A new technology for measuring nitrate levels could enable optimisation of fertiliser application.
BGN Technologies, the technology transfer company of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), Israel, introduces a new technology for direct, real-time and continuous measurement of nitrate in the soil.
The invention, developed by Prof. Ofer Dahan of the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research (ZIWR), Prof Shlomi Arnon of the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, and Elad Yeshno, PhD student at ZIWR, relies on an optical nitrate sensor that is based on absorption spectroscopy.
According to the researchers, the technology enables continuous, real-time, measurement of nitrate in the soil pore-water and is highly resistant to harsh chemical and physical soil conditions. The sensor can detect nitrate concentrations in the range of tens to hundreds of parts per million (ppm), which is the range relevant for growing crops. Its ability to continuously monitor soil nitrate levels produces a highly detailed portrayal of the rapidly changing concentrations of nitrate in the soil solution.
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The rearchers say that natural nitrate levels in groundwater are generally very low. However, excess application of fertilisers in agriculture often result in leaching of nitrate from the soil to water resources. Increased level of nitrate in water is one of the main reasons for disqualification of drinking water, causing a worldwide environmental problem.
“Current methods for measuring soil nitrate are cumbersome, labor-intensive, and do not provide real-time indication on the actual concentration of nutrients in the soil,” said Prof. Ofer Dahan. “Our invention, which enables real-time monitoring of soil nitrate levels, can supply farmers with valuable data on the amount nutrient availability for the crops,” Prof. Arnon added, “Our solution enables optimisation of fertilisers application thus preventing over-fertilisation, as well as economises irrigation and reduces water resources pollution.”
Shirley Sheffer Hoffman, Senior VP Business Development, Water, Energy and Agriculture at BGN Technologies, said, “This is another example of the cutting-edge multidisciplinary research preformed at The Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research of BGU focused on various water, energy, food and ecological problems under different environmental condition, in collaboration with researchers at the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department of the University. This promising project received funding from the Israel Innovation Authority, and now BGN Technologies is seeking an industry partner for its further development and commercialisation.”