Centuries of mining and industrial activity have left large areas of land across Europe, the USA and other regions of the world virtually sterile and unable to support plant growth due to heavy metal or recalcitrant organic contaminants. Removal of contaminated soil to landfill is being discouraged by environmental legislation. There is an increasing need for low cost technologies that can remediate contaminated soils in situ to restore agricultural productivity.
A new approach to in situ remediation based on mixing organic waste and crushed zeolite into the soil has been developed by Dr Peter Leggo from the Department of Earth Sciences. The mixture acts biologically to supply plant nutrients such as nitrate, phosphorus and potassium, and boosts the population of nitrifying micro-organisms. The organo-zeolitic-soil system functions differently to the currently-used inorganic fertilisers, reducing the undesirable effects of fertiliser run-off into drainage.
This type of phytoremediation may be particularly applicable to the production of biomass crops for energy generation on previously contaminated land, where plants normally cannot survive. Tests have been carried out using both contaminated and non-contaminated soil, and with food and non-food crops.
The challenge for the i-Team is to investigate the most appropriate markets for ZeoPhyte, as well as the best routes and business structures to access these markets. The initial focus is expected to be on soil remediation, though other areas may also be uncovered in the course of the project.