Scientists have been struggling to make fertilizer that is less explosive, but have had little success until now. Kevin Fleming, a retired optical engineer, spent his career working with Sandia National Labs in Alburquerque, N.M. He is studying the problem from a molecular level.

Fleming has discovered that mixing iron sulfate with ammonium nitrate could be the key to making fertilizer that is less explosive and is a more effective plant food. Fertilizer has been used to create car bombs and other incendiary devices to attack U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of the tricks to developing a fertilizer that is less explosive is keeping bomb makers from quickly figuring out how to extract the chemicals they need to make a bomb from other attempts to make less explosive fertilizer.

Although Fleming’s research is in the early stages, he says his formula works in the lab. However, it may need more development to see if it’s practical on an industrial scale.

If he is successful, it would be a huge breakthrough for fertilizer and would help save many lives.