New fertilizers based on metal nanoparticles expected to produce macro-harvests

Russian scientists have developed a new generation of innovative fertilizers that, they say, are capable of increasing crop productivity by 25 per cent. The fertilizers are based on nanopowders of transition metals such as iron, copper, and cobalt.

According to the researchers, who are based at the National University of Science and Technology MISiS, Ryazan State Agrotechnological University and Derzhavin Tambov State University, as a key element of enzymes, such microelements directly affect a plant’s immunity and viability, which leads to its level of resistance to pests and diseases.

“We have developed a fertilizer of a new generation based on nanopowders of metals, which allows us to significantly optimize the technology of a number of agrochemical actions, and to be exact — to reduce them to a one seed treatment by a product containing the essential microelements in nanoform. These particles of transition metals have a powerful stimulating effect on plant growth in the initial growth phase. Thus, the future plant is provided with a supply of necessary microelements at the stage of seeding, which allows us to improve field germination, increase resistance to adversity, and, ultimately, to get a [better] harvest—as the experiments have shown these figures increase by 20-25 per cent," said in a press release Alexander Gusev, the head of the project and a senior research associate at the NUST MISIS Department of Functional Nanosystems.

Gusev added that the main difficulty these kinds of projects face is that highly mobile nanoparticles tend to quickly stick together and form large aggregates. However, the researcher's team was able to solve the problem by using organic stabilizers and the ultrasonic processing of colloidal solutions.

"Now, after receiving encouraging field research results, it is necessary to find out how a new fertilizer will act in different soils, in relation to different plant cultures, and it is also necessary to comprehensively assess its environmental safety before recommending it for widespread use," the scientist said.

Nevertheless, Gusev is optimistic about the low environmental footprint of his fertilizers. In this study, he says that microelements would be able to enter into a plant’s structure without damaging the soil. Normally, microelements are introduced into the soil in the form of soluble salts, which are absorbed by plants in part and the rest is washed out by rains and watering; such discarded portion tends to leak into groundwater systems and disrupt their balance.

Besides the ecological benefits of the new fertilizers, the scientists predict they will also produce positive economic outcomes. They say its consumption is about one gram of dry substance per tonne of processed seed. At the same time, the number of procedures involved is reduced, which would decrease the costs of labour and agricultural equipment.