The use of synthesised chemical fertilizers such as urea is a major factor which has enabled developing countries to achieve a level of food security in spite populations that have more than doubled in the past 30 years. Without the use of chemical fertilizer key crops such as rice would yield a factor of 2-3 less tons per hectare. Continued increase in yields of staple foods such as rice, wheat and maize is essential to meet the demands of a growing global population, projected to be 9 Billion by 2050, without extensive deforestation and irrecoverable damage to the earth’s ecological system. Unfortunately, one of the main issues in using chemical fertililzer is that 50% – 80% of urea applied in agriculture is washed away into water systems.
SLINTEC, by employing a fundamental science based approach, has been successful in developing several nanoparticle systems which can anchor urea to the extent that its release in soil media is slowed down. Field trials with rice show that the urea content which has to be used can be almost halved while maintaining, or in some instances increase by up to 20%, yield. This technology has been patented with a development and commercialisation agreement signed with a leading multi-national fertilizer manufacturer.
SLINTEC intends to scale this technology to the pilot-plant level. The focus of the plant will be the enhancement of imported urea through its combination with nanoparticle technology. The extra cost of nanoparticle production can be, according to current projections, more than offset by the reduced amount of fertilizer which the government has to subsidise. On successful demonstration of pilot production, SLINTEC will partner with one (or several) local fertilizer packaging and distribution companies to develop the process for commercial supply to the Sri Lanka agricultural sector. We believe that this is a tangible route to ‘greening’ Sri Lankan agriculture.
2) Targeted Plant Nutrient Release
Over fertilization can make a plant weaker by inducing toxic reactions which may compromise its innate immune system and growth. Application of nanotechnology based solutions to the slow release of the other base chemical plant nutrients phosphorous (P) and potassium (K) as well as understanding in detail the biochemical pathways in soil and plant species has great potential in enhancing ‘smart and efficient’ fertilization in agriculture. SLINTEC is well placed to carry out research in this area which leads to new innovations and IP in ‘smart and sustainable plant nutrients’ given its established capabilities and proven track record.
3) Integrated Plant Nutrient Systems
Looking further into the future, SLINTEC would like to develop an integrated smart plant nutrient system. This will build on the slow and targeted release technologies it has developed and use them as a new controlled and active plant nutrient system. Here, at the soil and plant root level, nutrients will be contained within chemically and weather resistant containers planted or refilled, which have the capability to release metered doses on receipt of remote wireless command signals. This is a concept analogous to metered drug release in medicine. Complimentary to the controlled nutrient release cell would be a wireless remote sensing cell. This would measure/meter soil parameters such as pH as well as water content as well as contents of essential plant nutrient elements in the soil. Such an integrated system has immense opportunities in terms of IP generation and wealth creation, as well as bringing about a new paradigm in smart agriculture.
4) Targeted Release of Pesticides and Insecticides
The use of pesticides and insecticides are an integral part of modern agriculture and is in many ways complimentary to the application of chemical plant nutrients to increase yields. However, as in the case of urea supply, the current tendency is to overuse, sometimes to the point of saturation and soil toxicity, pesticides and insecticides. Again, as in the case of excessive urea use, remnant insecticides and pesticides get washed away in to water system and can cause harm to other natural species in an unintended manner. There is at present no evaluation of soil and site specific requirements before application. SLINTECs research aim is to integrate pesticide and insecticide application as part of the Integrated Plant Nutrient System discussed above