R&D Project of Nitrogen Utilization

Synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen in the atmosphere in an energy-saving way and production of crops with low levels of fertilizer and other resources

Growing crops requires huge amounts of fertilizer. Ammonia, the base ingredient of fertilizer, is synthesized from nitrogen in the atmosphere using the Haber-Bosch process. With this process, the reaction is carried out under high temperature and pressure, and as a result, a huge amount of fossil fuels is needed. In fact, 1% of total energy consumption of the world is used for ammonia synthesis.

We aim to develop novel catalysts that enable nitrogen fixation and ammonia synthesis using low levels of resources and energy under relatively mild conditions, without extreme conditions of high temperature and high pressure.

Also, we search for genes and biologically active substances that allow growth even in environments with low nutrients such as lower nitrogen and phosphorus, and by controlling them, we aim to develop crops with high productivity under small amounts of fertilizer.

Another major goal is developing denitrification inhibitors. Nitrate ions (NO3) are released into the atmosphere as nitrous oxide (N2O) through a process called denitrification. N2O is a greenhouse gas with 300 times the effect of carbon dioxide (CO2), so clearly, we need to develop technology to reduce its emission.

We make it possible to create substances that could not be synthesized in the past, using the power of chemistry and biology.

Ken Shirasu

Project Leader

Ken Shirasu

Some 80% of the atmosphere is nitrogen. We should take advantage of this rich resource.

Nitrogen is a very stable molecule whose atoms are linked by a triple bond. To synthesize compounds such as ammonia from nitrogen, it is necessary to break these strong bonds, and combine the nitrogen with another atom such as hydrogen. This is very difficult and requires huge amounts of energy and complex reactions in multiple steps.

One major goal of our project is the production of useful substances directly from atmospheric nitrogen with low energy consumption by developing new chemical technologies.

The ultimate goal of catalytic chemistry, which is our specialty, is to cut the bonds between atoms and then recombine them in any desired configuration.

We promote the development of chemical techniques such as catalyst technology, which makes it possible to synthesize ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen, and chemical technology that allows us to synthesize organic substances under standard temperature and pressure.

At the same time, there are organisms that produce ammonia from nitrogen, such as rhizobium (root nodule bacteria), which live symbiotically in the roots of leguminous plants. We have a lot to learn from organisms.

While chemistry examines phenomena at the molecular level, biology considers the overall flow of information. The concepts and methods of the two disciplines are different, but by working together in the same center on the same goals, we hope our scientists will be able to make epoch-making discoveries from unexpected places.