Chemical substances used in agriculture (agrochemicals) have a significant impact on the quality of soil, surface and subsurface water. The Groundwater Engineering Group is working on the quantification and mitigation of the environmental impacts of agrochemicals. In particular, the research focuses on understanding and modeling their environmental pathways and long-term fate, and on developing innovative technological solutions to control and reduce their dispersion in the environment.

Nanotechnologies for Greener Pesticides

The use of agrochemicals, including pesticides and fertilizers, is unavoidable for the optimization of crop production, but has numerous drawbacks on both human health and the environment. Several widely used compounds are very effective in weed control, but are toxic to humans and animals, poorly degradable, and tend to accumulate in soil, subsoil and water. Others are less toxic and persistent, but their use is limited, since they are too volatile or soluble, and consequently a large quantity of product applied in the field is lost in the environment.

Nanotechnology can play an important role in finding new pesticide formulations with reduced toxicity and environmental impacts. NANOGRASS aims at developing new environmental friendly formulations based on the use of micro- and nano-particles, capable to protect soluble agrochemicals, target them to weeds, and limit their uncontrolled spreading in the subsoil and groundwater. Nanopesticides consist of nanoparticles, or nanocarriers, containing the pesticide dispersed in a colloidal suspension. NANOGRASS uses food-grade bio-compatible materials (mineral or polymeric substrates) as carriers for the soluble pesticide (the so-called active ingredient). Once applied in the field, the particles slowly release the compound where necessary, limiting losses into the subsoil with rain and irrigation. Thus, the amount of active ingredient required for an effective field treatment is significantly reduced. Moreover, the use of biodegradable nanoparticles avoids any potential risk associated to the presence of residual, synthetic nanomaterials in the subsoil, which is typical of other nanopesticides based on non-biodegradable carriers.

The NANOGRASS approach is being developed in the framework of two research projects:

NANOGRASS – Development of a NANO-herbicide formulation to minimize the impact of aGRochemicAls on Soil and Subsoil” (2017-2019). Funded by Compagnia di San Paolo (Call: “Metti in Rete la tua idea di ricerca”). For further details click here

“NANOGRASS: a technological platform for the development of nanopesticides with low environmental impact” (2020 – 2021). The project was carried out as part of the PoC Instrument initiative implemented by LINKS, with the support of LIFTT, based on funds from the Compagnia di San Paolo. For further details click here