Once the bio-plastic formed by the bacteria is placed in soil, it pulls nitrogen from the air to make ammonia, which acts as a fertilizing agent.
Advances in fertilizer played a key role in population growth during the 20th century, and commercial fertilizer now accounts for 30-50 percent of crop yields worldwide, according to various estimates.
Producing significant amounts of fertilizer typically requires large, expensive industrial facilities. In poor countries with underdeveloped infrastructure, there is a further need for distribution methods to transport the nutrient-rich substance to remote rural areas where subsistence farmers live.
“I’ve always felt the only importance of my research is, ‘Can I do the things that you already do in this society at large industrial scales with distribution systems, but in the back yard for the poor?’” Nocera said.
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His breakthrough lays the technical groundwork to one day allow poor farmers in sub-Saharan Africa or rural India to produce their own fertilizer, he said.
The world population is set to boom to 9.7 billion people by 2050 from 7.3 billion in 2015, with most growth coming from developing economies, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs said in a recent report.
The highest rate of population growth is expected in Africa, which will account for more than half of the world’s population growth through 2050. By that year, the populations of 28 African countries are projected to more than double, the UN report said.
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