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K-State Technology Development Institute partners with agronomy department on ammonia study

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Passive sampler

K-State's Technology Development Institute is supporting an agronomy department study with the design and fabrication of passive samplers that measure nitrogen losses due to ammonia volatilization after fertilizer applications. | Download this photo.



MANHATTAN — Kansas State University's Technology Development Institute and agronomy department have collaborated to manufacture sampling devices that maximize farmers' profitability by minimizing nitrogen losses.

The Technology Development Institute, or TDI, helped the agronomy department optimize designs and create 3D-printed parts for passive samplers that measure nitrogen losses due to ammonia volatilization after fertilizer applications.

Previous studies indicate that up to 30% of the nitrogen applied by farmers as fertilizer could be lost to the atmosphere through ammonia volatilization. The agronomy department is conducting a study funded through a Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research grant to investigate how different timing and application methods could minimize ammonia losses, increasing the amount of nitrogen available for crops.

To accomplish this, a well-established micrometeorological method called the integrated horizontal flux approach is used to quantify ammonia emission rates by placing ammonia samplers at different heights over the fertilized area. These samplers do not require an external power source and can turn with the wind direction to keep a constant air flow inside the sampler. Coils inside the samplers are treated with an acid solution to 'capture' the ammonia as the air passes through the device. The mass of ammonia accumulated in the samplers can then be used to estimate the flux rate over the plot during a given period of time.

The K-State research team from the department of agronomy includes primary investigator Lucas Haag, associate professor; Dorivar Ruiz Dias, professor; Eduardo Santos, associate professor; and Peter Tomlinson, associate professor.

Santos is leading the ammonia volatilization measurements, which will be conducted statewide to measure different types of soil, nitrogen application methods and timing. He approached the engineering team at TDI to inquire about manufacturing 180 ammonia samplers for his research.

Staff at TDI reviewed the original design of the samplers and made several design modifications that reduced the manufacturing cost while making the transport and deployment of samplers easier. For example, the 3D-printed components helped lower the cost and time to produce.

TDI not only redesigned the samplers, but staff and mechanical engineering interns also produced all of the parts and assembled the samplers so that they were ready for field deployment.

"Working with Quinton and the team at TDI has been a great experience as they have helped me to overcome a few challenges with the samplers and have done a great job on getting them assembled and ready for deployment this spring," Santos said.

This project was completed in support of the K-State 105 initiative, Kansas State University's answer to the call for comprehensive economic growth and advancement solutions for Kansas.

The K-State Technology Development Institute in the Carl R. Ice College of Engineering is a U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration University Center and received a grant from the Research and Entrepreneurship Federal Matching Grant Dollars Fund. TDI provides a broad range of engineering and business development services to both private industry and university researchers to advance the commercial readiness of new products or technologies.

Media contact

Division of Communications and Marketing


Technology Development Institute

Written by

Bret Lanz