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Is The State-Subsidized Fertilizer Plant Already Scientifically Obsolete Before Its Built?
New scientific process may allow urea production to skip hydrogen by electrolysis process unneeded, and turn $125 million state loan/grant into a total waste of money.
During the special legislative session, I wrote about the boondoggle plan for the state to give a $125 million “forgivable loan” (when is a grant by another name) to a company for the construction of a “fertilizer plant utilizing hydrogen from water using electrolysis”, and how this loan/grant is directed toward a particular company.
Now comes news that new scientific breakthrough may make it possible to create urea (the basic ingredient of fertilizer) without the need to split water into hydrogen and oxygen at all, let alone by electrolysis.
According to a research paper published in The Journal of the American Chemical Society outlines a way to utilize a catalytic approach to use water directly rather than electrolysis. This is what the abstract of the study says about the process.
Water (H2O) microdroplets are sprayed onto a graphite mesh covered with a CuBi2O4 coating using a 1:1 mixture of N2 and CO2 as the nebulizing gas. The resulting microdroplets contain urea [CO(NH2)2] as detected by both mass spectrometry and 13C nuclear magnetic resonance. This gas–liquid–solid heterogeneous catalytic system synthesizes urea in one step on the 0.1 ms time scale. The conversion rate reaches 2.7 mmol g–1 h–1 at 25 °C and 12.3 mmol g–1 h–1 at 65 °C, with no external voltage applied. Water microdroplets serve as the hydrogen source and the electron transfer medium for N2 and CO2 in contact with CuBi2O4. Water–gas and water–solid contact electrification are speculated to drive the reaction process. This strategy couples N2 fixation and CO2 utilization in an ecofriendly process to produce urea, converting a greenhouse gas into a value-added product.
While I am not a scientific expert, this would seem to imply that the plan to build a billion-dollar fertilizer plan with a $125 million subsidy from the state of North Dakota may become an obsolete process very quickly - and a process that uses more electricity.
The fun fact about this process is that it uses CO2 to happen.
As we found out early this week, the CO2 planned to be piped into North Dakota can only be stuck in the ground and cannot be utilized for any legitimate industrial use that might actually benefit the regular people in North Dakota.
This is the moral hazard of creating government incentives to do certain things - the government is slow to react to both scientific and market changes.
How much taxpayer money is going to be spent in the name of piping/burying CO2 when there may be a better use of it, closer to the source of its creation?
How much taxpayer money is going to be spent to subsidize fertilizer plants using technology that may be obsolete as soon as the plant is finished?
Perhaps it would be better to let the market and science drive these projects - rather than suing government tax credits to manipulate the market in a way that may set the goals of the tax credits back years.
It is unfortunate that Republicans have seemingly abandoned the free market in favor of these subsidy programs that will only benefit certain players in certain industries.
The picking of winners and losers never ends -
the taxpayers are always one of the losers.