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12-30-2023

eSoil, or "Electronic soil," boosts crop growth by over 50%

In an era where food security is becoming increasingly challenging, a fascinating study from Linköping University offers a beacon of hope. This research introduces an innovative approach to soilless cultivation, or hydroponics, by integrating an electrically conductive cultivation substrate, aptly named “electronic soil” or eSoil.

The electronic soil revolution

Eleni Stavrinidou, an associate professor at the Laboratory of Organic Electronics at Linköping University and the leader of the Electronic Plants group, spearheads this pioneering research. Her team’s development of eSoil marks a significant advancement in hydroponics.

This novel substrate is environmentally friendly, being derived from cellulose and a conductive polymer called PEDOT.

It also offers a low-energy, safe alternative to previous methods that relied on high voltage and non-biodegradable materials like mineral wool.

The study’s findings are nothing short of remarkable.

Barley seedlings, traditionally not grown in hydroponic systems, exhibited a 50% increase in growth over 15 days when their roots were stimulated electrically using eSoil.

This discovery not only expands the range of crops suitable for hydroponic cultivation but also demonstrates the potential for more efficient growth with fewer resources.

Addressing global challenges

Stavrinidou emphasizes the urgency of finding new agricultural methods, citing the rising global population and the impact of climate change.

“The world population is increasing, and we also have climate change. So it’s clear that we won’t be able to cover the food demands of the planet with only the already existing agricultural methods. But with hydroponics we can grow food also in urban environments in very controlled settings,” Stavrinidou explains.

Hydroponics, characterized by its soil-free growth medium, reliance on water and nutrients, and a closed system that conserves water and nutrients, is already being used to cultivate crops like lettuce, herbs, and certain vegetables.

This method is particularly advantageous in areas with limited arable land or harsh environmental conditions.

Future of urban agriculture

While the results are promising, Stavrinidou admits that the underlying biological mechanisms are not yet fully understood.

“In this way, we can get seedlings to grow faster with less resources. We don’t yet know how it actually works, which biological mechanisms that are involved. What we have found is that seedlings process nitrogen more effectively, but it’s not clear yet how the electrical stimulation impacts this process,” says Starvrinidou.

The research from Linköping University is a significant step toward enhancing urban agriculture.

eSoil’s low energy consumption and safety features, combined with the benefits of hydroponic cultivation, including space efficiency through vertical farming, present a sustainable solution to the growing demands for food.

As Stavrinidou cautiously notes, “We can’t say that hydroponics will solve the problem of food security. But it can definitely help, particularly in areas with little arable land and with harsh environmental conditions.”

In summary, this study sheds light on the potential of hydroponics in urban settings, while also opening the door to further research and innovation in sustainable agriculture.

The full study was published in the journal PNAS.

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