or at least some part thereof.
With this need, ICL-Innovation hopes to address a pressing environmental concern, namely excess nitrogen concentration in soil which leads to runoff into fresh water streams. We encourage new ideas that focus on the plant’s environment and the ways to enrich it with this most needed of nutrients—nitrogen.