A behind the scenes look at how eqo.s was developed
ICL has introduced eqo.s technology, a new fully biodegradable coating for its controlled release fertilisers (CRF) in turfgrass.
Susan Sijstermans, Senior Specialist Product Development at ICL’s R&D department, is one of the innovation specialists behind the new technology and she explains what it took to develop one of ICL’s greatest ever breakthroughs.
As part of the ICL product development team you are involved in the entire process from idea generation through to market launch. “That is what I love about my job here”, says Susan. “You can come up with an idea, test it, and work on it all the way until the innovation ends up with the end user. I can really make an impact here and with eqo.s we made an important breakthrough.”
Innovation is a demanding process that starts with an idea, but it needs a lot of work to bring that idea to life. “First we need to understand what are we focusing our development on. We need to make sure that the idea is something the customer needs and that we could produce commercially.” says Susan.
Another key aspect of the innovation process is the collaboration between specialists from different backgrounds, each bringing their own perspectives. “We are working with many departments and so we need to be able to collaborate freely in order to come up with the best possible outcomes. For eqo.s we had clear boundaries in terms of product attributes, performance and timescales” says Susan. “It needed to comply with legislation, perform in the field, be commercially viable and all before the legislation deadline of 2026. We all had to work together to find a strategy and work through all the different challenges and our team ethic pushed us hard to develop what we consider to be the very best solution and ahead of the deadline!”
The eqo.s innovation started years ago, with a focus on finding a sustainable innovation for coating urea that complied with the new EU legislation. Possible options were screened and then reviewed on all kinds of different aspects (What can and can’t we do? What does the end user need? Can we sell it?) “There is a process behind innovation. From the start, we created a team of specialist colleagues to get it done” says Susan. “At R&D we focused on product development, but engineers were involved in the challenges of large-scale production. Marketing looked at the implications for our product portfolio. Agronomists tested the products in the field to review performance. The quality department ensured that eqo.s would always meet ICL’s high standards… Long story short; a huge amount of experts, time and money has been involved in this project. This is what it takes to launch ground-breaking innovations.”
CRFs have outer coatings that protect the nutrient core. The coating allows the nutrient to release at a time and rate that is optimal for the turf to utilise. The new eqo.s coating for nitrogen is compliant with the biodegradability criteria outlined in the EU Fertilising Products Regulation (2019/1009) and will help turf managers create more sustainable turf management programmes. With its patented eqo.s release technology, ICL takes the lead in providing a fully biodegradable coating that breaks down faster than existing coating technologies to minimise any impact on the environment.
A great deal of testing has been required to develop the eqo.s coating and evaluate its performance on turf. Susan continues “Eqo.s was extensively tested under controlled conditions in the lab, but only in field trials you can really see if it holds the working principle. Because to create a coating that degrades, but at the same time protects the granule core is quite a contradictive concept.”
Through trials at independent, external trial stations, eqo.s technology received official certification for its biodegradability according to different ISO standards. Continuous trialling is done by a huge team of ICL agronomists all over the world to continue to prove the added benefits of CRFs with eqo.s technology.
So what’s next for the ICL R&D team? “R&D never stops”, is Susan’s first reply. ICL continue to develop innovations for its product portfolio, whether it’s because of changing legislation or other needs that the market is asking for. “With the development of eqo.s, we’ve made an important breakthrough, but we will keep innovating. Wherever we set our sights, we have the people, the knowledge and the collective desire to make further breakthroughs in turf nutrition. Let’s just see what the future demands!”