Bright blue ponds looming out of the red desert landscape near Moab, Utah, recently prompted my interest in the potash harvested from the pools. The potassium-bearing contents of the ponds will become a key ingredient of synthetic fertilizers. These are essential to feed the growing population on our planet, but fertilizer components are not in infinite supply, plus are causing many environmental problems.
In the past century, manufacturing nitrogen fertilizers with ammonia has been explosive (even literally...). Increases in crop production from manufactured fertilizers have benefited tens of millions of people. Unfortunately, this fertilizer produces tremendous waste in an inefficient process that is highly polluting; we could lower global use with alternative methods. Over 500 years ago, the Incas implemented laws to conserve their valuable guano fertilizer.