Tag Archives: fertilizers

NanoFARM: food, agriculture, and nanoparticles

The research focus for the NanoFARM consortium is on pesticides according to an October 19, 2017 news item on Nanowerk,

The answer to the growing, worldwide food production problem may have a tiny solution—nanoparticles, which are being explored as both fertilizers and fungicides for crops.

NanoFARM – research consortium formed between Carnegie Mellon University [US], the University of Kentucky [US], the University of Vienna [Austria], and Aveiro University in Prague [Czech Republic] – is studying the effects of nanoparticles on agriculture. The four universities received grants from their countries’ respective National Science Foundations to discover how these tiny particles – some just 4 nanometers in diameter – can revolutionize how farmers grow their food.

An October ??, 2017 Carnegie Mellon University news release by Adam Dove, which originated the news item, fills in a few more details,

“What we’re doing is getting a fundamental understanding of nanoparticle-to-plant interactions to enable future applications,” says Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) Professor Greg Lowry, the principal investigator for the nanoFARM project. “With pesticides, less than 5% goes into the crop—the rest just goes into the environment and does harmful things. What we’re trying to do is minimize that waste and corresponding environmental damage by doing a better job of targeting the delivery.”

The teams are looking at related questions: How much nanomaterial is needed to help crops when it comes to driving away pests and delivering nutrients, and how much could potentially hurt plants or surrounding ecosystems?

Applied pesticides and fertilizers are vulnerable to washing away—especially if there’s a rainstorm soon after application. But nanoparticles are not so easily washed off, making them extremely efficient for delivering micronutrients like zinc or copper to crops.

“If you put in zinc oxide nanoparticles instead, it might take days or weeks to dissolve, providing a slow, long-term delivery system.”

Gao researches the rate at which nanoparticles dissolve. His most recent finding is that nanoparticles of copper oxide take up to 20-30 days to dissolve in soil, meaning that they can deliver nutrients to plants at a steady rate over that time period.

“In many developing countries, a huge number of people are starving,” says Gao. “This kind of technology can help provide food and save energy.”

But Gao’s research is only one piece of the NanoFARM puzzle. Lowry recently traveled to Australia with Ph.D. student Eleanor Spielman-Sun to explore how differently charged nanoparticles were absorbed into wheat plants.

They learned that negatively charged particles were able to move into the veins of a plant—making them a good fit for a farmer who wanted to apply a fungicide. Neutrally charged particles went into the tissue of the leaves, which would be beneficial for growers who wanted to fortify a food with nutritional value.

Lowry said they are still a long way from signing off on a finished product for all crops—right now they are concentrating on tomato and wheat plants. But with the help of their university partners, they are slowly creating new nano-enabled agrochemicals for more efficient and environmentally friendly agriculture.

For more information, you can find the NanoFARM website here.

Nanoparticle fertilizer and dreams of a new ‘Green’ revolution

There were hints even while it was happening that the ‘Green Revolution’ of the 1960s was not all it was touted to be. (For those who haven’t come across the term before, the Green Revolution was a better way to farm, a way that would feed everyone on earth. Or, that was the dream.)

Perhaps this time, they’ll be more successful. From a Jan. 15, 2017 news item on ScienceDaily, which offers a perspective on the ‘Green Revolution’ that differs from mine,

The “Green Revolution” of the ’60s and ’70s has been credited with helping to feed billions around the world, with fertilizers being one of the key drivers spurring the agricultural boom. But in developing countries, the cost of fertilizer remains relatively high and can limit food production. Now researchers report in the journal ACS Nano a simple way to make a benign, more efficient fertilizer that could contribute to a second food revolution.

A Jan. 25, 2017 American Chemical Society news release on EurekAlert, which originated the news item, expands on the theme,

Farmers often use urea, a rich source of nitrogen, as fertilizer. Its flaw, however, is that it breaks down quickly in wet soil and forms ammonia. The ammonia is washed away, creating a major environmental issue as it leads to eutrophication of water ways and ultimately enters the atmosphere as nitrogen dioxide, the main greenhouse gas associated with agriculture. This fast decomposition also limits the amount of nitrogen that can get absorbed by crop roots and requires farmers to apply more fertilizer to boost production. However, in low-income regions where populations continue to grow and the food supply is unstable, the cost of fertilizer can hinder additional applications and cripple crop yields. Nilwala Kottegoda, Veranja Karunaratne, Gehan Amaratunga and colleagues wanted to find a way to slow the breakdown of urea and make one application of fertilizer last longer.

