Exploring the benefits of ultra-fine bubbles in agriculture

CHAP is partnering with crop-spraying experts MagGrow and fellow UK Agri-Tech Centre Agri-Epi, to explore the use of ultra-fine bubbles (UFBs) in agriculture.

The £250,000 project, led by MagGrow and funded by Innovate UK, is exploring the possibility for more profitable, sustainable and productive farming.

UFBs, or nano-bubbles, are microscopic stable and long-lasting bubbles in a liquid, that can carry gases, and substances of different kinds on their surfaces. They are 100 times smaller than the width of a human hair, which is about the size of a virus. This means that they are not visible to the naked eye, even when present in large numbers in water-based liquids. Unlike the bubbles we are used to seeing, UFBs do not rise to the surface and burst, but remain stable and buoyant for long periods of time, typically days and weeks.

This stability and longevity offers great potential in agriculture for environmentally friendly spraying and irrigation, along with other applications that can help address food security and environmental problems.

Processes that make use of UFBs are already widely used in other industries, including medical and industrial disinfection, oil, gas, and mineral extraction; pharmaceuticals, food-flavouring, the production of cosmetic fragrances and wastewater treatment.

However, to date they have not been fully exploited in agriculture, and that is what the new project is aiming to address. It will initially focus on irrigation for delivery of the UFBs. Using Agri-EPI and CHAP’s shared soil and crop technology facilities at Cranfield University, along with that institution’s resident soil science experts, the project will compare the growth of plants treated with oxygen-containing UFB-water, with that of plants given untreated water. The aim is to determine the effect on root development, nutrient absorption, growth and overall crop yield.

The project team believes UFBs potentially have a host of additional applications in farming, including supporting a reduction in the quantity of chemical inputs required when spraying and irrigating crops to control pests and diseases.

Dr Anthony Furness, MagGrow’s Chief Scientific Officer, said: “From time-to-time a technology comes along that offers potential for revolutionary change and disruptive economic benefit, such as CDs and smart-phones. We believe that UFB technology has similar transformative potential for agriculture. The versatility of UFB technology, and recent advances in UFB research which have further validated its significance, suggest that there is huge potential for their use in advancing spraying and irrigation processes.”

CHAP Innovation Hub Lead, Richard Glass, said: “Using the unique Phenotyping and Soil Health facility, CHAP, supported by key soil experts from its partner Cranfield University, will assess and explore the application of this innovative technology and its potential role in transforming UK crop production.”

For more information on the CHAP Phenotyping and Soil Health Facility go to Soil Health.

To learn about how other 21st Century technologies are is revolutionising agriculture, read The Rise of the Digital Farm, by Keith Norman.

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