The low availability of Nitrogen and Phosphates in many soils limited agriculture for hundreds of years. Then, we discovered how to create inorganic fertilizers within the petrochemical industry, and fertilizer use and agricultural production worldwide skyrocketed. However, the benefits of inorganic fertilizers have been offset by the extensive environmental harm they cause. Agricultural runoff water from farmlands, laden with phosphates and nitrates, lead to algal overgrowth (eutrophication) in rivers, streams, and lakes. This, in its worst form, results in anaerobic conditions and the loss of water bodies’ ability to support life.
Increasing Urban Farming Yields Sustainably With Algal Biofertilizer
While activists around the world are calling for sustainable alternatives to inorganic fertilizers, researchers believe that they may have found an organic alternative with several environmental advantages: fertilizers made from algae. There is agreement on the advantages. An increased nutrient tansfer and beneficial microorganisms, stabilized soil aggregates or the decreased reliance on fossil fuels or some examples of the benefits of algal biofertilizer.
Soilalgae Goes a Step Further
Soilalgae, a small startup from the US, takes the step from theory to praxis and developed an algal biofertilizer allowing to discard your chemical fertilizers. Offering their product on Kickstarter, every urban farmer can seize the opportunity to boost yields organically. Supported by solar radiation, water, and temperature, cyanobacteria – a special kind of algae – have the power to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and provide it directly for your plants. In contrast, chemical fertilizers are commonly produced by using harmful fossil fuels.
Soilalgae on Kickstarter
What Researchers Believe We Can Achieve Using Algal Fertilizers
As organic fertilizers, algal fertilizers will not only contain the macronutrients we use inorganic fertilizers to replace but will also contain micronutrients without which plant production is limited. But researchers believe that several other advantages can be realized.
Nutrient Reclamation from Polluted Water Bodies
Microalgal systems could be used in a controlled manner and on a large scale to purify water by removing the excess nutrients that cause eutrophication. Agricultural wastewater nutrients and generations of nutrient buildup could be removed from water and effectively recycled. If this kind of wastewater treatment could be implemented, we would end up with cleaner lakes, rivers, and streams while reclaiming valuable fertilizer for agricultural crops.
Biofertilizers Could Improve Nutrient Uptake
Plants only absorb soil nutrients in their ionic forms. When inorganic fertilizers are applied, plants only absorb one third to one-half of the nutrients applied. Early research on other biofertilizers has shown more efficient nutrient uptake and higher yields from lower fertilizer volumes. Further research into how algae could fit into this equation is underway.
Soil Stability Could be Improved
Soil erosion as a direct result of intensive agriculture is responsible for the loss of megatons of valuable topsoil every year. Soil formation processes are much slower, so we are literally losing ground on a continuous basis. Although the use of biofertilizers will not be the sole solution (alternative or no-tillage practices are among the additional practices that can help) microalgae can reduce soil erosion. Soil with microalgae is more inclined to form aggregates which limit the amount of loose material subject to erosion.
Reduce Reliance on Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels are a non-renewable resource. Algae, on the other hand, represent a renewable resource – and productive land need not be given over to their production.
Plants May Even Grow Better
In trials conducted at the University of Texas, plants treated with algal fertilizer produced higher yields than those treated with conventional fertilizers. This could partly be attributed to an increase in the soil microbes that help plants to grow.
A Sustainable Solution: But More Research is Needed
Algae-based fertilizers hold the promise of improving sustainability in agriculture while reducing unsustainable fossil fuel reliance. However, additional research will be needed before algal biofertilizers can realize their full potential as a sustainable and commercially viable alternative to conventional fertilizers.