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South Dakota universities receive national grant for soil science

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service South Dakota
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service South Dakota

The National Science Foundation awarded $4 million dollars to several state colleges for a new collaborative research partnership.

Its goal – developing cheaper and more environmentally friendly fertilizers.

The Center for Climate-Conscious Agricultural Technologies is a research partnership between SDSU, the School of Mines, Sitting Bull College, and North Dakota State University.

SDSU is leading the partnership.

The center will research sustainable agriculture technologies. Researchers will focus on developing microbial biofertilizers. These could provide benefits over traditional synthetic fertilizers.

Synthetic fertilizers have been found to have negative human and environmental impacts and have become expensive. The center hopes to develop a cheaper, sustainable, purpose driven biofertilizer by adding microbes aimed at South Dakota’s prevailing crop, corn.

Prasoon Diwakar is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at South Dakota Mines and a Co-Principal Investigator on the project. He said it takes a large collaboration of scientists to get this research done.

“So we have a group of about 20 scientists from different fields, who are working on making this project a success. So, we have biologists, we have chemical and biological engineers. We have precision agriculturalist, soil scientists, sensor development scientists, mechanical engineers, private modeling scientists, technoeconomic analyst, socioeconomic scientists to accomplish all of this that we achieve,” said Diwakar.

Tanvi Govil is an Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at South Dakota mines. She said a focus on microbes in soil is important for climate change mitigation.

“When they are thriving that is a vey good time for them to mitigate the emissions of nitroxide gases into the atmosphere. They can mitigate the emissions of butane gases. Even some microbes have the enzymes to sequester the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” said Govil.

Another potential breakthrough – using biopolymer beads to hold the fertilizer. They’re made with naturally occurring cells instead of conventional plastic, making them safer for the environment.

The grant is part of a larger project by the National Science Foundation to build new and adaptive research across the country.

Evan Walton is an SDPB reporter based in Sioux Falls. Evan holds a Master’s in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University and was honorably discharged from the United States Army in 2015, where he served for five years as an infantryman.