Drain water off farmland with living pipes? Modify tiling to improve nutrient capture? The award-winning concept, developed by a group of University of Oregon students, has gained a significant amount of attention and is moving toward a testing phase.
Wade Hanson, Casey Howard, Matthew Jorgensen, Alison Lewis, and Krisztian Megyeri received first prize for the Living Filtration System (LFS) in the annual Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, which is a contest steered toward sustainability issues with solutions drawn from nature. Essentially, LFS utilizes soil micro-organisms to retain nutrients for plant absorption.
The team is exploring material types, but the design is multi-layered. The inner pipe is a perforated bioplastic composite pipe instead of PVC, surrounded by a carbon-based material like wood chips or chaff, according to Lewis. “The outer layer is filtration fabric, inoculated with mycorrhiza, mycelium and micro-organisms. Those would be the living part of the system to capture nutrients before they run out of a field,” she describes.
Hanson grew up on a farm in southwest Minnesota and knows the bottom line. “Our key is to make this economically feasible. It’s got to make sense for farmers," he says. "We want a system that saves farmers money and has environmental benefits.”
LFS is an organic closed-loop drainage system aimed at absorption, filtration, and sequestration of nutrients. The system would require no maintenance after installation and last as long as current drain tile systems, says Howard. “We think a 25% reduction in nutrient runoff is a reasonable goal, but we’re shooting even higher.”
Currently, the team is moving forward in another round of competition, with a $100,000 incentive as first prize. Currently they are reaching toward product development to work on components and heading toward a mix of lab and field testing. “We think the idea is feasible, and we’ve had an overwhelming amount of positive support from so many people in agriculture,” adds Lewis.
What do you think of this idea? How are you handling nutrient runoff on your farm? Let us know in the comments.