The main objective of the FocusLab greenRelease is to significantly reduce fungicide and herbicide usage and thereby contributing to a sustainable agriculture and bioeconomy. In the course of the project, we developed the greenRelease technology (initiated in the BioSC projects: GreenGel, RIPE, and BiFuProts) into a robust and field validated platform technology for plant protection. The technology was applied and finally validated in field trials that were independently performed by the chamber of agriculture from North Rhine-Westphalia in 2020. We achieved the same protection against the Apple Scab disease with a significantly reduced fungicide usage (3-fold compared to commercial products). In parallel, a regulatory and economic assessment of the technology was performed and we currently evaluate the technology transfer potential of the greenRelease technology.
Many pesticides have an inherent weakness: The active ingredients do not adhere sufficiently to the plants intended to be protected and are washed off by rain into the soil as well as into the ground water. To overcome these drawbacks of conventional pesticides, the greenRelease technology was developed. The unique technical application characteristics of the greenRelease technology are based on the combination of biocompatible microgel containers (100 nm to 10 µm) and anchor peptides. Microgels are soft porous polymer colloids, which can be loaded with active ingredients and can attach through tailor-made anchor peptides on plant leaves at ambient temperature by simple spray applications. Main advantages of the greenRelease technology over existing release technologies are the controlled/triggered release of compounds over weeks/months, minimized losses due to a high rainfastness, plant compatibility, and most importantly tunable biodegradability.
Within the FocusLab greenRelease biotechnologists, polymer chemists, plant scientists, microbiologists, and economists join forces to achieve the goal of a field validated release technology that enable the significant reduction of pesticide usage. Therefore, the focus of the working unit “technology advancement” (CG Schwaneberg, CG Pich and CG Gohlke) is the development of microgel release containers and the identification of leaf binding anchor peptides. The production of microgels that release active compounds as well as the identification of anchor peptides binding to the selected target plants was achieved in 2018. In agreement with the working unit “validation for sustainable agriculture” the first priority was the loading and release of copper as active compound (fungicide) within the microgels. In 2019, the production was scaled up in order to serve the demands (120 L formulation) of the field trials that were performed in 2020. The focus of the working unit “validation for sustainable agriculture” (CG Conrath, CG Knief, CG Noga, CG Groth and CG Schurr) was the initial application test of microgels, anchor peptides, and anchor peptide-microgel hybrids to establish assays and validation systems and to perform application, degradation as well as microbial response tests. The greenRelease technology provided a rainfast protection of sugar beet and apple (under controlled conditions) with 40-times reduced copper amounts compared to commercial formulations. greenRelease did not show any negative influence on plant growth and microorganisms were identified that can potentially degrade the microgels (further investigations are performed). Finally, we validated the greenRelease technology in field trials that were performed by the chamber of agriculture in an apple orchard. We showed that a 3-fold reduction of copper (compared to commercial formulation) was sufficient to prevent Apple Scab disease. The working unit “Economy” is headed by CG Bröring. Based on different workshops and expert interviews, we developed a business plan and participated in a business plan competition in order to reach out to experts and present our results of the greenRelease technology in front of a jury. Here, the greenRelease technology fully convinced the jury and took the 1st place within the “Biogründer-Wettbewerb” of Biosecurity GmbH. The generated results together with the feedback from workshops as well as the expert interviews and the farmer survey show the high transfer potential of the technology.
The postulated goal to develop a field validated release technology was successfully achieved by the partners and the greenRelease technology is now ready for innovations and follow up projects for a sustainable agriculture.
Dr. Felix Jakob
Chair of Biotechnology, RWTH Aachen University
& DWI – Leibniz-Institute for Interactive Materials
01.01.2018 – 30.06.2021
The greenRelease FocusLab is part of the NRW-Strategieprojekt BioSC and thus funded by the Ministry of Culture and Science of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia.