A key development for a sustainable future would be to resolve the vexed question of nitrogen. We need nitrogen as a fertilizer, producing millions of tonnes per annum via a variety of industrial chemical processes. The irony is that we also waste nitrogen in vast quantities. How? Well basically we excrete the stuff, mostly in the form of urea in urine which goes off to the sewage works to end up mostly as nitrates with traces of ammonia in our rivers and coastal waters.
Okay, sounds simple enough you might say, so what can be done about it? Dr Rob Smith, senior researcher of Nitrogen Solutions (UK) takes the story:-
“We have designed a cost-effective domestic nitrogen collection system based on reusable waste collection modules. The units are bright yellow for easy recognition and they sit on a pair of wheels so that householders can wheel them out on the appropriate collection day, just like their other recycling containers. This one will be different though, the first one specifically designed to an EU standard with EU standard collection trucks.”
“So what happens next?” I asked.
“The collection process is a fully automatic, driver-only operation” Dr Smith explains. “The truck has a hydraulic robotic arm which does all the clever stuff. The domestic container has an embedded RF chip, so the collection truck simply senses it, grabs it, rinses it and puts it back clean and empty. It’s quite impressive actually.”
“And now for the big question, exactly how do householders use the collection module?” I ask.
“That’s up to them,” Dr Smith laughs. “Our only remit from the EU is to take the piss.”