Mike Cox - Anaerobe Systems :
Fertilizer for a Greener Future
Thirty years ago , Mike Cox , founder and president of Anaerobe Systems in Morgan Hill , made it his mission to use his expertise as a microbiologist to help curb our environmental impact . His mission was successful , just not the way he ’ d planned . What began as a method of creating a renewable hydrogen energy source became a fertilizer that can help farmers and the environment .
For many years , Cox knew that there were certain strains of anaerobic bacteria that could produce hydrogen from organic materials . He developed a Continuous Anaerobic Fermentation System ( CAFS ) that used this bacteria to make hydrogen from vegetables . The process was successful on his first try , however , he needed to sterilize the vegetables with high heat before he could introduce the special bacteria strains .
“ The amount of heat it takes to sterilize it is worth ten times the value of the hydrogen it produces , so it was an upside-down business model ,” Cox explained .
Despite this setback , he didn ’ t give up . He believed that there would be a need for renewable hydrogen made from biomass .
One day , a farmer friend came to visit Cox while he was cleaning out one of his fermenters . The friend saw the
By Crystal Han , Photos by Mike Sanchez
brown liquid in the fermenter and asked if he could send it in for soil analysis . The analysis revealed that the byproduct of Cox ’ s hydrogen process was an organic fertilizer that was healthier and better than anything on the market .
To understand the significance of Cox ’ s fertilizer , it helps to know how plants get their nutrients . Most of us think that plants subsist off of water and sunlight , through photosynthesis . Cox explained that plants can only make a limited amount of nutrients through photosynthesis , and that the bulk of the nutrients they need actually comes from a complex system of microorganisms in the soil . The plants and microorganisms have a symbiotic relationship , in which the plant shares the proteins and sugars it creates with the microorganisms and the microorganisms , in turn , supply all the nutrients the plant needs . The microorganisms also protect the plant from harmful bacteria and fungi .
Currently , most farms use synthetic fertilizers that are composed of nitrogen , phosphorus , and potassium , NPK for short . The problem with NPK fertilizers is that it depletes the organic material in the ground and turns it into what Cox describes as a “ sterile wasteland .”
“ When you use synthetic fertilizers , the first year is fantastic , but after that you just keep having to add more , and the more you add , the more it destroys your farm ,” he said .
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