Applications in agriculture and environment


Similar to the properties of more simple and homogeneous materials, the chemical, physical and biological processes that occur at the atomic and molecular level in the soil control the availability of nutrients, transport of pollutants, soil contamination and other correlated effects. In this way, if these processes are well known and controlled, more efficient and less environmentally aggressive agricultural production can become a reality.


The soil can be seen as a solid and heterogeneous combination of organic and inorganic compounds, immersed in aqueous solutions and in the middle of plant roots. Given this complexity, a large variety of high-resolution (spatial and chemical) analytical techniques is required such as those available in synchrotron light sources. These techniques enable the analysis of samples, preferably in situ, for the understanding of all elementary processes occurring in the soil, from the atomic to micrometric scales.


Fertilizers are organic and inorganic substances, natural or synthetic, which supply one or more nutrients required for the growth and development of plants. They are one of the main agricultural inputs and are usually obtained from petrochemicals and mining. Synchrotron light technology can contribute to technological advances in the design of fertilizers, ensuring a more rational and effective delivery of nutrients since the synchrotron light techniques allow the observation of the physical-chemical paths of the fertilizer from the soil to the plant.


The analysis of nutrient distribution in plants is a key element for understanding the concentration, bioavailability and location of nutrients in food products. Bioavailability is important so that the nutrient is actually absorbed by the body, while location is critical for processed cereals before consumption. The location of essential elements for nutrition, such as proteins and lipids, can be found by imaging techniques with synchrotron light.


The environmental implications of the presence of nanoparticles in the environment are a matter of extreme importance, which tends to grow in the coming years. The presence of these small inorganic particles in plants can occur not only because of contamination of the environment, but also because they are synthesized by the plant itself for the purpose of storing certain chemical elements, defense against pathogens or herbivores or even as a structural function. Synchrotrons are essential instruments in the evaluation of the effects of the presence of these particles.