Danish-developed, award-winning slurry sensor to make agriculture more sustainable
Researchers from the Department of Engineering have helped develop a sensor to measure the nutrient content in manure using NMR technology. The technology has just won a major, international award and has been lauded as one of the 40 most important agricultural inventions of the year.
When the world's largest agricultural machinery trade fair, Agritechnica, opens in Hanover to more than 450,000 visitors on 10 November, among other things it will be celebrating a revolutionary Danish technology development.
In collaboration with the sensor firm, NanoNord, researchers from the Department of Engineering and iNANO at Aarhus University have developed a sensor that Europe's largest slurry tank manufacturer, Samson Agro, has installed on its slurry tankers. The sensor has now been awarded the trade fair’s prestigious silver medal.
The sensor makes it possible for farmers to measure the nutrient content in the slurry directly in the slurry tankers.
Crucial for farmers
This is important for the future of Danish and international agriculture, because it is a major step on the way towards the sustainable precision agriculture of the future, where the goal is maximum yield and minimal leaching – i.e. only to use the exact amount of fertilizer required and no more.
"Today, farmers fertilise their fields on the basis of previous analyses or standard figures, but these often don't reflect reality. Given the Danish goal of targeted regulation at farm level rather than at national level, it’s crucial for farmers to know in real time precisely how much nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (NPK) they’re spreading as slurry on their fields. They don’t necessarily know this, because there’s simply no valid and well-tested technology – until now," says Tavs Nyord, senior adviser from the Department of Engineering, Aarhus University.
The new sensor is the culmination of several years of technological development, and it uses multi-frequency magnetic resonance technology to measure the concentration of NPK directly from the slurry tanker and in real time. And with an accuracy and reliability in line with time-consuming and costly off-site laboratory measurements.
"We’ve developed a very robust sensor that provides direct measurement of the concentration of slurry components, so there’s no need for continuous calibrations," says Morten K. Sørensen, who is a business postdoc at NanoNord and Aarhus University (Department of Engineering and iNANO), and who has been the driving force behind the development of the sensor together with the NanoNord.
"Basically, the sensor is based on the same method as MRI scanners at hospitals. It’s just much smaller, cheaper and more robust."
Practical tests in 2020
The new revolutionary technology allows for unprecedented efficiency in measuring many different atomic components outside the laboratory. This is the first time that NMR technology has been used in the agricultural sector, but a great future is predicted for the technology.
The manure sensor itself has been well tested, but the sampling system is still under development.
"We've been doing lab tests with the NanoNord sensor and sampling system for a long time now, and we can say that it works. In 2020 we’ll be doing practical on-site tests with the Samson's slurry tanker at Aarhus University's experimental farm in Foulum, from where we hope Samson will be able to take the user experience and implement the technology in Danish and European agriculture," says Tavs Nyord.
Agritechnica is from 10 to 16 November in Hanover. The trade fair is the world's largest agricultural machinery fair and more than 450,000 are expected to attend. The trade fair awards a total of 40 coveted medals: 1 gold and the rest silver. The last time Denmark won a medal was in 2007.
Aarhus University's contribution to the development of the new technology is primarily being financed by the Lauritzen Foundation, the Danish Agricultural Agency (as part of the Grønt Udviklings- og Demonstrationsprogram business support scheme), and most recently the Central Denmark Region's research and development programme, Industri 4.0. Innovation Fund Denmark is supporting the process of disseminating the sensor technology to an even wider range of uses.