Researchers from Linköping University in Sweden developed a ‘bioelectronic soil’ that can speed up the growth of plants in hydroponic spaces, or farms that grow plants without soil in environments made up of mostly water and a place for roots to attach. After integrating the engineered ‘eSoil’ into the framework where seedlings grow, researchers discovered that sending electrical signals through the soil made plants grow 50 percent more on average.
The eSoil is made up of organic substances mixed with a conductive polymer called PEDOT, which can be found in things like sensors and OLED displays. Eleni Stavrinidou, the supervisor of the study, told Engadget that the soil’s conductivity was necessary for stimulating the plant roots. In this particular study, the researchers examined the effect of sending signals to barley seedlings over the span of 15 days before harvesting them for analysis. Applying a voltage as small as 0.5V on the eSoil electrically stimulates the roots, Stavrinidou explained. This, in turn, resulted in a recordable increase in the biomass of the electrically stimulated plants when compared to the non-stimulated seedings.
The stimulation’s effect on the barley seedlings was described as “steady” and “transient.” Stavrinidou told Engadget that nitrogen, one of the main nutrients involved in plant growth, was processed more efficiently through the stimulation. “We found that the stimulated plants could process the nutrients more efficiently however we don’t understand how the stimulation is affecting this process,” Stavrindou explained, adding that the reason behind the growth process will be a focus of future studies.
While hydroponic techniques are mainly used to grow vegetables, leafy greens and some vegetables like cucumbers and tomatoes, the eSoil could offer a solution to create new ways to increase crop yields in commercial settings and especially in places where environmental conditions impact plant growth. The study highlights that this technique could minimize the use of fertilizers in farming.
The opportunity for technological innovation in farming is huge considering the number of US farms has steadily declined since 1982, according to the Department of Agriculture. Last year, the number of US farms reached 2 million, down from 2.2 million in 2007. Not only are farms on the decline, but the US is losing acres of land due to a host of reasons that range from climate change to worsening economic outlook for farmers due to inflation, making farming in controlled environments more popular.
But beyond improving crop yield, the implementation of eSoil to hydroponic farms could make it more energy-conscious. While traditional hydroponic farms use up less water, they require more energy to run. “The eSoil consumes very little power in the microwatt range,” Stavrinidou said. Before this technology can be applied to large-scale agriculture and other types of crops, more studies need to be conducted to observe how electrical stimulation can impact the whole growth cycle of a plant throughout its entire lifespan and not just in the early stages of seedling maturation. Stavrinidou also said that her team plans on studying how the technique affects the growth of other plant species.This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/swedish-researchers-develop-electronic-soil-that-speeds-up-plant-growth-205630538.html?src=rss