The Role of Chemistry in Sustainable Agriculture

role of chemistry in sustainable agriculture
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What is the role of chemistry in sustainable agriculture? Chemists have long been credited for advancing agriculture and providing new ways to combat issues and widen its horizons. These chemicals have also improved crop yields and produced high-quality produce. What’s more, these chemicals are environmentally friendly, too. Several aspects of chemistry contribute to sustainable agriculture. These include optimizing yields, environmental impact factors, and Organic solvents.

Optimizing Yields

There is no denying that the role of chemistry in sustainable agriculture. Chemistry and biological technology are integral parts of modern agriculture. However, the improper use of these technologies may have unintended consequences on the ecosystem and the long-term viability of an enterprise. The central issue of sustainable agriculture is the preservation of non-renewable resources. Chemicals, especially pesticides, are the key ingredients of modern pesticides and are used to combat weeds, insects, and diseases.

The development of a new method for producing urea may be a model for other sustainable chemistry approaches. This new method may inspire sustainable practices in the production of urea, a key nutrient in agriculture. Furthermore, the researchers at NTU are committed to sustainability, which is reflected in the university’s strategic plan. It aims to reduce its environmental impact and accelerate research translation. The researchers tested the efficiency of the devised method in a laboratory. They found a yield of 53.4%, a higher yield than the Haber-Bosch industrial method.

  • Brazil has made significant advances in Green Chemistry for agriculture. It was one of the first countries to develop large-scale biofuels, with early investments resulting from a federal program called PROALCOOL in 1975. The program helped the country eliminate more than six hundred million tons of CO2 by boosting domestic sugarcane-based ethanol distilleries. Brazil saved about 50 billion dollars worth of non-renewable resources by investing in biofuels.

Increased agricultural production requires more efficient nutrient use. The efficiency of fertilizer application can be improved with precision farming. Incentives for farmers who adopt precision farming can also help. For instance, increased efficiency of fertilizer use can reduce soil nitrate leaching. Furthermore, the development of better crops with greater nutrient efficiency can be a major boost to the environment. It can help farmers reduce the environmental burdens and increase their profit margins.

The Role of Chemistry in Sustainable Agriculture
The Role of Chemistry in Sustainable Agriculture – Image by Dung Le Tien from Pixabay 

Alternatives to Conventional Crop Protection Chemicals

With a growing global population and increasing demands for food, the need for sustainable agricultural methods has increased. Natural biopolymer chitosan combined with nanotechnology could provide a safe and sustainable alternative to conventional agrochemicals. Chitosan-based agronanochemicals are promising alternatives to agrochemicals, as they can act as plant growth promoters and crop protection.

Despite the call for sustainable agriculture, there is no doubt that the use of conventional crop protection chemicals remains a major concern. A range of eco-friendly alternatives to neonicotinoid insecticides is available for most broad-acre crops. They include biological control, innovative pesticide delivery modes, and diversified crop sequences. Global analyses of these alternatives have demonstrated how they reduce neonicotinoid pesticide risks.

One of the most significant alternatives to conventional crop protection chemicals is supervised control. This technique combines monitoring of pest populations in the field with the use of chemical protection methods. Using supervised control allows farmers to monitor pest populations and decide when to use chemical protection methods. But the question remains: how can we achieve a balance between agronomic practices and ecological principles? In a sustainable agricultural system, supervised control is essential.

Biologically-integrated agroecosystems rely on internal energy and nutrients to maintain a productive, environmentally sustainable production system. With hedgerows and ground cover between rows, farmers can minimize the threat of pests. Diverse blends of crops can help to limit pest populations in the future. The use of agrochemicals can also lead to environmental disasters and a decline in the biodiversity of crops.

Environmental Impact Factor

The Environmental Impact Factor, or E-factor, is the mass ratio of waste to a desirable product. In the oil industry, E-factors range from 0.1 to 1.0, while the E-factor increases dramatically when talking about fine chemicals, such as pharmaceuticals or crop protection chemicals. These chemicals typically use multistep syntheses that involve excessive amounts of solvents and reagents. The result is that the Environmental Impact Factor (E-factor) of chemistry in sustainable agriculture can be anywhere from five to ten.

New agrochemicals must meet stringent requirements for safety and efficacy, including consideration of human health. This regulatory framework also pays attention to the effects of agrochemicals on the environment. However, there are still pressures for new chemicals to be introduced into the market. Regulatory hurdles continue to increase, and they include factors associated with sustainable agriculture and integrated crop management programs. To address the escalating environmental impacts associated with these new chemicals, the discovery process has had to change. New indicator tests have been developed for various stages of the process.

  • GC can play a role in sustainable agriculture by contributing to the definition of sustainability within the six SDGs. Although its 12 principles are oriented more toward bench-scale chemical processes, they are still directly related to sustainable agriculture. Two of the most important dimensions of GC are waste elimination and the efficient use of renewable resources. It is also important to consider the impact of GC on the SDGs to achieve the goals of sustainable agriculture.
  • Current food production technologies are accountable for many environmental issues, including toxic waste emissions and excess biomass. Bio-based industries, including biorefineries, are beginning to embrace new Green Chemistry concepts that support agricultural sustainability. By integrating sustainable concepts from Green Chemistry, these innovations are helping farmers and ranchers improve the sustainability of their crops. The goal of sustainable agriculture is to meet basic human needs while minimizing environmental impact. This approach helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Modern methods of crop protection chemical production must be atom-efficient and safe, resulting in minimal waste and energy consumption. Using renewable resources, such as coal and biomass, is more environmentally friendly and sustainable, and modern synthetic routes may use recyclable catalysts and alternative energy sources. These new technologies are not yet commercially available and remain confidential. Nonetheless, we will look at several examples of crop protection chemicals that use modern methods.

Alternatives to Organic Solvents

Biobased and compostable solvents are becoming the most popular methods of environmental forensic analysis. The environmental impacts of solvents are enormous and often require substantial energy inputs. Bio-based solvents are also more renewable, allowing for reduced energy use. Other bio-based solvents include deep eutectic solutions, ionic liquids, and methanol. Moreover, more research is being conducted on the effectiveness of bio-based solutions in forensic applications.

The CHEM21 project consortium developed a guide to help farmers select the most bio-based solvents and reduce their environmental impact. This guide also takes into account the environmental, health, and safety factors. The supplementary information includes a ranking of the solvents in the guide and explains the scoring methodology. The guide is free of neoteric solvents, so it is still possible to use these solvents in certain agriculture applications.

In addition to the use of bio-based solvents, biomass can be converted into aromatic base chemicals and acetonitrile. Bio-based solvents are also readily available, but the primary feedstock of these compounds is not biomass. Bio-based solvents can be produced from ethylene, syngas, and 1-butanol. Bio-acetone is used as a precursor for isopropyl.

The agricultural industry depends on the use of organic chemistry in agroecological systems. This is especially important in crop protection. Insects and other insects that benefit the environment also pose a threat to crop yield. In addition to organic solvents, other organic chemicals are harmful to human health. The use of these pesticides also poses a threat to the environment and ecosystems. Organic solvents have the added benefit of promoting further research.