Pure-Gro Inc. is in the process of licensing an organic coal-based fertilizer and agricultural growth compound. The advanced blend formula, which is 100% natural and 70% coal, permanently enriches the soil, improves crop quality and produces a yield in a way that would be equal to or greater than today’s chemical-based fertilizers, according to its developers. It is cheaper to produce than the commercial NPK fertilizers that use ammonia to generate nitrogen (N), which is combined with phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). It requires only one application per crop, unlike other fertilizers, which normally require two applications.

Feed corn (after 5.5 weeks) grows in Florida’s sandy soil with the help of Pure-Gro.

According to the company, the product works by increasing the nitrogen efficiency/uptake by plant roots. The production process is relatively simple and any coal (especially high-sulfur coal) can be used to make a single blend that can be used effectively on farmland everywhere and for all farming purposes.

If this idea were to take off, it would open a new market for coal, by disrupting a traditional method that fouls waterways and water tables worldwide. It would greatly reduce or eliminate the need for pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, representing a significant potential cost savings to the farmer.

“The carbon to nitrogen ratio is a key factor for soil fertility,” said Jim Kalyvas, spokesperson for Pure-Gro. “That’s how we have arrived at this advanced blend of a coal-based fertilizer. It’s presently under trade secret protection, not patent protection. We are now seeking to commercialize the product. It would have very broad worldwide applications.”

Engineers envision three-line automated manufacturing plants that could produce 800,000 metric tons per year (mtpy) of fertilizer that would cost approximately $14 million to build. Using a conservative price estimate and cost assumptions, the developer believes that each of these plants could generate more than $200 million per year in gross revenues, and more than $60 million in EBITDA. Cash flows from each plant indicate a per-plant enterprise value of approximately $171 million that could generate a significant rate of return.

The formula has been developed, tested, refined and upgraded over a 30-year period, and is now ready to be commercialized. Pure-Gro has not failed a field or laboratory test, including those performed by two major U.S. universities and a large U.S. coal company. A major global seed manufacturer has also reviewed the product and deemed it “revolutionary” in agriculture, according to the developer.

University and Commercial Tests

Pure-Gro has been tested extensively and successfully in laboratories and the field by reputable agronomy departments at three major universities: Pennsylvania State University, the University of Florida and the University of Nebraska.

“This is the third iteration of this concept,” Kalyvas said. “We pursued patents, which were approved for 160 countries, with the original formulations. But, we decided that we needed to have additional nitrogen input and the University of Nebraska recommended that we pursue a more natural source for it rather than what’s commonly practiced today.”

The coal producer field-tested (and later laboratory-tested) the fertilizer on corn crops in Washington County, Pennsylvania, using plots of farmland. Crop yield and nutrition, cost and commercial viability, and complete soil, crop, and fertilizer analyses were uniformly successful — as was the use of coal and fines from a slurry pond. Of note, all mercury and heavy metal tests were successful. All findings have been documented, according to Pure-Gro, and the testing protocol, in its entirety, was designed, carried out and analyzed independently.

The company’s original formula was tested by Penn State agronomists early in field trials and later in chemical analysis. The early field tests were photographed and controlled by Penn State with comparison to NPK fertilizers on the same shale-strewn, damaged clay on a Pennsylvania farm and under identical conditions. The coal-based fertilizer results were successful — as measured by extensive yield, crop and leaf quality — while the NPK usage failed to grow any corn, as reported by the university.

Later Penn State tests were conducted by a professor, Jon Chorover. In his chemical analysis, expert opinion and report on June 16, 2000, he said, “None of the trace elements are present in concentrations that would pose a concern for land application of this material as fertilizer. In summary, none of the results suggest that the material cannot be effectively applied to soil as a fertilizer amendment. Indeed, the high concentration of organic C and N would lead me to presume that addition of this material to soil would increase the organic matter of the soil, resulting in an overall improvement in soil quality, over and above that resulting from an equivalent amount of nutrition addition alone.”

