by Mark Edwards

Can Algae Restore the Nutrient Loss in Field Crops?

Nutrient loss in foods may occur from rising levels of atmospheric CO2. Nutrient loss may come from degraded soil that has insufficient nutrients to support healthy crops. Cropland degrades from industrial agriculture’s standard operating procedure, systemic overproduction and constant extraction without replacement. Most US farmers replace the macronutrients, NPK, but not the necessary micronutrients that include zinc and iron. Soils depleted of micronutrients cannot provide those nutrients to field crops.

The FAO that 33% of the world’s cropland has become so degraded, it has been abandoned in the last 40 years. Abandoned cropland continues at 29 million acres a year. The U.S. net cropland losses from 1982 to 1992 covered an area the size of New Jersey. Half the remaining cropland globally is so degraded it takes twice as much fertilizer and three times more irrigation water to achieve normal crop yields.

Algae biofertilizer can restore the nutrient loss predicted from rising levels of atmospheric CO2 and losses due to degraded soil with Smartcultures. Smartcultures, sustainable microalgae regenerative technologies, produce algae biofertilizer from waste streams such as a cement plant, a brewery or wastewater.

Smartcultures production of algae biofertilizer at Arizona State University

Two years of field tests with a multinational food company demonstrated smartcultures can improve yields of melons by >30%, while substantially reducing waste and pollution. The farmer reduced commercial chemical fertilizer applications by 30 to 70%. The crop matured 12% earlier, which achieved significantly higher market prices for the produce.

The algae infused melons were larger, with superior color, texture, aroma and taste. Blind taste tests at an ASU food lab found a 17:1 preference for the melons, cantaloupe and honeydews that used algae biofertilizer. The company sent the melons to an outside lab that determined that the algae-infused melons had >20% higher micronutrients, brix, sugar, vitamins and trace elements than the chemical fertilizer field.

Algae biofertilizer ends hidden hunger by increasing field crop nutralence – nutrient quality, density, diversity and bioavailability. Each algae cell delivers the full set of macro and micronutrients the plants need. Algae biofertilizer also improves crop stress tolerance to weather and pests, which substantially reduces the need for chemical fertilizer and pesticides. Algae biofertilizer used for animal and human food crops can reduce or end the need for fertilizer and pesticide, which will reduce field crop pollution by 90%.

Smartcultures also repair the nutrient loss in food crops from systemic micronutrient extraction. In seriously degraded soil, field tests showed algae biofertilizer provided sufficient nutrients that yields and melon quality were >30% better than control fields that used chemical fertilizer.

Algae biofertilizers have demonstrated the ability to bring dead, worn out and abandoned soils back to life. Algae biofertilizers can restore fertility to land abandoned due to salt invasion, compaction, nutrient extraction or loss of humus. Restoring fertility to dead soils is a miracle in the same class with restoring fertility to men, but probably less interesting to most people.

Algae biofertilizer can restore food crop nutrients and decrease the need to use both chemical fertilizer and pesticides. Remediating agricultural poisons in wastewater requires another solution.

Less than half of the prescription drugs present in sewage are removed by treatment plants. Sewage treatment plants are not designed to remove pesticides, so most remain in the water. Although the EPA regulates and monitors several drinking water contaminants, most pesticides are not regulated contaminants, since Trump killed the Clean Water Rule. When pesticides contaminate water, the levels often vary widely from month to month, and from season to season. Pesticides are used widely in industrial agriculture and also are directly applied to canals, rivers, lakes and streams to control pests such as mosquitoes, weeds or invasive fish.

The USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program found that 100% of US streams have detectable levels of at least one pesticide, and 56% of streams contain one or more pesticides that exceed at least one aquatic-life benchmark. About half of shallow wells have detectable levels of pesticides. Over 90% of the 139 municipal water systems sampled by EPA contained detectable levels of atrazine, an endocrine-disrupter.

T. P. Ca´ceres and team at the University of South Australia tested five green and five blue-green algae for their ability for biodegradation of an OP pesticide, fenamiphos. They found all 10 species had the ability to detoxify fenamiphos and bioremediate the pesticide and its toxic metabolites. This research adds to the substantial reasons to use algae bioremediation of wastewater to reduce pesticide exposure in animals and people.

John Benemann, CEO of MicroBio Engineering, has done excellent work on using algae to clean wastewater and his presentation provides a useful history. Researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology are developing biodiesel from algae grown in wastewater. Algae consume the nitrates and phosphates and reduce bacteria and toxins in the water. An excellent description of algae wastewater bioremediation methods written by Tryg Lunquist is available in the ABO Industrial Algae Measurements. The 2016 Algae Biomass Summit held a half-day session on algae wastewater remediation that reported on Frank Gogalla’s research.

Frank Rogalla has developed a wastewater-to-biogas plant in Spain. The facility grows algae in saline wastewater and harvests the algae oil. His team worked out the metrics and concluded the process achieves a positive energy balance. This energy and cost efficiency makes algae-waste-to-energy a significant commercial viability. Frank Rogalla and his team at Aqualia produced the algae oil used for the first Volkswagen powered by algae biogas. The team produced All-gas, (algae in Spanish), from the waste water treatment plant located in El Torno, Chiclana, Spain. The vehicle’s efficient hybrid engine generates zero emissions.

Complete solution?

Fertility restoration and wastewater bioremediation provide an incomplete solution. The other solutions are more difficult but equally valuable. Couples may be ecstatic about their pregnancy, but in the US, their male off-spring will still have a 1:42 chance of autism spectrum disorder. Many children may be born with pesticide poisons in their brain and major organs that create developmental disorders.

Could algae flush pesticide poisons from the body? Bioremediation of poisons in the body are the topic of the next post.

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