Chemical substances used in agriculture (agrochemicals) have a significant impact on the quality of soil, surface and subsurface water. Their extensive and prolonged use over time causes negative effects on ecosystems. This technology proposes the use of natural nano and micromaterials and food-grade polymers to develop smart agrochemicals with a lower environmental impact and associated economic advantages.
This technological platform is applicable to a broad spectrum of pesticides for which controlling leaching, volatilisation and premature degradation is a priority. The university is looking for agrochemical companies to further test the platform and develop custom products.
The technology allows the synthesis of nano-agrochemicals characterised by a low environmental impact, constituted by nanoparticles (NPs), usually referred to as nanocarriers, containing an active ingredient (AI) – that is, the pesticide itself – dispersed in a colloidal suspension. It takes advantage of the affinity of most pesticide molecules with natural, mineral substrates. The pesticide is bounded to the carrier and eventually protected by a shell of biodegradable polymer that tunes and controls its release over time.
The technological platform has been successfully applied to a well-known herbicide to reduce volatility by 30% and mobility by up to 95% with respect to other commercial formulations. This formulation allows delivery of the pesticide to where it is most needed and reduces the amount of AI that can leach in soil and reach groundwater in presence of a rainfall or irrigation. The formulation can be applied in greenhouse or in field using the conventional pesticide spray and nebulisation technologies available.
The platform has been demonstrated for a first pesticide, and the development for a second compound is ongoing. It is possible to extend the approach to other types of active ingredients/composites used in agriculture to solve different compound-specific problems, e.g. fertilisers, soil improvers, and bio-active ingredients that need a specific protection and improvement to promote their full-scale application.
The application to a new compound requires going through several steps (compound-specific selection of a carrier and polymer, synthesis procedure, preliminary testing of efficacy and environmental mobility) and consequently it is a customised process, expected to be carried out in collaboration with an industrial collaborator.