Mobile system treats crop seeds using electrons instead of fungicides
Because seeds may contain yield-reducing fungi, bacteria or viruses, they're often chemically treated before they're sold to farmers. A new mobile system, however, substitutes microbe-killing electrons for harsh and eco-unfriendly chemicals.
The problem with existing chemical treatments lies in the fact that the fungicides and antibacterial compounds deposited onto the seeds may be harmful both to farmers, and to the environment in which the seeds are planted.
As far back as the 1980s, scientists began looking into using electrons instead of such chemicals. In 2008, a large system utilizing the technology was announced by scientists from Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology.
It passed seeds through a stream of accelerated electrons, which destroyed the chemical bonds of fungi and other pathogens on the seeds' outer husks. Importantly, however, the embryo and endosperm inside the seeds were left unharmed. This meant that after the treatment, the seeds were still very much viable, yet also non-toxic.
Now, via a collaboration with German agribusiness Ceravis, Fraunhofer has made the system mobile. Whereas seed suppliers would previously have been required to transport their seeds to a facility for treatment, the system can now be brought to the suppliers, where seeds can be treated on location.
The cost is approximately the same as those of traditional chemical treatments. And as an added bonus, beneficial bacteria or growth-boosting fertilizers can be deposited onto the seeds after their husks have been disinfected.
The current version of the setup fits in a 40-ft (12.2-m) container, towed by a transport truck. It can treat 20 tons (18 tonnes) of seeds per hour. That said – thanks to the creation of a smaller electron source – a less costly, more compact unit is now in the works. It should fit in a 20-ft (6-m) container, and have a throughput rate of 8 tons (7.3 tonnes) per hour.
The technology is being commercialized via spinoff company E-VITA, with plans calling for one of the 20-ft units to be the subject of a pilot project commencing in the middle of this year.