The pros and cons of nanomaterials in ag

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Although agriculture currently does not employ the use of nanomaterials, in the future, it may help reduce costs, increase efficiency and lead to more environmentally friendly applications in agriculture. However, their use could have a negative effect on microorganisms in the soil.

A new review article raises these pros and cons about the use of nanomaterials in agriculture in a review article “Opportunities and Risks of Nanomaterials” from the National Research Programme of Switzerland.

Currently no plant production products or fertilizers contain nanomaterials, but they are becoming an increasingly important issue in agriculture. They most likely will be used as additives or agents in fertilizers or plant protection products. More research is being conducted into the use of nanomaterials.

Approximately 40 percent of the publications being produced regarding nanomaterials are in regard to carbon-based nanomaterials, followed by titanium dioxide, silver, silicagel and aluminum.  These nanomaterials can be integrated into formulations in different forms and states from solid particles through to polymers and emulsions.

Despite the optimistic approach to the potential uses for nanomaterials in agriculture, there is a concern that it can harm the environment.

One case in point is illustrated by an article from regarding nanosilver. Silver nanoparticles are increasingly being added to workout clothing to prevent the smell of sweat. However, when the material is washed, some of those nanoparticles are moved into the wastewater system where the silver concentration is turned into sludge. Although the sludge can be used as fertilizer, the silver can cause long-term damage to agricultural land, according to a study by Chalmers researcher Richard Arvidsson, who tested his theories in Sweden.

The problem occurs because the nanosilver releases silver ions into the wastewater that cannot be broken down at the treatment plant or in nature. Silver ions are toxic to many organisms.  

More long-term research will be needed into this technology before it used more frequently to ascertain its environmental impact. With the challenge of feeding the world’s burgeoning population, agriculture cannot afford to damage the land available for crop production.

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