November 27, 1920

1. Yield of potatoes in fields over which the air was fertilized with carbonic acid gas and left unfertilized. 2. A similar comparison for cauliflower plants.
3. An open-air carbonic-acid fertilizing plant.

1. Yield of pota­toes in fields over which the air was fer­til­ized with car­bon­ic acid gas and left un­fer­til­ized.  2. A sim­il­ar com­par­is­on for cauli­flower plants.  3. An open-air car­bon­ic-acid fer­til­iz­ing plant.

Fer­til­iz­ing the air with car­bon di­ox­ide to pro­mote plant growth

Carbonic Acid Gas to Fertilize the Air

By Dr. Alfred Gradenwitz

ONE of the prin­cip­al con­stit­u­ents mak­ing up the body of a plant is car­bon, repre­sent­ing about one-half of its or­gan­ic sub­stance. The opin­ion that this car­bon is de­rived from the soil has long been aban­doned, mod­ern in­vesti­ga­tion hav­ing shown at­mo­spher­ic car­bon­ic acid to be ab­sorbed by means of the chloro­phyl or green mat­ter of the leaves and de­com­posed in­to its ele­ments, the car­bon, in con­junc­tion with the root sap and at­mo­spher­ic mois­ture, be­ing worked in­to or­gan­ic com­pounds.

Where­as at­mo­spher­ic air at present is re­l­at­ively poor in car­bon­ic acid, of which it con­tains only about .03 per cent, at an early peri­od in the de­vel­op­ment of our plan­et, when this was covered with the lux­uri­ant forests our coal de­pos­its are de­rived from, it com­prised in­com­par­ably great­er quant­it­ies of this gas. This fact sug­ges­ted the idea of height­en­ing the fer­til­ity of the soil by in­creas­ing its car­bon­ic acid con­tent and thus pro­du­cing con­di­tions re­sem­bling those of antedi­lu­vi­an ages. In or­der to en­able such a pro­cess to be car­ried out on any­thing like a com­mer­cial line, a cheap source of car­bon­ic acid had, of course, to be pro­vid­ed.

This was found by Dr. Fr. Riedel of Es­sen-on-Ruhr in the com­bus­tion gases es­cap­ing from all factor­ies, but most abund­antly from blast-fur­naces, and which so far had been al­lowed to flow out in­to the at­mo­sphere without serving any use­ful pur­pose. He ac­cord­ingly set to work design­ing a pro­cess for which pat­ents were ob­tained and which was put to prac­tic­al tests on a large scale. Three green­houses were at first erec­ted, one of which served as test­ing room, while the two oth­ers were used for check­ing pur­poses. The test­ing room was sup­plied with pur­i­fied and burnt blast-fur­nace ex­haust gases through a line of punc­tured pip­ing tra­vers­ing the whole green­house in a for­ward and back­ward dir­ec­tion. The gas sup­ply was star­ted on June 12th, that is to say, at a time when plant growth was at its height.

On ac­count of the care­ful cleans­ing and com­plete elim­in­a­tion of con­stitu­ents such as sul­fur, the gas was found to ex­ert no harm­ful ef­fects. On the con­trary, even a few days after start­ing the test, there could be ob­served In the test­ing room a more lux­uri­ant ve­get­a­tion than in the check­ing houses. The leaves of the castor-oil plant in the green­house sup­plied with gas were found to reach more than one meter in span, where­as the largest leaf in the check­ing houses was only about 58 cen­ti­meters in width. Plants sub­mit­ted to the in­flu­ence of car­bon­ic acid gas also showed a marked ad­vance with re­gard to their height. With the to­ma­toes planted in an­oth­er part of the green­house a crop of 29.5 kilo­grams was ob­tained for a giv­en num­ber of fruits, the weight of the same num­ber of fruits in the test­ing room be­ing 81.3 kilo­grams, that is, 175 per cent more. With the cu­cum­bers planted at the same time a some­what slight­er dif­fer­ence was noted, the yield in the check­ing houses be­ing 138 kilo­grams, in the test­ing house, how­ever, 235 kilo­grams, cor­res­pond­ing to an in­crease in yield of 70 per cent. An in­ter­est­ing phe­nomen­on noted in this con­nec­tion was that, while the cu­cum­bers in the check­ing houses would ex­hib­it bright spots, those in the test­ing house, on ac­count of the more plen­ti­ful form­a­tion of chloro­phyl were of a dark green col­or throughout.

