Bangor University dives into the efficiency of CRF

ICL continues the quest to demonstrate best fertilizer use for turfgrass, and to research the value of using enhanced efficiency fertilizers in a new one-year study at Bangor University (UK).

4 mins

The research

Masters by Research student Elin Thompson recently started her research on the topic and hopes to further guide end-users with their fertilizer use in the future: “I am happy that I can contribute to the sustainability of fertilizer development and their use”. A Masters by Research (MRes) is a one-year independent research Masters degree. Elin: “It is independent in the sense that I take the lead in what skills I learn, and what experiments I conduct with the help of my supervisors. There are no compulsory lectures or modules and it’s all research-based.”

The topic of Elin’s research is to demonstrate best practice for nitrogen use on turfgrass by utilizing enhanced efficiency, controlled release fertilizers (CRF). She will compare a number of coated fertilizers alongside conventional nutrition in a series of experimental trials to determine nutrient use and nutrient loss and wastage. This will provide new data for end-users to make informed decisions and the right fertilizer choice.

Elin has finished her literature reviews and has planned to conduct several experiments in a controlled environment:

  • Ammonia emission trial: measuring the ammonium emissions that show how CRF reduces nitrogen loss and prolongs the release of nitrogen over time.
  • Leaching trial: a glasshouse trial with individual turfgrass units allowing controlled water inputs and collection of leachate following a range of fertilizer treatments. In this setup, Elin will analyze ammonium and nitrate in the leached irrigation water.
  • Nitrous Oxide emissions: a potent greenhouse gas potentially released after fertilizer applications, which will be measured by utilizing sealed growth chambers to collect and assess the air.
  • Biomass assessment: to determine the longevity and extent of turf growth and yield with assessment of nitrogen uptake.
  • Assessment turf quality: utilizing standard chlorophyll assessments for a measurement of turf color and quality.

Photo 1. Elin applies the fertilizer treatment to the ammonia emissions experiment. Each tube has a core of turf which the fertiliser is applied to, before being sealed up to take ammonia gas measurements.


The collaboration with ICL

ICL facilitates and funds the research on CRF efficiency and has supplied the fertilizers for Elin’s research. The university however, is completely independent in its scientific work and how the research is conducted.  Elin: “We have a good balance between academic and industry involvement, with ICL giving valuable insights into the fertilizer production and use.”

Elin was not familiar with ICL before she started her studies. “I didn’t know ICL nor the fertilizer industry as a whole”, Elin admits. “I now know that there are a lot of products on the market and choices for the end-user. I like that ICL strives to be more sustainable and to produce efficient products, remaining a leading company in the industry. Facilitating research such as mine, is a step forward in creating innovative, sustainable products. And by scientifically stress testing the CRFs, ICL can further help customers in the safe use of these products.”  Dr Andy Owen, ICL’s International Technical Manager says “developing these links between industry and university research is invaluable for ICL, as we link into independent and scientifically rigorous trials work to test our products. And to help young researchers like Elin is also important”.

Photo 2. Elin takes a biomass cutting of the agronomic experiment in the greenhouse, she cuts each pot down to a 2cm height to measure how much yield has grown over a 2 week period.


The outcome we hope for

Elin hopes to measure just how efficient controlled release fertilizers are in comparison to conventional products and provide clear data to allow users to make an informed choice in their selection of products. It is important to measure the efficiency of any fertilizer and to provide environmentally better and safer products for use; a gamechanger for the industry. Elin: “I hope to demonstrate a better nitrogen efficiency, and that one application of a CRF can sustain and maintain the crop for months.”

Skills and future career

During this research, Elin has opportunity to develop a wide variety of skills; from research and laboratory skills, to experimental design and public speaking. When asked if this is in line with her future plans, she responds: “This Masters by Research opportunity is a great step in my career, all the skills I am learning will certainly be very helpful. In the future I see myself as a researcher in a commercial setting, rather than remaining in the academic world. I have nothing specific in mind yet, but I like the idea of improving future environmental products, environmental business innovation, or conducting environmental assessments.”

Photo 3. Elin takes a gas sample from a 6 litre sealed container with the agronomic pots placed inside after they have accumulated emissions over a 60 minute period. The gas will then be analysed for NO2, CH4 and CO2.


About Elin Thompson

Her interest in environmental-related topics have been a common thread in Elin’s career path so far. Originally, Elin studied Marine Zoology, spent 6 months in Indonesia conducting coral reef surveys, and studied the effects of plastics on marine life. Afterwards she started working as a lab technician for the agricultural department at Bangor University. Elin: “I was already working with soil when I became interested in this Masters by Research to study the efficiency of controlled release fertilizers. I am happy that I can contribute to the sustainability of fertilizer development and their use.”