Faculty of
Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology

04 December 2018

The Great Barrier Reef and Australia’s delicate ecosystems will benefit from a research project that aims to cut the amount of nitrogen fertiliser that ends up in our waterways.

Researchers from The University of Queensland are working to revolutionise fertiliser technology in a bid to prevent run-off and nutrient loss.

Researcher Dr Paul Luckman said today’s fertiliser technology was behind the times.

“Plants only absorb around 50 per cent of the fertiliser’s nutrients, with the other half released into the air, running into nearby estuaries or leaching into ground water,” he said.

“There has been little innovation in the technology around fertilisers for the past 100 years.

“Most fertilisers used today are made to dissolve quickly and be immediately absorbed by crops, but if a crop is in its early stages, it can’t always use what’s available and the fertilisers can be lost from soil.”

UQ has formed a partnership with Manildra Group in an attempt to find a solution.

“We are working to create a fully biodegradable material that slows down the release of nutrients at the rate of the plant taking it up,” Dr Luckman said.

“So we won’t have the problem of extra nutrients drifting around in the soil and ending up in our waterways and eventually running into the Great Barrier Reef.”

The UQ-Manildra collaboration hopes to take a new approach to formulating fertilisers that will reduce all the fertiliser run off from farms.

“We will be running field trials in the next 18 months and will be focusing on sugar cane crops in Queensland,” Dr Luckman said.

“We’re looking forward to working with farmers to demonstrate how we’ve increased fertiliser efficiency to ensure good crop yields without negative impact on the environment.”

Family-owned Australian company Manildra Group owns and operates state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities in Australia and North America, producing high-quality food and industrial products.

Manildra Group Technical Manager Mark Baczynski said the project was a win-win situation for farmers and the Great Barrier Reef.

“We have engaged with UQ because of its world class expertise in many different facets that relate to this project, such as controlled release matrices for fertilisers, biodegradable polymers, starch characterisation and the mathematical modelling of these attributes,” he said.

“We’re hoping that the collaboration will result in the creation of a commercially viable next generation fertiliser, specifically targeted for Australia’s sugar industry, to replace the current market fertilisers that are inefficient and costly.”

Caption: image above -  Manildra Group Technical Manager Mark Baczynski with Chemical Engineering Research Fellow Paul Luckman inspect the wheat starch blend

Media: UQ Communications, Paige Ashby, p.ashby@uq.edu.au, 0430 511 615; Manilda Group Media Manager, Kirsty Beavon, kirsty.beavon@manildra.com.au, 0407 614 291.