Science 4 min read

New Fertilizing Methods Could Save Declining Crop Yields

New fertilizing methods could aid in the growing crisis of food shortages and land infertility. | Image By Fotokostic | Shutterstock

New fertilizing methods could aid in the growing crisis of food shortages and land infertility. | Image By Fotokostic | Shutterstock

With the rising threat of climate change, scientists are looking for ways to enhance the action of fertilizing methods while toning down their negative side.

Late theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who’s just released a new book, said that overpopulation and the increased demand for space and resources will be one of the major challenges to face the world.

Humanity entered the 20th-century counting about 1.6 billion people and left it with 4.4 billion more added to its ranks.

Thanks to the Haber-Bosch process, the conversion of nitrogen in the air into fertilizers, one of the 20th century’s greatest inventions, helped sustain the extraordinary population growth.

However, besides the environmental downside to nitrogen fertilizers and their role in spreading antibiotic resistance among soil bacteria, they can’t keep pace with population growth forever.

The need for new fertilizing methods that address these issues has never been so urgent.

The world needs next-gen fertilizing methods that get more food from less space but without messing with vital ecosystems. That doesn’t just concern the action of fertilizers, but their production process as well.

Now, researchers have introduced two new fertilizer research initiatives that are separate yet could provide a combined solution to the problem.

Graphene as a Carrier for Fertilizer Nutrients

One of the many properties of the wonder material graphene is its ability to bind with different molecules, including micronutrients essential for plants.

Based off of that point, researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia have been working on new fertilizers that would be cheaper and less harmful to the environment.

To make efficient slow-release fertilizers, the team used graphene oxide sheets as a carrier for plant micronutrients.

Professor Mike McLaughlin, Head of the Fertiliser Technology Research Centre at the University of Adelaide, said of their new concept:

“Fertilizers that show slower, more controlled release and greater efficiency will have reduced impact on the environment and lower costs for farmers over conventional fertilizers, bringing significant potential benefit for both agriculture and the environment. Our research found that loading copper and zinc micronutrients onto graphene oxide sheets was an effective way to supply micronutrients to plants. It also increased the strength of the fertilizer granules for better transport and spreading ability.”

We can add the ability to function as a slow release carrier for fertilizer micronutrients to the list of graphene’s amazing properties that keeps growing.

Read More: Scientists Discover New Properties of Graphene Materials

Fertilizer Nutrients From Biowaste Ashes

If the University of Adelaide’s researchers thought of an efficient way to deliver micronutrients to plants, a separate new research takes it from there by focusing on making these nutrients less reliant on fossil minerals.

Using biomass to generate power is a trend that’s gaining steam, but it can also provide an alternative to fossil fuels and reduce their involvement in industrial fertilizing methods.

The EU-funded NewFerT consortium aims to valorize biowaste and push for a circular economy by developing a new generation of fertilizers that draw micronutrients from biobased sources.

After analyzing 45 different biowaste samples collected from different areas in Europe, NewFerT researchers selected 10 to be introduced into the fertilizer fabrication process.

This production process: “essentially turns ashes of different origins and livestock effluent into a new generation of fertilisers.”

For biowaste types with insoluble micronutrients “NewFert partners developed new biorefining technologies with low input and energy cost to increase nutrient recovery such as phosphate.”

The team now is planning “a demonstration project at the European level, involving farmers and biowaste producers in validating the new fertilisers and technology from an agronomic, industrial and economic point of view.”

The world’s population is growing, and so are our appetites. New fertilizing methods that increase crop yields without damaging our planet are vital to our survival. With new developments like these, we may just have a fighting chance.

What other aspects of modern fertilizing methods need rethinking?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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