Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Scientific breakthrough: a new way of converting reactive nitrogen (N) to harmless nitrogen gas (N2)

Potential pathway to reduce post-Paris risk in the New Zealand agricultural sector.

Agriculture — mainly through the use of nitrogen (N) based fertilizers — is the principal source of the potent greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O) and a major contributor to elevated levels of nitrate in groundwater. Research focussed on enhancing soil processes to remove reactive N, such as nitrate, and convert it to harmless nitrogen gas (N2), usually also involves N2O emissions. Last year, our scientists discovered a new way of converting reactive N to N2 that bypasses N2O emission. The results were published in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature Scientific Reports.

Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research scientists Rebecca Phillips, Andrew McMillan, Gwen Grelet, Bevan Weir and Palmada Thilak discovered a way to combine reactive N with organic N and create benign N2 without any formation of the harmful N2O.

This discovery is a great example of international cooperation with collaboration from Professor Craig Tobias (University of Connecticut) and Dr Bongkeun Song (Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences). The next step is to work with our overseas colleagues to investigate the details of how this new process works, and the implications for greenhouse gas mitigation and soil quality improvement. This has started with funding from MPI as part of the Global Partnership on Livestock Emissions Research fund.