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Saturday / June 22. 2024
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Polymeric microgels are engineered for the slow release of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) fertilizers over an extended period to enhance crop nutrition.

A research team from the Indian Institute of Technology Mandi has achieved a significant breakthrough in sustainable agriculture with the development of natural polymer-based multifunctional smart microgels. These microgels are engineered for the slow release of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) fertilisers over an extended period, presenting a promising solution to enhance crop nutrition while minimising environmental impact.

Modern agriculture heavily relies on fertilizer applications to meet the escalating food demand of a growing population. While fertilizers are essential for providing nutrients to plants and improving crop yields, their effectiveness is often compromised by factors such as gaseous volatilization and leaching. Consequently, excessive fertilizer application not only leads to high costs but also has adverse effects on the environment, including groundwater and soil contamination, as well as human health hazards. Therefore, developing technological alternatives that prolong fertilizer release is imperative to facilitate a shift towards sustainable agriculture practices.

The findings of this comprehensive research have been published in the prestigious journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces from American Chemical Society. The research work was led by Dr Garima Agrawal along with her team including Ankita Dhiman, Piyush Thaper and Dimpy Bhardwaj from School of Chemical Sciences, IIT Mandi. The research was funded by the Science and Engineering Research Board, Government of India and the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India.

Explaining the motive of the study, Dr Garima Agrawal, Assistant Professor, School of Chemical Sciences, IIT Mandi, said, “We have developed natural polymer-based multifunctional smart microgels for the slow release of urea over longer period. These microgels also act as a potential source of phosphorus for plants and are cost effective, biodegradable and environment friendly.”

Further Dr Agrawal added, “The microgel formulation is eco-friendly and biodegradable, as it is made with natural polymers. It can be applied by mixing it into the soil or by spraying it on plant leaves. Recent studies with maize plants have shown that our formulation greatly improves maize seed germination and overall plant growth compared to pure urea fertilizer. This sustained release of nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers helps crops thrive while cutting down on fertilizer use.”

These findings pave the way for sustainable agriculture, offering a promising solution to optimise nutrient supply, enhance crop yields, and mitigate environmental challenges associated with traditional fertilisers.

Polymeric microgels are engineered for the slow

The study will help in designing microbial methods to improve soil shear strength at the field scale to protect the soil from erosion in hilly areas and during geo-disasters

IIT Mandi researchers are working towards developing sustainable techniques for soil stabilisation using a harmless bacteria called S. Pasteurii that hydrolyse urea to precipitate calcite. The process does not involve hazardous chemicals and natural resources can be used sustainably.

The findings of the research team have been recently published in the journal ‘Geotechnical and Geo-environmental Engineering of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)’.The research was led by Dr Kala Venkata Uday and co-authored by his MS scholar, Deepak Mori.

Speaking about his research, Dr Uday, Assistant Professor, School of Engineering, said, “Our study will be helpful in designing microbial methods to improve soil shear strength at the field scale, to protect the soil from erosion in hilly areas and during geo-disasters. We are also working on the microbe-driven production of construction material from quarry waste.”

The researchers used a harmless bacteria called S. Pasteurii that hydrolyse urea to precipitate calcite. The use of urea is particularly attractive because it does not involve hazardous chemicals and natural resources can be used sustainably. Their experimental setup consisted of a column of sand through which was percolated a mixture of the bacteria and cementing solution comprising urea, calcium chloride, nutrient broth, etc. 

Explaining the research work, Mori, research scholar, IIT Mandi, said, “The Calcite Precipitation Efficiency (CPE) depends on a number of parameters including and not limited to the concentration of the cementing solution, its flow rate through the column, the supply rate, applied pore volume, and the sand grain characteristics. We set out to understand the effects of various parameters on the CPE.”

Since there were numerous parameters involved, researchers used the Taguchi method to analyse the effects of these various parameters on the strength enhancement of soil by MICP. This method involves the use of orthogonal arrays to organise the parameters affecting any process and the levels at which they should be varied. The Taguchi method enables the analysis of many influential parameters without the corresponding need for many experiments.

The study will help in designing microbial