Ag nanotechnology: early-stage, but growing
Informa's inaugural AgroChemical Formulations USA conference kicked off on Oct. 12, 2011. It is fitting that the conference is hosted in North Carolina, a leader in the agriculture and agricultural biotechnology (AgBio) industries. There are 85 AgBio companies employing 4,000 people in the state. Syngenta, Bayer, BASF and Monsanto each have major research facilities in NC and a strong representation at the conference. Presentations ranged from regulatory hurdles to new innovations, with significant discussions focused on nanotechnology. Interestingly, North Carolina is also strong in nano: the Research Triangle region was recently ranked the fourth strongest metro area for nanotechnology and has almost 100 start-up companies and 35 university research centers dedicated to nanotechnology innovation.
Agriculture nanotechnology: early-stage, but growing
Nanotechnology, while still somewhat nascent in the agriculture sector, has been employed in agriculture for some time in nanoclays, cyclodextrans and nanoemulsions. Platform nano-enabled targeted delivery, controlled release, and/or transfection platforms that are seeing an explosion of research, development and commercialization in the pharmaceutical space might also represent a significant opportunity for cross-fertilization of innovation into the agriculture industry.
With a well-recognized need to increase agricultural production with limited arable land and water supply, there are several white spaces where nanotechnology may have significant impact:
1. Reduction of spray drift with aerodynamic nanoparticles for optimized deposition
2. Controlled release for season-long treatment
3. More efficient formulations with reduction in dose required to achieve the desired effect
4. Combination of multiple previously incompatible actives into a single treatment
5. Advanced delivery systems of pesticides, herbicides, antimicrobials, fertilizers, etc.
6. Seed treatments to improve plant health and stress resistance
7. Encapsulation of toxic compounds to minimize occupational exposures
8. Improved rain fastness, photoprotection and reduced run-off
Mark Zetter, Global Director of Actives to Products R&D at Dow AgroSciences said, "Nanotechnology is still exploratory, but nano is definitely going to have a place in the agricultural industry." Vive Nano, an expert at nanopolymer formulation for agricultural applications, listed several potential advantages of nanotechnology, including decreased sedimentation rate, increased mobility through the soil column, increased diffusion rate, decreased crystallinity of active ingredients, and increased efficacy. However, there are also several challenges, like the possibility of increased volatility (via increased surface area), soil adhesion, stability, cost, technology maturity and industry understanding. The challenges of nanoformulations include a regulatory environment rife with uncertainty with respect to nanotoxicology and environmental impact testing that has not yet reached industry-standard methodology.
When Ashland, Valent, and Dow were asked about desired stage of development for partnering interests, each had different responses. The consensus was that for new chemicals or active ingredients, as early as possible, but for new formulations, they want a minimum of a baseline confirmation. The conference continues today with presentations by the EPA, Chemspeed, Oxiteno, BASF, and many more.
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