Startup Using Microbes to Convert Methane into Fertilizer

The smell of methane that pervades many dairy farms could be a thing of the past if a new system that uses microbes to convert methane into fertilizer is widely adopted. Windfall Bio is the startup behind this innovation. The company revealed that it completed a funding round that put $28 million in its hands to commercialize the production of these microbes.

It should be noted that this technique of converting methane into nitrogen fertilizer isn’t only applicable on farms. It can be deployed wherever methane accumulates, including landfills, oil wells or wetlands. The startup aimed at getting a novel way to deal with methane gas wherever it is found.

Why did Windfall Bio focus on methane? Currently, methane contributes approximately 30% to global warming. Additionally, this gas has the potential to warm the earth 86 times more than carbon dioxide during a 20-year window. Capturing this polluter could have a significant impact on slowing global warming.

Josh Silverman, CEO and cofounder of Windfall Bio, says the role of methane in fueling global warming doesn’t get as much attention as it should, and efforts to mitigate this driver of climate change aren’t funded in the same way that carbon dioxide-focused efforts are. The biochemist is convinced that Windfall Bio has found an affordable way to leverage the microorganisms found in soil to play a role in capturing methane in sustainable ways while producing fertilizers.

The company doesn’t modify the genes of the microbes in any way. Instead, it combines various kinds of methane-eating microbes in order to create a cocktail that packs a bigger punch in eating up any methane in the places where the microbes have been deposited. At a farm, for example, the farmer can direct a pipe from a covered lagoon of manure to a tank that contains the microbes.

The fertilizer produced as the microbes feed on the methane can then be applied to support plant growth. Windfall Bio says this fertilizer can be obtained at half the cost of conventionally produced nitrogen fertilizers. Farmers can also place the microbes directly in soil that has been overcultivated. However, this would be underusing those microbes because they work best when placed where methane pollution levels are high. However, adding them to soil would still help in placing nitrogen back into the soil.

If more methane is captured using these microbes, an additional benefit of greening the fertilizer industry would result because methane capture using microbes yields nitrogen fertilizers that can address the needs of farmers without relying on fossil fuels to make the needed fertilizers.

Given that the availability of conventional fertilizers from enterprises such as Compass Minerals International Ltd. (NYSE: CMP) is often subject to fluctuations resulting from various market forces, the nitrogen fertilizers made using microbes can be a timely stop-gap measure to ensure continuity of supply.

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