To do this, the researchers developed a simple and scalable method for coating hydroxyapatite (HA) nanoparticles with urea molecules. HA is a mineral found in human and animal tissues and is considered to be environmentally friendly. In water, the hybridization of the HA nanoparticles and urea slowly released nitrogen, 12 times slower than urea by itself. Initial field tests on rice farms showed that the HA-urea nanohybrid lowered the need for fertilizer by one-half. The researchers say their development could help contribute to a new green revolution to help feed the world’s continuously growing population and also improve the environmental sustainability of agriculture.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Urea-Hydroxyapatite Nanohybrids for Slow Release of Nitrogen by Nilwala Kottegoda, Chanaka Sandaruwan, Gayan Priyadarshana, Asitha Siriwardhana, Upendra A. Rathnayake, Danushka Madushanka Berugoda Arachchige, Asurusinghe R. Kumarasinghe, Damayanthi Dahanayake, Veranja Karunaratne, and Gehan A. J. Amaratunga. ACS Nano, Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/acsnano.6b07781 Publication Date (Web): January 25, 2017

Copyright © 2017 American Chemical Society

This paper is open access.

Cleaning water with palladium nanoparticle catalysts

A Jan. 16, 2015 news item on Nanowerk describes research into using palladium as a catalyst for water remediation efforts,

One way of removing harmful nitrate from drinking water is to catalyse its conversion to nitrogen. This process suffers from the drawback that it often produces ammonia. By using palladium nanoparticles as a catalyst, and by carefully controlling their size, this drawback can be partially eliminated. It was research conducted by Yingnan Zhao of the University of Twente’s MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology that led to this discovery.

A Jan. 14, 2015 University of Twente press release, which originated the news item, describes the problem and suggested solution; this was research for a PhD thesis,

Due to the excessive use of fertilizers, our groundwater is contaminated with nitrates, which pose a problem if they enter the mains water supply. Levels have fallen significantly in recent years, as a result of various European directives. In addition, the Integrated Approach to Nitrogen programme was launched in various Dutch nature reserves at the start of January. Tackling the problem at source is one thing, but it will still be necessary to treat the mains water supply. While this can be achieved through biological conversion – bacteria convert the nitrate to nitrogen gas-, this is a slow process. Using palladium to catalyse the conversion of nitrate to nitrogen speeds up the process enormously. However, this reaction suffers from the drawback that it produces a harmful by-product – ammonia.

Exposed surface

The amount of ammonia produced appears to depend on the method used to prepare the palladium and on the catalyst’s physical structure. Yingnan Zhao decided to use nanometre-sized colloidal palladium particles, as their dimensions can be easily controlled. These particles are fixed to a surface, so they do not end up in the mains water supply. However, it is important to stop them clumping together, so stabilizers such as polyvinyl alcohol are added. Unfortunately, these stabilizers tend to shield the surface of the palladium particles, which reduces their effectiveness as a catalyst. By introducing additional treatments, Yingnan Zhao has managed to fully expose the catalytic surface once again or to manipulate it in a controlled manner. This has resulted in palladium nanoparticles that can catalyse the conversion to nitrogen, while producing very little ammonia. This has brought the further development of catalytic water treatment (in compact devices for home use, for example) one step closer.

Yingnan Zhao, who is from Heze, Shandong, China, conducted his research in Prof. Leon Lefferts’ Catalytic Processes and Materials group. He defended his thesis, which is entitled “Colloidal Nanoparticles as Catalysts and Catalyst Precursors for Nitrite Hydrogenation” on Thursday 15 January [2015].

I trust Zhao successfully defended this thesis and perhaps more importantly helped to develop a new and better method for water remediation made necessary by the effects of fertilizers.