Ex­per­i­ments in the open air were made simul­ta­ne­ously with these green­house tests, a square plot of ground be­ing en­circled by punc­tured ce­ment pipes from which a con­tinu­ous sup­ply of ex­haust gases was es­cap­ing. The wind, mostly strik­ing the ground at an angle, would drive the car­bon­ic acid in a vari­able dir­ec­tion to­ward the plants, thus al­low­ing ex­ten­sive areas to be sup­plied with the fer­til­iz­ing gas. On the op­pos­ite side of the green­house plant there was pro­vid­ed for check­ing pur­poses a plot of the same size sub­mit­ted to no car­bon­ic acid gas, the soil in the two plots be­ing of the same qual­ity. Samples were de­rived from the best por­tions of the check­ing field, but from the cen­ter of the field sub­mit­ted to the ac­tion of car­bon­ic acid gas, the in­crease in yield in the case of spin­ach be­ing found to be 150 per cent, with pota­toes 180 per cent, with lupines (a legume) 174 per cent, and with bar­ley 100 per cent. The pota­toes in the field sub­mit­ted to the ac­tion of car­bon­ic acid gas were found to ripen much more quickly than in the check­ing plot.

The test­ing plant in view of these sur­pris­ingly fa­vor­able res­ults was even­tu­ally ex­ten­ded, three green­houses of the same size as those ex­ist­ing be­ing ad­ded, while the small open-ground plant was in­creased con­sid­er­ably and more ex­tens­ive grounds30,000 square meterswere pro­vid­ed with an un­der­ground cent­ral pipe and branch pipes en­circ­ling lengthy plots. Es­pe­cially fa­vor­able res­ults were ob­tained on this field with pota­toes, a 300 per cent in­crease be­ing re­cor­ded in con­nec­tion with tests on a large scale.

All ex­per­i­ments so far made go to show that fer­til­iz­ing the air by means of car­bon­ic acid gas is a much more ef­fi­cient pro­cess than even an in­creased fer­til­i­za­tion of the ground with stable ma­nure and cow dung. If, on the oth­er hand, a plot fer­til­ized from the air. at the same time be sub­mit­ted to soil fer­til­i­za­tion, the lat­ter, on ac­count of the in­creased need for oth­er ele­ments (ni­tro­gen, phos­phor­us, po­tassi­um, etc.) en­tailed by the in­creased ab­sorp­tion of car­bon­ic acid, can be driv­en much farther than oth­er­wise.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr. Riedel's cal­cu­la­tions an iron works deal­ing in its blast-fur­naces with about 4,000 tons of coke per day will daily pro­duce as much as 35 mil­lion cu­bic meters of com­bus­tion gases, con­tain­ing 20 per cent car­bon­ic acid gas. This is such an enorm­ous amount that even in the case of a par­tial util­iz­a­tion most ex­tens­ive plots of ground can he sup­plied with the pre­cious air fer­til­izer. Dr. Riedel there­fore be­lieves that car­bon­ic acid works for sup­ply­ing ag­ri­cul­ture will be­fore long be quite as com­mon a fea­ture as elec­tri­city and gas works, the large in­dus­tri­al cen­ters at the same time be­com­ing cen­ters of in­creas­ing ag­ri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion.

Care­ful ana­lys­is has shown the in­crease in the per­cent­age of car­bon­ic acid in the air to re­main far be­low the lim­it where the gas be­comes li­able to en­dan­ger the health of man.

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Related:  [1], [2], [3] & [4] (derivative articles);   [5] (plant growth database);  [6], [7], [8], [9], [10] & [11]; (F.A.C.E.);   [12] & [13] (Prof. Dyson)

In the Netherlands, carbon dioxide from industrial plants is being recycled to help plants grow in greenhouses, in a process called “Carbon Capture & Utilization” (CCU), exactly as Dr. Friedrich Riedel envisioned a century ago.

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This is the abstract of a 1920 German-language book (or here), on the same topic:

Carbonic acid and plant growth, F. Bornemann (Kohlensäure und Pflanzen­wachstum. Berlin: Paul Parey, 1920, pp. VI+110, figs. 11). This is a re­view of inves­ti­ga­tions, includ­ing those of the author, bear­ing on the rela­tion of car­bon dioxid to plant growth and on the con­di­tions of cul­ture and fer­til­iza­tion which deter­mine the car­bon dioxid con­tent of the soil and air sur­round­ing plants. The gen­eral con­clu­sion is that not­with­stand­ing the inex­haustible sup­ply of car­bon dioxid in the atmos­phere there is ordi­nar­ily not enough of this gas in the plant envi­ron­ment for max­i­mum growth, hence the impor­tance of adopt­ing meth­ods of fer­til­iz­ing or other means that will increase the sup­ply of car­bon dioxid avail­able for plant use.

A scan of the book is available here. There's also a bio for Herr Bornemann (or here), which mentions his work on CO2 fertilization.

In his famous 1908 book, Worlds in the Making, Svante Arrhenius emphasized the beneficial effects of anthropogenic CO2 on temperatures, but he also mentioned CO2 fertilization.

The Oct. 1, 1921 Saturday Evening Post also had a very long article on the same topic (or view the originial scanned copy).

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