Over the course of this century, the use of nitrogen has exploded. Nitrogen is found in a wide array of sources such as factory and power plant emissions, car exhaust and farm fertilizer. Scientists predict that nitrogen levels will rise two or three times above current levels, which can dramatically affect the planet. But despite concerns over the excessive use of nitrogen, there are some applications that consider it beneficial. Two applications that use nitrogen to keep the planet green are tire inflation and forest fertilization.
The Benefits of Nitrogen When Used to Fill Up Tires
Typically tires are filled up with air which consists of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen and 1% miscellaneous gases. But there are several arguments in favor of filling up tires with pure nitrogen instead:
Permeates More Slowly Through Rubber
Compared to oxygen, nitrogen is less likely to migrate through the rubber of tires. Nitrogen can stay in tires approximately 1/3 longer than oxygen. This benefit allows drivers to check their tire pressure less frequently. Monthly tire checks shouldn’t be eliminated, but nitrogen gives drivers better tire pressure and maintenance flexibility (especially for people who don’t maintain their vehicles well).
Tire Pressure Stability Over a Longer Period of Time
This results in more consistent inflation pressures, even with sudden changes in temperature. This is one of the main reasons that race car tires are filled with nitrogen; even if the tires heat up quickly there will be a minimal shift in PSI. Nitrogen pressure in tires are also affected by colder temperatures, but will lose PSI at a slower rate than tires filled with air that consists of oxygen.
Doesn’t Allow Moisture Into the Tire
The purer the nitrogen content, the less likely moisture will remain in a tire. It takes time to fill and purge the tires with dry nitrogen, but once complete all water will be removed from tires. Filling up with nitrogen will increase the longevity of tires because the tire’s steel components are less susceptible to corrosion. Keeping the bead, sidewall reinforcement and belts dry can ensure that tires will last longer.
Improved Fuel Economy
Since filling your tires with nitrogen allows for better pressure retention, you can also improve your vehicle’s fuel economy. According to Edmunds, “under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3 percent for every 1 PSI drop in pressure of all four tires”.
Diverts Tires From the Landfill
The benefits above allow vehicle owners to have tires that require less maintenance and can be kept for longer periods of time. The longer tires can be used, the less we’ll see in landfills. The manufacturing and disposal of tires is resource intensive, so the longer they can be used the better.
The Benefits of Nitrogen When Used to Fertilize Forests
To a certain degree, nitrogen can be beneficial to plant life and act as a fertilizer to encourage growth. With the predicted increase in nitrogen levels over the next century, scientists are curious to see how forests will react to two or three times more nitrogen than we’re seeing today. Kurt Pregitzer and his team at the University of Nevada, Reno decided to fertilize four experimental forests in northern Michigan to find out.
As expected, the increased levels of nitrogen stimulated tree growth. The extra growth and maturity of the trees will allow more carbon to be absorbed from the atmosphere and stored. But what surprised Pregitzer and his team was the slower decomposition of the twigs and other tree litter on the forest floor. According to The Atlantic, “lignin—the tough substance that gives vegetables their crunch and is quite good at storing carbon—proved more resistant to the forest floor’s microbes”. Having more lignin on the forest floors also allows for more carbon to be sequestered. Pregitzer said that the team didn’t anticipate the effect nitrogen would have on the storage of carbon in the soil.
Although the explosion of human-induced nitrogen has some negative effects on environmental and human health, there are some ways in which nitrogen can also be useful. When applied to tires, nitrogen can help improve the fuel economy of vehicles and allow owners to replace their tires less frequently. By extending the lifecycle of tires, less resources are being used to manufacture them and more tires are being diverted from the landfills.
In this time of climate uncertainty, carbon sinks are becoming increasingly important. From the research conducted by Pregitzer and his team, we see the benefits of nitrogen as a fertilizer and ability to enhance the forest floor’s carbon capture. Although more research needs to be done to understand this change in soil chemistry, we’re able to see how forests might benefit from increases in nitrogen levels.