Open Access Open Badges Research

Controlled root targeted delivery of fertilizer using an ionically crosslinked carboxymethyl cellulose hydrogel matrix

Drew W Davidson, Mohit S Verma and Frank X Gu*

Author Affiliations

Department of Chemical Engineering and Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1, Canada

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SpringerPlus 2013, 2:318  doi:10.1186/2193-1801-2-318

Published: 15 July 2013



The recent increases in food prices caused by the corresponding increases in fertilizer costs have highlighted the demand for reducing the overuse of fertilizers in industrial agriculture. There has been increasing interest in developing plant root-targeted delivery (RTD) of fertilizers in order to address the problem of inefficient fertilizer use. The aim of this study is to develop a low cost controlled release device to deliver fertilizers to plant roots and thereby increase fertilizer use efficiency.


The Root Targeted Delivery Vehicle (RTDV) is formed by dissolving Carboxymethyl Cellulose (CMC) chains in water, mixing it with liquid fertilizer and crosslinking using iron and calcium salts. Basic measurements quantifying nutrient release and green house growth trials were carried out to evaluate fertilizer use efficiency on wheat growing in nutrient depleted soil media.


Growing wheat in nutrient depleted media showed that the RTDV permits a 78% reduction in the amount of fertilizer needed to achieve similar levels of plant yield in these conditions. Quantifying the losses associated with the RTDV synthesis showed that optimizing manufacturing could possibly increase this value as high as 94%. Furthermore, the delivery device showed a similar lifetime in soil to the plant’s growth cycle, delivering fertilizer over the course of the plant’s growth before removal from soil by degradation.


These results illustrate the importance of fertilizer delivery in facilitating absorption and may have potential to vastly increase the use efficiency of fertilizers in soil, resulting in a significant reduction of costs and environmental damage. With more in depth study to quantify the fertilizer release and refine the device, there is great potential for the use of the RTDV as an effective means to increase fertilizer use efficiency in agriculture.

Carboxymethyl cellulose; Controlled release; Fertilizer; Agrochemicals; Wheat