"Environment" research area

Green Alternatives to Toxic Fertilizer Components

Primary Investigator - Larry WackettPrimary InvestigatorLawrence Wackett
Co-InvestigatorsRomas Kazlauskas, Mikael Elias, Carl Rosen, Lambros Tassoulas (Graduate Scholar)
Industry PartnersMinnepura Technologies
Award Type: Seed Grant - Graduate Research Scholar 

Problem: Urea-based fertilizers contain biuret, which is a contaminant toxic to plants. Currently, an extraction process is used to reduce the amount of biuret present in these fertilizers, but the technology is expensive and doesn’t fully remove the toxin. Some plants such as citrus and avocado actually require low-biuret fertilizers, but this product is 2-2.5 times more expensive than untreated urea. More effective biuret removal and less expensive low-biuret fertilizers are in demand from the agriculture industry.. 

Solution: Researchers in the Wackett Lab have identified over 1000 biuret hydrolase enzymes from different bacteria. These microbial enzymes are effective at converting biuret into urea, thus taking the toxic contaminant and turning it into the valuable main ingredient in fertilizer, urea. Further work is needed, however, to identify biuret hydrolase enzymes that are most stable, purify them, and then test them in urea solutions. Crops sensitive to biuret will be sprayed with enzyme-treated fertilizer to test the efficacy of the enzymes-based removal process. These tests will provide important proof-of-concept data for the commercialization of enzyme-based biuret removal. 

Impact: Efficient biuret removal should lower the cost of fertilizers for farmers and increase agricultural productivity, especially for biuret-sensitive crops. The research has global potential as urea-based fertilizers are used extensively, but the solution may prove to be impactful across Minnesota as well.