Intelligent Soil Sensors Help Farmers
Imperial bioengineers launch smart sensing technology designed to help farmers use fertiliser more effectively.
13:22 14 December 2021
A smart sensing technology has been created by Imperial bioengineers to help farmers use fertiliser more effectively. The goal is to help prevent the over fertilisation of the soil and avoid the release of greenhouse gas nitrous oxide that can pollute soil and waterways.
According to a recent study, the use of nitrogen-based fertiliser has increased by more than 600per cent in the last 50 years, rendering 12per cent of once-arable land worldwide unusable.
chemPEGS, or chemically functionalised paper-based electrical gas sensor, is designed to measure levels of ammonium, which is converted to nitrites and nitrates by soil bacteria. It has the capability to combine weather data, time since fertilisation, soil conductivity and pH using artificial intelligence to predict the optimum time for fertilisation.
Lead researcher Dr Max Grell, who co-developed the technology at Imperial College London’s Department of Bioengineering, said: “It’s difficult to overstate the problem of overfertilisation both environmentally and economically. Yields and resulting income are down year by year, and growers don’t currently have the tools they need to combat this.
“Our technology could help to tackle this problem by empowering growers to know how much ammonia and nitrate are currently in soil, and to predict how much there will be in the future based on weather conditions. This could let them fine-tune fertilisation to the specific needs of the soil and crops.”