A new study finds that nitrogen fertilizer in the air can actually help clean up pollution in the Northeast by helping to keep the air cleaner and reducing CO2 emissions.
The study, published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters, found that nitrogen fertilizers released by power plants and cement plants in New York and New Jersey have a negative impact on the ozone layer.
The nitrogen, the researchers say, is a byproduct of power plants, which release a high concentration of nitrogen gas into the atmosphere.
A natural pollutant, nitrogen gas has a high ability to react with oxygen in the atmosphere and can lead to acid rain, ozone depletion and other harmful effects.
Nitrogen fertilizer has been widely used as an alternative to chemical fertilizers to replace older and inefficient chemical fertilisers that are less effective and pollute more.
But the study found that new technologies that produce less CO2 from the same amount of nitrogen fertilizer were also able to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.
“There are lots of potential ways to get more nitrogen from the atmosphere, but that is really what is important,” said study author and atmospheric chemist Jason Wojciechowski, a doctoral student at the University of Maryland.
“What we have found is that nitrogen is a powerful greenhouse gas that can be used in a number of ways.
One of them is to reduce the level of CO2 and so reduce the amount of pollutants that are released into the air.”
New nitrogen fertilizer plants have been built in the past 20 years in the New England region.
And nitrogen fertilizer is one of the few products that can replace the carbon-intensive fertilizers, Wojchowski said.
Nitrous oxide, the compound that causes smog in New Jersey, is produced in power plants by releasing carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the environment.
A recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change estimated that the cost of replacing carbon-based fertilizers could exceed $300 billion.
The New England Regional Plan Authority estimates the cost for replacing nitrogen fertilizer at $20 billion to $30 billion.
New nitrogen fertilizer is produced at power plants across the Northeast and Midwest.
But Wojzciecki said the problem of nitrogen-based fertilizer in New Hampshire is especially acute.
In 2015, New Hampshire had the highest rate of ozone depletion of any state in the country, and in 2015 and 2016, nitrogen fertilization was a primary source of ozone in the state, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.
The nitrogen-fertilizer problem in New Brunswick is different, said Wojwanski.
The state has the highest concentration of carbon dioxide in the United States and the New Brunswick region has been in the top 10 in nitrogen fertilizer usage.
And the New Hampshire governor, Maggie Hassan, has said that nitrogen-derived fertilizers have to be eliminated from the state.
Wojciszek said that while there is a role for nitrogen fertilizer as a greenhouse gas, the role of nitrogen in the nitrogen cycle should be balanced by the benefits of using less energy to produce nitrogen fertilizer.
“The main thing to take away from this is that the nitrogen fertilizer process is a greenhouse gasses-based process that is very important for the environment, but it’s also a very important energy-based one that is not only good for the atmosphere but good for our economy,” he said.
The researchers analyzed nitrogen levels in the sky, air and soil at several sites across New England and the United Kingdom.
The results show that nitrogen levels at the sites increased during the summer, and that in the winter, nitrogen levels decreased.
Nitrogens are a powerful and abundant greenhouse gas in the upper atmosphere, the scientists found.
And in the study, they calculated that the amount released by nitrogen fertilizer during the year could decrease as much as 7.6 percent if the nitrogen levels decrease as a function of the amount produced during the season.
“We’ve identified an important, potentially promising role for the nitrogen system to play in reducing air pollution,” Wojszcinski said.
“If we can increase the amount and concentration of the nitrogen that is released in the environment from power plants into the soil and air, it’s going to be a positive impact on air quality.
And we can also increase the carbon sequestration from the nitrogen-rich fertilizer.”