Nanofertilisers in sustainable agriculture

Nanofertilisers in sustainable agriculture
Fertilisers are the indispensable nutrient source in agriculture, which help in improving agricultural efficiency. However, in the case of conventional fertilisers, a sizeable percentage of nutrients intended for plant uptake are destroyed by the elements of water or wind. Nanofertilisers assume great importance in this context because they have immense potential to increase the nutrients uptake efficiency between 30-80%.

The methods by which the efficiency can be increased include i) encapsulating nutrients within nanomaterials like nanotubes or nanoporous materials, ii) coating nutrients with a thin protecting polymer film, or iii) delivering as particles or emulsions. Nanofertilisers are meant to improve the efficiency of nutrients’ use by exploiting distinct properties of nanoparticles. The nanofertilisers are manufactured by strengthening nutrients individually or in combo onto the adsorbents with nano dimension. Both the top-down and bottom-up approaches are used to manufacture nanomaterials, and the targeted nutrients are loaded. Nanofertilisers release nutrients slowly which can improve nutrients’ use potency with no associated negative effects. Since the nanofertilizers are designed to deliver slowly over a long amount of time, the loss of nutrients is reduced to a great extent.

Concocting new fertiliser formulations has been the subject of a lot of research; unique agrochemical combinations need to be formulated for specific applications. Since sustainability has been given prime importance in applications involving the environment, regulatory pressure is also increasing. Hence, scientists aim at inventing novel solutions to increase agricultural productivity and efficiency while simultaneously keeping a check on potential negative effects on the environment. Maintaining colloidal stability and preventing phase separation during storage and application is essential, and for this purpose, most formulations contain structures belonging to the nano-range.

Nanostructured formulation through methods such as targeted delivery or slow release mechanisms, would release nutrients in response to environmental changes and physiological demands more accurately. Studies show that nanoparticles and nanotubes in various crops have enhanced germination and physiological activities including photosynthesis, which attests to their capability for increasing agricultural productivity. For instance, in a recent study, silver nanoparticles in 25 ppm concentration have led improvement in leaf area index to the maximum and consequently maximum yield; whereas, 75 ppm concentration resulted in the decrease in grain yield. This cautions us that eventhough there are certain advantages of nanofertilisers, their indiscriminate or unscientific use is fraught with perils. Another research points increased application of nanoparticle-based products that will ultimately expose the environment to these materials. Nanoparticles may enter into the soil environment through wastewater which might be hazardous to the environment.

India, which has predominantly agrarian economy with 58% of its population directly dependent on agriculture will immensely benefit from nanofertiliser’s use after sufficient safety trials are conducted. Sustainability, which is currently the collective aim of the world as revealed in Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations will receive a boost if nanofertiliser usage is applied and expanded with conviction.
How to cite this article:
Pugazhendhi J. Nanofertilisers in sustainable agriculture. BioLim O-Media. 18 May, 2016. 4(5).
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