High expectations for nanobubble technology in agriculture

Agriculture and Forestry Newspaper reports in an extensive article on the need for new technological and digital solutions in agricultural primary production and business operations to secure competitiveness. The functionality and applicability of the technology developed during the EIP research project “Enhancing and Securing the Primary Production of Agriculture with the Help of New Nanobubble Technology” have been studied in practice with the primary production companies involved in the project, demonstrating the benefits offered by the technology to farmers.

High expectations for nanobubble technology in agriculture (hortidaily.com)

Primary agricultural production and entrepreneurship require new technological and digital solutions to remain competitive. The project group of the ongoing EIP (European Innovation Partnership) project “Improving and Securing Primary Agricultural Production with the Help of New Nanobubble Technology” includes Satakunta University of Applied Sciences, EOD Oy, Robbes Lilla Trädgård Ab, Agrifutura Tomaatit Oy, and Nonre Oy. This three-year project will continue until the end of 2024.

The project aims to develop a technology for producing nano-sized gas bubbles in irrigation water and to conduct practical experiments to study the functionality and suitability of the technology at three different primary production sites involved in the EIP innovation group. It also examines the impact of nanobubbles on the microbiology of irrigation water systems. This chemical-free technology supports food producers in the green transition from farm to fork by reducing chemical loads and minimizing the carbon footprint. Additionally, it aims to improve hygiene and product shelf life.

The oxygen content of irrigation water reaching the roots significantly impacts plant well-being, enhancing immunity, nutrient absorption capacity, yield, and growth rate. By producing oxygen in water in the form of nanobubbles, plant growth and productivity can be significantly improved, potentially increasing yields by tens of percent. This project will create a system that has not yet been used to enhance plant or berry growth. During the project, theory will be put into practice.

Timo Kantola, founder of EOD Oy, which develops and markets irrigation equipment utilizing nanobubble technology, mentions that the company’s goal is to make the world a little better while ensuring that the end user of their product earns more money than before.

“Validation is needed to develop and improve the technology application, and it is easier to achieve commercial success with the help of partners,” Kantola says. He adds that as harmful chemicals are phased out, new and better solutions are needed. EOD’s application aims to help in this regard. “We focus on balancing the conditions of plants with oxygen and nanobubbles, reducing the need for pesticide use in advance. Through the project, we aim to optimize our equipment’s operation, improve its reliability, and address the issues of the initial version.”

Utilizing Nanobubble Technology in Plant Cultivation

Martti Latva, Head of Research Centre Wander at Satakunta University of Applied Sciences, says that Wander conducts versatile water-related research. Formerly known as the Water Institute, Wander is involved in both basic and applied research for the project.

“Nanobubbles are a new discovery,  and producing them represents a new technology being developed worldwide. While nanobubbles can be produced with different technologies, the hydrodynamic cavitation used by EOD Oy is currently the most efficient. Our research centre aims to understand the opportunities offered by nanobubble technology and provide scientific evidence.”

“This is a complex issue involving how a plant uses water, nutrients, micronutrients, and oxygen, and these issues are often plant-specific. Research collaboration, such as with Elina Järvinen for tunnel strawberries, is part of our work, and we also involve tomato and lettuce production sites.”

One challenge is making the benefits of nanobubble technology measurable, such as determining how much fertilizer can be reduced and how much more can be harvested. So far, the focus has been on the added value of nanobubble technology, without addressing fertilization practices. Investigating plant health issues also presents challenges.

“There are clear indications of the benefits of nanobubble technology, but we do not yet know how to measure and utilize them fully. The project will provide a good start, but we won’t cover the entire topic by the end of the year. Plant health is especially complex. We assume that increased oxygen may make plants more resistant, but we don’t fully understand the mechanism yet.” Latva notes that plant well-being is influenced by many factors, such as weather conditions and location, making ongoing research difficult.

“Carbon dioxide enters the plant through the air, but oxygen enters through the root system. Therefore, irrigation water must contain oxygen for it to benefit the plant.” Kantola strongly believes in the importance of balance. “We have reached over a dozen commercial customers since the project started. We’ve encountered gardens with serious pythium problems that were quickly resolved by increasing the oxygen content of the irrigation water using our technology.”

This achievement is significant considering the European market for pesticides and fungicides, valued at around EUR 28 billion annually.  “If the EU aims to halve the current chemical load, we are talking about a huge change, and we are looking to play our part.”

Nanobubble Technology in Practice

Elina Järvinen, an agrologist and hortonomist responsible for the cultivation at Nonre Oy’s Kitsböle home farm, oversees plant care, fertilization, monitoring, and biological control. Her task in this project is to report on the strawberry test rows in the tunnels.

“If a plant’s root system has enough oxygen available, the overall appearance of the plant is completely different from that of a plant growing in low-oxygen conditions.”

“Insufficient oxygen in the substrate affects the plant’s ability to absorb nutrients and cope with stressful situations, such as heat. A healthy root system and nutrient flow immediately impact crop and plant health.”

“The most significant benefit from our perspective would be ensuring that plant health remains as good and stable as possible, preventing plant diseases without chemicals by improving growing conditions. Nanobubble technology might be why we haven’t faced any plant diseases. It also seems to allow for more consistent irrigation. I believe nanobubbles have been beneficial for us.”

300% More Efficient in Increasing Oxygen Content

According to Kantola, traditional methods of oxidizing irrigation water with an air compressor have been extremely inefficient. “Our methods are at least 300% more efficient than previous technologies.”

Kantola recalls his grandmother’s advice to let well water stand for a day before watering flowers to allow it to oxygenate. “There were no pesticides or chemicals back then. The wisdom of the old folk has only been forgotten for a while and is now being reintroduced in a more efficient form.”

Elina Järvinen adds that achieving results in crop cultivation is the sum of many factors and requires significant effort. She believes in the positive signals generated by nanobubble technology in field trials and hopes further research will confirm these findings.

Nanobubble Technology Availability

The nanobubble technology developed by EOD is already used by more than a dozen professional gardens in Finland to oxygenate irrigation water. The redesigned device now operates completely automatically, allowing the operator to set the desired oxygen level, after which the machine handles the rest. Schetelig Oy, the oldest operator in the Finnish market garden sector, manages EOD’s equipment sales in Finland.

Current knowledge suggests that nanobubble technology can increase plant production by up to 20%. “In the first year, tunnel strawberry experiments increased production by 15.5% compared to the reference area,” notes Latva.

Kantola emphasizes the importance of cultivating without harmful chemical residues, benefiting both consumers and farmers. “In addition to increased production, the average size of products can be improved, and more even harvest years are possible. Many factors impact the farmer’s bottom line.”

Järvinen states that while berry farms in Finland and elsewhere in the EU share farming practices, the substances, techniques, and starting points vary greatly.  “Finnish food products have significantly lower levels of pesticide residues. Reducing chemicals or fertilizers while increasing the amount of berries in commercial condition aligns with the entrepreneur’s ideology. The goal is to produce the best possible crop at the lowest possible cost.”

Martti Latva concludes by mentioning that there will be one more growing season for strawberries and tomatoes within the project framework, in addition to continuous lettuce growing.

Nanokuplateknologialle on ladattu suuria odotuksia maataloudessa | Yritysmaailma (yritma.fi)