Full field tests with both field corn and corn for human consumption yielded excellent results at the University of Florida in the spring of 2000. This growth test was conducted by a senior agronomist, with strong results. The professor was surprised at and impressed with the results because in his university test plots — under his control — 8-ft high corn was grown in 5.5 weeks in sandy loam soil. The field corn was heavy tasseled and likewise verdant and of high leaf quality. The professor’s staff ate the corn and reported a high-quality taste and overall quality, according to the professor. Planting occurred on April 13, 2000, and full growth experienced (8 ft for sweet corn and 5 ft for feed corn) by May 24, 2000, using only one application of the coal-based fertilizer.

The application rate for these tests were 400 lb per acre, applied only once per crop, with excellent results at all times. No other chemicals, pesticides, herbicides were applied.

The Pure-Gro Advantages

This advanced-blend fertilizer has a natural formulation that enriches the soil and it’s relatively inexpensive. Pure-Gro’s 100% natural formulation is slow-releasing and has the effect of enriching soil nutrition permanently, including damaged, depleted, unused and underused soils globally. The need to let acreage lie fallow can be eliminated as it permanently enriches — not depletes — soil nutrients as experienced with NPK fertilizers.

“Pure-Gro is a great, natural product that could help farmers avoid the red-tide runoff in the Gulf of Mexico and the nitrogen pollution in the water table, associated with NPK fertilizers,” Kalyvas said. “It produces comparable yields organically to high-grade NPK blends (e.g., 19-19-19) without adding chemicals to the soil and it does so at a substantially less cost. In contrast, artificial NPK fertilizer gives an initial and temporary boost to plant roots, but in so doing, it adds chemicals that over-acidify the soil, compacting it and often harming the water table. NPK offers no carbon or sulfur, or other elements the soil needs.”

A Pennsylvania peach tree, which was barren for eight years, bears so much fruit with Pure-Gro it has to be staked.
A Pennsylvania peach tree, which was barren for eight years, bears so much fruit with Pure-Gro it has to be staked.

Because it enriches soil quality, the emergence of earthworms — a positive indicator of soil health — has been consistently noted throughout the testing process. The crop taste, yield and overall plant quality is improved. Microbial activity is promoted and increased. Increased soil porosity and nitrogen uptake is observed, allowing for efficient water and nutrient utility by plant roots. Water and harmful nitrate runoff are avoided. In addition, soils not presently in use or usable can be brought back into production. Most of the world’s agricultural farmland is deficient in carbon for optimal growing results.

The Manufacturing Process

The production facility would have three main working areas: a coal-receiving facility and conveyor system; a three-line production area with equipment for coal crushing, mixing, spraying (for certain additives), air drying, pelletizing and palletizing for shrink-wrapped heavy-duty plastic bags; and a warehouse area would be needed to store the palletized bags.

The entire operation would be computerized, high-speed and controlled from a central station. The risks include proper drying of the coal, without exposing finely crushed coal to electrical sources or sparks and avoiding moisture accumulation in the bagged product.

The three-line plant can function as desired: two shifts or three shifts; and the high-speed bagging equipment is geared to produce 25, 50-lb bags per minute. Assuming an operational schedule of three shifts and 330 days per year, the plant could produce 800,000 mtpy of fertilizer, which could be sold for $225/mt.

“The process crushes the coal to a fine consistency and then mixes it with four other ingredients,” Kalyvas said. “The product is dried and pelletized. It would be served as a regularly broadcast product, just like any other currently used fertilizers.”

Ingredient costs represent the bulk of fertilizer production costs. With potash currently selling for more than $225/mt, a coal-based fertilizer would certainly be more competitive price-wise. Pure-Gro production costs are estimated at less than $100/mt. If 70% of a ton of the product is coal, then the plant would consume 560,000 mtpy of coal (currently selling for about $50/mt).

As far as the market, an application rate of 400 lb per acre would amount to 18 mt per 100 acres. Nebraska corn farmers plant 9.5 million acres per year. If they were to convert to Pure-Gro, they would consume 1.4 million mt of coal. “Because farmers currently use two tons per acre, they would be using less of a lower cost product,” Kalyvas said.

“Pure-Gro has been thoroughly tested and it has no deleterious effect on the water table,” Kalyvas said. “It breaks down in the soil. Because it’s pelletized, dust generation is not an issue during application.” The company is looking for a partner to help commercialize this process. Coal operators interested in the process can contact Dan Dreyfus by email at daniel.dreyfus@verizon.net or by phone at (941) 448-1172.