Nanotechnology is the interdisciplinary scientific approach leading to the development of nanomaterials. These nanomaterials have gained significant importance due to their positive impact for improving almost all the sectors including agriculture, health, pharmaceutics, cosmetics, energy, transportation and consumer products.
Serious challenges have been raised for agricultural communities to meet enough food production according to demand of increasing population. Due to climate change and urbanization severe threats have been imposed to food security. More efficient technologies should be adopted to deal with this scenario. Nanotechnology has central position among various advancements in technology and allows manipulation and reconstruction of world at atomic and molecular level. It is interdisciplinary scientific approach leading to the development of nanomaterials. These engineered nanomaterials have gained significant importance due to their positive impact for improving almost all the sectors including agriculture, health, pharmaceutics, cosmetics, energy, transportation and consumer products. These nanomaterials can be effectively used to overcome the problems of depleting resources, climate change and shrinking landscape.
The use of chemical fertilizers is not effective solution to overcome these constraints quickly. Nanomaterials have unique physicochemical properties as compare to the bulk materials. Their application leads to improved crop quality and quantity. Nanotechnology ensures the new and novel horizons for the nutrients delivery to the plants as porous domains can be developed on plant surface at nanoscale.
Applications of nanomaterials
Applications of nanotechnology are growing strong alliance between scientific communities and farming sector. There are three ways by which nanofertilizers can convey nutrients to crops and plants. The encapsulation of nutrients in the form of nanomaterials such as nanoporous materials or nanotubes. They may be coated along with protective thin film of polymers or may be applied as nanoparticles or nano-emulsions.
Nanomaterials are having high surface area to volume ratio, so they are more reactive. They have more reaction sites so, increase in the reaction sites, enhances their movement towards plants and uptake is improved. Also the nanomaterials are in Brownian motion, which is the continuous state of motion, so their contact with soil and plant roots is enhanced leading towards the greater uptake and utilization for plant’s developmental processes. As compare to the bulk materials, nano materials are used in much less concentrations so the risk of environmental contamination is also reduced.
Especially the use of nanofertilizers in degraded soils is of great significance. The bulk materials application under deteriorated conditions is not effective as major portion of that is not available to plants due to poor movement, chelation and fixation losses. When the quality of land is deteriorated, 25% of additional fertilizers should be applied which is economically not feasible. This problem can be easily sort out by the use of nanofertilizers.
Applications of nanomaterials
Nanomaterials are applied in small quantities, so the amount of toxic active ingredients can be reduced, nutrient losses after fertilization can be minimized and water and nutrient use efficiency can be enhanced on sustainable basis. Currently nano devices are being used for plant breeding and understanding of genetic transformations. Zeolite nanomaterials are playing an important role for agrochemical retention of water in the soil. Use of nano sensors is friendly approach leading to the better use of resources. Nanomaterials can also be used in the formulations of insecticides and insect repellents. Application of nano-herbicides is eco friendly and effective approach to eliminate the weeds.
By the use of nanotechnology devices and mechanisms can be developed for the synchronization of control release of nutrients from the fertilizers according the need of the crop at growth stages. It is of great advantage as nutrients will be released according to demands along with the prevention for the conversion of fertilizers into those chemical and gaseous forms which could not be used by the plants. It will be beneficial approach to reduce the cost of fertilizer application. An example for the controlled release of nutrients is nanocomposites of zinc-aluminum layered double hydroxides.
Development of devices and nanoscale films can increase the nutrient use efficiency and thus the crop production is ultimately increased. Photoreduction of nitrogen gas is possible to be reduced by the application of titanium dioxide in nano form. Additionally nano titanium dioxide acts as bactericidal additive. CuO, ZnO and Ag nanoparticles are more important for agriculture sector due to their significant roles in bio-modifications and bio-activities. Resistance against stress can be vigorously enhanced by the application of nano silica particles which forms the films at cell walls after being absorbed in plant roots. So the ability of plants to tolerate stress in enhanced. Precision farming techniques can also be improved by the use of nanotechnology.
Regarding environmental perspectives, nanomaterials are equally important. It is possible to remove heavy metals and water borne pathogens by using carbon nanotubes fused mesh. Viruses, genetic materials, microbial endotoxins and small sized particles can be removed by the use of sophisticated filtering machines having nanotechnological improvements.
Improvements in fertilizers products by the use of nanotechnology will exert profound effects on economy, energy and environment. Nanotechnology is being used for food production, food processing, packaging and distribution. The approaches for the use of nanomaterials in agriculture is promising but still the mechanisms for entry into plants and their accumulations in specific plant parts have not been identified and it is of much interest.
Currently there is dire need to explore the new prospects for integration of nanotechnologies into fertilizers. Intensive research should be planned and conducted to avoid the risk of any danger to environment and human health due to use of nanomaterials.
Worldwide secure and sustainable future for agriculture can be shaped by the use of nanotechnology as it has gained significant momentum to mitigate the biotic and abiotic stress and other constraints which are responsible for lowering the yields. Despite of the imminent benefits of applications of nanotechnology in agriculture, the innovative products are facing many difficulties for reaching the market and even few people are adopting it in field. Nanotechnology will be transformative into field if government and academics will give attention in collaborative manner. Strategically this collaboration between the industrial and scientific disciplines will reshape the commercial applications of nanotechnology for soil plant system. Innovation policies, regulations and research fundings are necessary to explore the further potential of nanotechnology for the development of agriculture and to enhance the food security.
This article is jointly written by Tabinda Athar and Madiha Nisar.