Using nitrogen to capture carbon

Creating nitrogen fertilizers purely for the sake of capturing carbon in living plants, algae, bacteria etc. Is this more economically feasible than carbon scrubbing technology?

Here is an article that discusses a study the chinese did with rice and here is a link to a page with a pdf about it. The abstract is below the pdf link on that page.

Those were the first two results in a quick search on duckduckgo.

From reading the first article I linked, it seems that with rice paddies, your idea works but you have to be careful about how much you use or it reverses and actually adds instead of reduces carbon

The little bit I read didn’t really seem to address the economic question very directly, but did seem to imply some benefit in that area

Interesting, rice is actually one of the primary things I had in mind because it can store so much carbon.

Yeah, that was sort of my thinking, and why your question interested me. They’ve done so much with rice in terms of nutrition and such, it seems a very versatile crop, why not a carbon sink as well?

This also brings up another interesting thought that I have never heard spoke of. The ocean is the largest carbon sink we have. Nitrogen fertilizer run off flows into the ocean which is a very very big place and it takes a lot for even minute changes to be made but it would seem that the nitrogen run off would have some effects on plant life in the ocean and also serve as somewhat of a mitigating factor.

I seem to remember something about algal blooms becoming larger, longer lasting, etc over the past decades because of fertilizer run off. Not sure if its the nitrogen, or some other component, the way I remember it was as a generally sensational telling over the course of years and different articles, news agencies and so forth.

Remember that plants don’t magically make carbon dioxide disappear. They only show a net uptake of CO2 when they’re gaining mass- that’s the CO2 being sequestrated. And then you have to do something with the now-stored carbon. If it’s food that you eat, you are then releasing it back into the atmosphere.

Realistically we’re not going to be able to resequestrate the trillions of tonnes of coal, petroleum and natural gas we’ve burned over the last 200 years anytime soon. The biggest thing we can do right now is stop adding more.

ETA: corrected spelling of sequestrate

I don’t understand the question. We currently produce about 30% of ammonia-based fertilizers from natural gas (as the hydrogen donor) via the Habor-Bosch process. This is energy-intensive and not terribly efficient but relatively inexpensive at around $0.35/kg. However, the only reason we need to use fertilizers is the intensive agriculture of domesticated grains, tubers, and fruits. Most natural biomes regulate atmospheric nitrogen capture and utilization on their own unless evolved to depend on an external source (e.g. animal waste) and host cyanobacteria to produce nitrogenous compounds. In fact, the larger problem by far is the excess nitrogen (and phosphorous) runoff from industrial farming. The re-establishment of natural wetlands (which are also the most potent terrestrial atmospheric carbon sinks) would help dramatically to store and utilize this runoff.

Carbon capture & sequestration (CCS) is really only effective in point-of-source applications, and even then has yet to be demonstrated as practical on an industrial scale despite promises to do so. Despite what you see in the popsci press about “scrubbing” CO2 directly from the atmosphere, it will never be practical to do so on a meaningful scale even if the process were energy efficient and not cost prohibitive because the density of atmospheric carbon dioxide is too low to extract it at the same rate it is produced even by natural processes. When you see proposals for atmospheric scrubbing if you read through them thoroughly you’ll find that they are actually talking in terms of millions of installations in order to reduce excess CO2 concentrations on the order of ~1%. Extracting CO2 from air entrained in the ocean surface layer is slightly more practical because of the higher density and ability of the ocean to maintain equilibrium with the atmosphere but the sheer scale of such an effort is still beyond impractical to achieve anything close to a pre-industrial atmospheric carbon balance in timescales of centuries.

Food crops by definition do not “store” carbon; they are consumed and the carbon is re-emitted in addition to all of the atmospheric carbon produced in cultivation, transportation, processing, packaging, and preparation. “Storing” carbon means long-term sequestration, e.g. in organic decay into soil or peat, mineralization through weathering and coral construction, storage in xylem, formation of deep ocean clathrate hydrates or hydrocarbon compounds like coal and petroleum, and injection into impermeable geological reservoirs. Any form of carbon storage that just re-releases carbon back into the atmosphere is not sequetration in any meaningful sense.


If you think in terms of a larger living bio mass with a certain percentage of that not being returned to the atmosphere then I can see some mitigating factors in it. Higher carbon levels should increase the bio mass assuming free nitrogen levels are available to support it.

Ex - Smoker here. Every year , I used to try different techniques / devices to quit smoking - nothing really worked. Until, I had the will to just stop. I always used to think, its easy - I can innovate a way out of it, etc. etc.

Global Warming is sort of the same thing. Humans will have to quit using carbon and hydrocarbon based fuels - or it wont work. The problem is too severe (too much CO2 in the air) for biology based methods to reverse, in a controlled manner, over an acceptable timeframe.

But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. People will keep greenwashing for a long time, or until maybe a few coastal communities are wiped out.

I have already started looking into investing the little money I have into Global Dimming technologies. It is a technology that is full of pitfalls and the solution maybe worse than the problem; but it looks like it will be the only game in town in the future : A Bill Gates Venture Aims To Spray Dust Into The Atmosphere To Block The Sun. What Could Go Wrong?

Storing carbon in the form of human population growth is… problematic to say the least.

I personally think that returning carbon to the atmosphere is the most important contribution that mankind will have made to this planet over the long term. If carbon levels have been dropping for billions of years it stands to reason supplies are slowly being depleted. It will cause some environmental changes yes many of which are not good for humans. But over the course of millions of years it will be a major contribution to the health of this planet.

I have no idea what point you are trying to make here, but food grain crops are not carbon storage. Even the portion of the plant that is not consumed is generally burned or decays, releasing virtually all of utilized carbon back to the atmosphere.

What the fu…never mind.


Exactly what I expected, a different concept you have never considered or heard of so you immediately reject the entire premise

We may need to return carbon to the atmosphere about half a billion years from now, when natural carbon sequestration has removed so much CO2 from the atmosphere that photosynthesis is difficult. But that is a very long way down the line. Currently we have more than enough CO2 to go round.

First of all, just because it is food does not mean it has to be eaten. I was talking about any kind of plant life that grows and can potentially store carbon. Some plant life is better at fixing nitrogen and can be composted to grow plants that are better at storing carbon. It is a cycle that is worthy of consideration as one aspect of carbon mitigation.

“I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor.”


If we ever reach a point where we need to return carbon it will probably be too late.

Here is a number I am very curious about that would not be too hard to calculate. We know approx how much coal and oil we have burned over the last 150 years. How much carbon dioxide have we produced and how much of that is still in the atmosphere? If it is not all in the atmosphere then where is it?

Here’s a site with answers to many of your questions: Short excerpt:

Over the entire industrial era, some 2.3 trillion tonnes of carbon dioxide have been released to the atmosphere. About half was dissolved relatively quickly in the ocean or absorbed into the land-based biosphere, while the remainder stayed in the atmosphere.