Fixation of nitrogen even with liberation of energy or free energy, will take place if either oxygen gas or hydrogen gas, or other substances, especially gases, whose standard free energies are close to zero, are involved to form either nitrates, ammonia, or cyanide, not to speak of still other compounds. It has been pointed out that there are two and only two general conditions where nitrogen fixation can require energy. These are, first, if nitrogen reacts with some compound like water with an already high negative free energy of formation and where negligible oxidation of nitrogen would occur; second, if the plant does not take advantage of working at concentrations where the process would yield free energy.
If nitrogen fixation is exothermic and free energy-yielding, how is the carbohydrate requirement of nitrogen-fixing organisms to be interpreted? Are the experimental determinations of the carbon to nitrogen ratio purely circumstantial? Is further hope given to those who may experimentally try to narrow this ratio to where the carbon used is only for the carbon requirements of general metabolism, exclusive of fixation? Do not hypotheses concerning the fixation of nitrogen in the evolutionary process, which are based on the conception that energy is required, lose some of their significance? Does it not suggest that perhaps fixation is far more universal than is supposed among living forms, particularly among the higher green plants, and thereby give encouragement to those who may wish to demonstrate this experimentally? Does it not indicate that perhaps the function of fixation is often to obtain energy for use in general metabolism? Is the general carbohydrate metabolism of the fixation forms to be regarded as being merely extremely inefficient? Or most suggestive of all, is the carbohydrate serving some unobserved function?