AbstractThree fertilizer technologies to manage nitrogen (N) release rates in soil dominate the market today: 1) bulk controlled-release technologies, which use the intrinsic solubility properties of a N-organic co-polymer to control N release; 2) barrier-based controlled-release technologies, which use porous polymer or sulfur coatings as a physical barrier to control N release from encapsulated N nutrients; and 3) slow-release technologies, which use enzyme inhibitors to chemically slow down the transformation of N nutrients into ammonia (NH3) or to temporarily reduce populations of bacteria in the soil that are responsible for converting ammonium (NH4+) to highly soluble nitrates. These technologies are expensive and provide only limited control of N-release rates. Also, from another environmental perspective, synthetic polymer coatings do not decompose easily and will accumulate over time with continuous application of fertilizer. For most of the past two decades we have been developing the Eco-N-Control solid-nitride fertilizer technology, a type of bulk controlled-release technology. With Eco-N-Control, solid-nitride compounds weather like a mineral, slowly releasing N at a rate determined by their composition. Testing by an industrial collaborator, however, showed that earlier versions of Eco-N-Control released at 25% of the desired rate when deployed in unsaturated soils. The overall goal of the current project, therefore, was to strengthen our IP position and the potential for licensing of Eco-N-Control solid-nitride fertilizer technology by developing new ways to manage the level of moisture in contact with the fertilizer when applied to soil thereby ensuring the desired N-release rate. We achieved this goal by developing a biodegradable polymer cross-linking approach that substantially improved performance of our patented solid-nitride fertilizer. We found that cross-linking an environmentally friendly and biodegradable polymer with a mixture of solid nitrides, other N-nutrient compounds and other additives offers several advantages: 1) mechanical robustness of fertilizer beads, 2) chemical stability during storage, 3) maintenance of sufficient water content in the vicinity of the nitride, and 4) control of N-release rates. We also updated our N-release testing protocol to more realistically simulate the conditions found in soil. Finally, we filed an invention disclosure record to protect these new aspects of Eco-N-Control technology, which offers a potential way to lower both agricultural and industrial pollution by providing an efficient N-delivery mechanism to plants.
Published: June 30, 2023