BY AZMAN ZAKARIA
RESEARCHERS from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) have successfully produced ‘Photosynthesis Enhancer’ using carbon dots technology capable of increasing crop yields between 20 and 30 percent.
Through the innovation, photosynthesis rate increases between 20 and 80 per cent depending on the types of crop. Furthermore, the cost to produce carbon dots is about 90 per cent lower than the conventional method. The increase in photosynthesis rate encourages plant growth, shortens harvest period and increases yields.
The head of the research group, Assoc Prof Dr Suraya Abdul Rashid, said the product, named HARVAST, uses carbon dots which has a particle size of less than 10 nanometers (nm). “When HARVAST, in its liquid form, is sprayed onto leaves, its very small particles size allows it to be absorbed into the leaves till the chloroplasts.
Carbon dots helps to transfer electron during the photosynthesis process, which can directly increase the rate of photosynthesis rapidly,” she said. Suraya, who is also the Head of Laboratory of Material Processing and Technology, Institute of Advanced Technology (ITMA), UPM, said that carbon dots belongs to a group of nano materials with carbon as its basic materials.
According to her, the technology is focused on accelerating photosynthesis rate that can yield a better harvest compared to other plant growth enhancers available in the market which focus more on plant nutrient requirements and root growth. She added that accelerating the photosynthesis rate also reduces the use of light and water consumption during the photosynthesis process.
“This is a form agricultural technology of the future which allows indoor and vertical farming as the photosynthesis process can occur in a dim environment as in a house which uses ordinary light,” she said.
She also said that HARVAST can be used for all types of plants except C4 categorised trees such as maize and sugar cane as their photosynthesis process is different from C3 trees such as vegetables and fruits including durian.
She said HARVAST only needs to be sprayed on plant leaves once a week or fortnightly depending on tree types.
“Because it is made of carbon, an organic matter, and its production method which does not include the use of any harmful chemicals, the crop yields are safe to eat,” she said.
According to her, carbon dots are produced using bio-char (biocharcoal) which is crushed and put into water before being exposed to temperatures between 200 and 300 degree Celsius. Carbon dot will glow when exposed to Ultraviolet (UV) light.
According to her, the study on photosynthesis enhancer started in 2015 and has been tested on vegetables, chilies and paddy at the Faculty of Agriculture, UPM.
The technology was patented in 2016, and efforts to scale it up are now being carried out through the InnoHub programme, Putra Science Park UPM. “Through HARVAST, the photosynthesis enhancer, crop yields are improved, water use is more efficient, use of light during photosynthesis is reduced and more carbon dioxide is absorbed by plants, and it is a green technology,”
In addition, carbon dots can also be used in energy sector such as solar cells and supercapacitors as well as various sensor systems. Its special electrical and optical properties help in the transfer of electrons that indirectly makes the process more effective.
Other members of the research group include co-researchers Dr. Muhammad Nazmin Yaapar from the Faculty of Agriculture, postdoctoral Dr Tan Tong Ling from ITMA, and InnoHub project manager, Muhammad Zhafir Abdul Razak.
Photosynthesis enhancer, HARVAST, won the gold medal at the 2016 Research and Innovation Exhibition (PRPI), silver medal at the International Invention, Innovation and Technology Exhibition (ITEX) 2017 and bronze medal at the International Conference and Exposition on Invention by Institution of Higher Learning (PECIPTA) 2017. – UPM