The Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics at North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota's Energy and Environmental Research Center (EERC) are partnering to study the possibility of utilizing flare gas from the Bakken oilfield in western North Dakota to produce anhydrous fertilizer.
"The project is a unique opportunity for the state because flare gas volumes and the demand for nitrogen fertilizer are increasing," says Cole Gustafson, NDSU Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics chair and a project leader in the study.
Others involved in the initiative from NDSU are Greg McKee, David Saxowsky, Thein Maung and David Ripplinger.
"There are two main challenges in commercializing flare gas into anhydrous fertilizer," Gustafson says. "Can flare gas from remote oil wells be economically collected, and can smaller commercial fertilizer production plants be viable?"
UND's EERC will assist in the project by designing three alternative-sized fertilizer plants that can be utilized in the economic feasibility analysis.
"North Dakota agriculture will derive several benefits from the project,"
Gustafson says. "The first is a new low-cost source of nitrogen fertilizer. The existing fertilizer industry is limited to a few international suppliers."
A second benefit will be a more stable local supply of fertilizer. In the past, fertilizer supplies have been highly variable, so producers at times have had a difficult time purchasing sufficient supplies.
The use of flare gas, which is a recycled product, provides farmers with a renewable fertilizer product. Renewable fertilizer is in high demand by consumers who seek food products with a lower carbon footprint.
The livestock industry also wants a greater availability of renewable feeds.
"Lastly, there is the production of renewable fuels," Gustafson says. "The use of a renewable fertilizer in corn production results in biofuels that have a lower carbon footprint. This leads to significant market premiums in the petroleum markets."
Funding for the project comes from the Agricultural Products Utilization Council and North Dakota Corn Growers Association.