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Lucent BioSciences unveils more sustainable fertilizers, seed coatings

Vancouver ag-tech firm says products cut microplastics, reduce need for carbon-based nutrients

The Lucent AGT Soileos production plant in Rosetown, Sask. (Courtesy Lucent BioSciences)
The Lucent BioSciences AGT Soileos production plant in Rosetown, Sask. (Courtesy Lucent BioSciences)

The CEO of Lucent BioSciences says his Vancouver-based firm is intent on transforming agriculture into a greener, healthier and more productive sector of a sustainable economy.

The agri-tech company has unveiled a series of crop nutrient products it says deliver higher yields, eliminate microplastic soil contamination, and reduce the need for carbon-based fertilizer by up to 30 per cent.

By means of Soileos, a bioactivated, carbon-free fertilizer, and Nutreos, a sister biodegradable seed-covering product, Lucent Bio is bringing high-tech and climate-positive solutions to an industry in urgent need of adapting to a low-carbon future.

Lucent Bio also plans to expand its sustainable agri-food operations into the U.S., Europe and Brazil. This news comes on the heels of the October, 2023 launch of its AGT Soileos production plant in Rosetown, Sask.  

The new Soileos facility, a limited partnership between Lucent Bio and AGT Foods, is producing 20 tonnes per day of its cutting-edge Soileos crop nutrition products the firm believes could alter the agri-food business landscape.

"We are planting the seeds of a sustainable future (and) redefining the future of crop nutrition with products that are petrochemical-free, non-polluting and climate positive," Michael Riedijk, founder and CEO of LucentBio, stated in a release.

The benefits of Soileos

The new Soileos facility, formerly owned and operated by AGT Foods as a grain processing plant, has been retrofitted and repurposed by Lucent Bio to transform oat and cellulose fibre - supplied by AGT - into sustainable crop nutrients that reduce dependence on nitrogen-based fertilizers.

The Soileos agri-product line represents the culmination of five years of research by Lucent Bio scientists to develop a carbon-free bioactivated fertilizer the company says delivers soil nutrients more efficiently.

"From the very beginning, the larger mission of Lucent Bio has been to focus on decarbonization, to develop technologies to decarbonize in this case agriculture, and support that transition to sustainability," Riedijk said in an interview with Sustainable Biz Canada. "We developed Soileos as an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional micronutrient fertilizers that delivers a series of crop inputs that fit into a circular economy model. 

"Our process works by binding plant-essential nutrients - zinc, iron, manganese, copper - to cellulose fibre and (using) cellulose as a releasing agent. This stands in contrast with the traditional agricultural practice which uses salt sulfate or synthetic molecules like EDTA (Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) that bind to heavy metals and end up in the water system as pollutants."

After confirming its preliminary findings via field tests with farmers, Lucent Bio scaled-up operations by repurposing AGT's aging Saskatchewan grain processing facility into its landmark Soileos production plant. Lucent expects it will serve as the model for many similar operations as the company expands its global reach.

"We're now manufacturing Soileos at a rate of 20 tonnes per day, which we're now actively selling in the Canadian prairies and in the U.S. Midwest. The focus is on broad acre crops - corn, soy, and wheat - where Soileos has several positive effects," Riedijk said.  

Lucent claims Soileos is the first climate-positive fertilizer product available to an agricultural sector still mired in many traditional, carbon-intensive farming practices. 

"Soileos increases crop yields while at the same time acting as a climate-positive product which, over the whole life cycle, actually sequesters carbon. For every tonne of product applied we sequester up to three to four tonnes of CO2," Riedijk said.

Nutreos eliminates microplastics and reduces nitrogen emissions 

Michael Riedijk, founder and CEO of Lucent BioSciences. (Courtesy Lucent BioSciences)
Michael Riedijk, founder and CEO of Lucent BioSciences. (Courtesy Lucent BioSciences)

Lucent Bio has also launched Nutreos, which it calls a non-toxic, plant-based and biodegradable micronutrient seed coating that serves as an environmentally friendly alternative to microplastic seed coatings.

The rollout of Nutreos comes in the wake of the October 2023 EU phased ban on microplastics covering a wide variety of products - including plastic seed coverings used in agricultural fertilizers. 

Conventional seed coatings are non-biodegradable plastic covers which control the release of nitrogen-based fertilizers into the soil, but which remain present in crop lands for hundreds of years. Nutreos offers a biodegradable alternative to help end the dispersion of microplastics into the soil - and possibly the food chain.

"Recent studies have shown that these microplastics end up in the tissue of the plants that we eat," Riedijk said.

When Riedijk - a native of the Netherlands who earned a master's degree in industrial design engineering at Delft University - attended the Amsterdam GreenTech conference in June 2023, he found a wave of interested agri-business executives coming by the company's booth.

"We weren't aware that the EU was in the process of rolling out a microplastics ban in agriculture . . . and as soon as we unveiled our Nutreos product, we received a flood of inquiries from global agricultural companies anxious to talk about using our environmentally friendly coatings to replace their plastic-based coatings.

"This is an exciting development for us. We're also actively engaged in discussions with farmers who want to increase yields but would rather accomplish that with alternatives that don't leave microplastics in the soil."

Lucent Bio's biodegradable seed coatings will help agri-companies in the EU and other nations comply with increasingly stringent carbon intensity targets which typically seek to lower the use of carbon-based fertilizers by 20 per cent. 

"This is also a long-term investment for farmers and their farmlands. They're not farming for the next three years, they want to farm for the next few generations. They want to pass it on," he observed. "Their land is their biggest asset and they want help with soil health.

"We're seeing a growing awareness among farmers that soil health is the second-most important objective they want to achieve after yields."

Soileos, Nutreos a one-two punch reducing AG carbon

Studies by Lucent Bio have demonstrated Soileos boosts microbial biomass - a leading indicator of soil health - by 20 per cent. Further, it boosted crop yields without additional nitrogen fertilizer that leaves a significant carbon footprint.

Also under development is Agreos, a slow-release coating that improves the efficiency of nitrogen-based fertilizers.

"Typically, when you put nitrogen or urea in your soil, 60 per cent washes out. It's not functionally available to the crops due to it being water soluble. Either with rain or with irrigation the nitrogen disappears into the soil. That not only represents a substantial waste of money, but it represents an additional amount of carbon footprint that just disappears into the water system.

"We're currently conducting field tests on the impact of our seed coatings and we expect that the results will show that (these products) reduce nitrogen application by 20 to 30 per cent. If you calculate an average 25 per cent reduction in nitrogen application while achieving  the same crop yield, that represents a huge carbon reduction overall.

"If you extrapolate that reduction in nitrogen or urea-based fertilizer across global agricultural production, we would reduce our carbon footprint by 100 million tonnes per year - it's a massive impact."

Major transition in agri-business lies ahead

Riedijk expects a major transition in agriculture over the next five to eight years with respect to sustainable crop production. The company is in talks with "eight out of 10" of the world's largest fertilizer companies.

"I'm awfully excited about all this. But what this really shows us are the true needs of an agricultural sector in transition and I think government needs to play an important role to drive that change with pollution and microplastic regulations," he concluded. 

"We need to adapt to the new technologies on the market right now, like ours that can replace these existing, old-school plastic, petrochemical-based solutions so that we can move forward and decarbonize agriculture."

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