Florida A&M University Working to Extract Nitrogen From Wastewater to Make Fertilizer

Historically Black Florida A&M University is a partner in a five-university consortium that will create and operate the Engineering Research Center for Advancing Sustainable and Distributed Fertilizer Production (CASFER). Texas Tech University is the lead institution in the project. Other participating institutions are the Georgia Institute of Technology, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The goal of the project is to develop next-generation, modular, distributed, and efficient technologies for capturing, recycling and producing decarbonized nitrogen-based fertilizers. CASFER will develop advanced and new technologies for the recovery and recycling of nitrogen-based fuels using byproducts from untapped sources of waste such as concentrated animal feeding operations and municipal wastewater treatment plants. The project will focus on a different way of making fertilizer by removing nitrogen from animal waste and wastewater. The Florida A&M team will work to recycle materials from the City of Tallahassee Wastewater Plant, which produces about 26 million gallons of wastewater every day.

“FAMU is proud to be a key member of this partnership. This research project to create sustainable fertilizers, reflects on our core mission as a land grant institution to provide leadership in agriculture to address food insecurity worldwide while protecting our precious ecosystems,” said Larry Robinson, president of Florida A&M University.

The FAMU team is led by co-principal investigator Odemari Mbuya, a professor of agricultural sciences and director of the Center for Water Resources in the College of Agriculture and Food Sciences. Professor Mbuya notes that for the last 100 years, the main method of manufacturing fertilizer is carbon and energy intensive, and requires high pressure and high temperatures. In Florida, fertilizer use leads to environmental pollution and algae blooms.

“If we are successful in removing nitrogen from wastewater to make fertilizer for crop production,” Dr. Mbuya said, “this will be a major scientific innovation. It will have global implications.”

Professor Mbuya joined FAMU in 1996 as a research associate and was named an assistant professor in 1998. He is a graduate of Sokoine University of Agriculture in Tanzania, where he majored in crop science. He holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida.

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