As you shuffle through fluffy mounds of brown, crisp, dead leaves or have to tread on mats of black, rotting ones, think “nitrogen cycle.” Some of the nitrogen in the rotting leaf will go into the soil to be taken back up by the tree and incorporated into new leaves the next season. Nitrogen is one of those basic materials on the changeable surface of our planet that seems to always be in motion - natural processes and life itself swap it around from one form to another and without it, the world as we know it would not work
It’s the fifth most bountiful element in the universe, nearly eighty percent of the air we breathe and likely to turn up anywhere as a key component in diverse things having to do with life and dynamism - like tree leaves, proteins, explosives, tree trunks, rib-eye steaks, feathers, jet fuel, bat guano, aspirin, Super Glue, peas, snake venom and tears. Nitrogen gas can be drawn from the atmosphere and incorporated in the soil by a bolt of lightening or a bacteria, taken up and utilized by alfalfa grass, eaten and pooped out by a cow, washed out to sea, consumed by algae that fall to the bottom, get covered up, aged, heated and compressed to be turned into oil then mined, refined, burned and returned to the atmosphere once more as nitrogen gas. For a supposedly inert gas, it sure makes its business to be involved with virtually every aspect of the physical nature of life on Earth.
For something so fundamental, that’s been around on the planet for billions of years, it’s hard to imagine this gas as just a passing fad, but nitrogen appears to have become the hip, fashionable gas of the moment, au courant as they say. It has been used for decades as the driving force behind Irish Guinness Stout and now newer, American made craft beers are experimenting with using it for storing and propelling their product to thirsty consumers.
It has some prospects to attract the Green crowd because nitrogen gas can be used to goose-up the output of the microbes that produce bio-fuels. These bacteria can be made to more readily convert wood, instead of sugary, fertilizer-consuming corn into ethanol.
And nitrogen has now turned up in tires. An ad recently seen in a tire store extolled its desirability and availability, at a price, for inflating your car’s tires. The gas stays in the tire longer than regular air by not wiggling past all the rubber molecules to escape, like oxygen would, which is close to 20% of the atmosphere’s mundane combination. Nitrogen doesn’t expand and contract with temperature changes, maintaining steady inflation and prolonged improved gas mileage where the rubber meets the road.
Beside nitrogen, other things like water, carbon, rocks, phosphorous, climate, salt, the moon, sulphur and mercury exist within cycles. It’s what makes the world go ‘round.