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The key to fertilizer that won't run off? Diarrhea meds

Posting in Food

The key to sustaining global food production at this time of burgeoning population growth is a sustainable slow-release fertilizer, researchers argue in a new report.

About half of the 150 million tons of fertilizer used around the world every year goes to waste – the nutrients are released too fast for crops to use and the rest become runoff from farms and fields, creating water pollution problems.

For an environmentally friendly solution, Mingzhu Liu and colleagues at Lanzhou University in China have turned to attapulgite -- an inexpensive, nutrient-rich clay used for decades to treat diarrhea. It was an ingredient in Kaopectate.

The new slow-release pellets (pictured) also includes guar gum, used in cosmetics and to thicken foods, and humic acid from decayed plant material.

Current types of slow release fertilizers on the market may increase the acidity of the soil or leave behind residues of synthetic materials on the fields.

The new fertilizer seemed easy to prepare, reduced nutrient loss from runoff and leaching, improved soil moisture content, and regulated soil pH.

The work was published in the American Chemical Society’s journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

Image: American Chemical Society

— By on November 14, 2012, 11:05 AM PST

Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure