Too much P? Biosphere Environmental is Finding Solutions!
The Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association has been seeking solutions to address excess phosphorus in local streams from drainage runoff, one of the most significant freshwater pollution problems which can lead to harmful algal blooms and damage aquatic habitats. It all began in 2016 when the Biosphere Association applied for a three-year Trillium grant to implement best practices to decrease nutrient loading in streams caused by soil erosion. With the help of University of Windsor professor Bulent Mutus and graduate student David Ure, they tested a bioremediation filter and found it to be highly effective, with over 70% of phosphorus removed at the test site. Their research continued to yield even better results, as they developed a filter that was able to reduce phosphorus loading by 90%.
This success led Bruce Peninsula Biosphere Association Chair, Elizabeth Thorn, and Vice Chair, John Rodgers, to collaborate with Professor Mutus and Mr. Ure and explore opportunities for the commercialization of their phosphorus biofiltration products. From this, the social enterprise Biosphere Environmental was established, with the goal of promoting sustainable economic development and conservation in the Northern Bruce Peninsula. The company's mission is to develop and apply leading-edge technologies to reduce agriculturally based nutrient pollution in watercourses, by combining cutting-edge research with practical on-the-ground experience. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed with the University of Windsor to collaborate on the development and commercialization of bioremediation products for a period of three years. This partnership is part of an ongoing effort to establish a "Research-Based Agricultural Manufacturing Industry Cluster" on the Peninsula.
Since then, there have been several important milestones reached in the efforts to develop and market bioremediation products. At first, 500 kg of filtration material Carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC) was produced with help of students funded by HRSDC, Zach Rodgers and Paul Flannigan. In collaboration with the Lower Thames Conservation Authority, 400 kg of the material was installed at a tile drainage test site on the Lower Thames, and long-term field tests were conducted. During this period, funding from the Friends of the Greenbelt was secured to create a casing for the filtration material in tile drains. Tyler Hayes of EPH Tools and Machining agreed to produce the bio-filtration material needed for the test sites at his manufacturing facility on the Northern Bruce Peninsula. Production began with help from Agriculture Canada’s Agriscience program, Maddy Myles, Nick Fermani, and Krista Dovaston. The Biosphere Association, in partnership with the University of Windsor, organized a tour of Bruce Peninsula National Park for key stakeholders, including the University of Windsor’s Dean of Science, Chris Houser, the National Parks Superintendent, John Haselmayer, the Municipality’s Chief Administrative Officer, Peggy Van Mierlo-West, and Community Services Manager, Ryan Deska, Professor Mutus, and Biosphere Board members. The goal of the tour was to explore the feasibility of setting up a field course on the Peninsula, which would be affiliated with Biosphere Environmental’s Research Centre as a satellite campus in the long term.
Now, the project goals are to establish a next-generation controlled tile drainage system with funding from Ontario Agri-food Research Initiative (OAFRI) and Agricuture and Agrifood and Agrifood Canada’s Agriscience Grant. This past year, two CO-OP students from the University of Waterloo, Liam Tayor and Evan Bernat worked on the next part of the project, biofiltration media manufacturing, casing structure design, build and operation, and IoT monitoring and control.
The biofiltration media, CMC, and CMC-Fe is a biopolymer derived from cellulose that has been modified by adding carboxymethyl groups making it water-soluble. The iron is added to the CMC to create a composite material called CMC-Fe. CMC-Fe is typically used as a flocculating agent, for example in water treatment to remove dissolved impurities. In this case, when the CMC or CMC-Fe comes into contact with agricultural runoff, it absorbs the excess nutrients, effectively removing them from the water. One of the major advantages of using CMC as a nutrient filter is that it is a natural and biodegradable material. Now, the Biosphere Environmental team continues to evaluate the effectiveness of CMC and CMC-Fe in removing low phosphorus concentrations in cropping and livestock settings and is focused on improving the manufacturing process by improving efficiency and reducing cost.
The filtration media and structure are used in tile drains, the most common agricultural drainage option on the Peninsula. Tile drains are considered one of the best practices for fields because it allows for better control of water levels in the soil, which can improve crop growth and yield. The installation of underground drainage tile systems can help to remove excess water from fields, reducing the risk of flooding and waterlogging. This can also improve the aeration of the soil and promote root growth, which can lead to healthier plants. Tile drainage can help to reduce the amount of nutrients and pesticides that are lost due to surface runoff, making it an environmentally friendly option. As there is still phosphorus lost in runoff through tile drainage systems, the Biosphere Environmental team developed a structure prototype to put into the tile drain filled with the bioremediation media. They are working on optimizing the structure and evaluating the performance under field conditions and have already installed 7 structures on the Peninsula.
The IoT-based field hydrology system monitoring and control is a smart system invention aimed at aiding farmers to surveil and record sensor data gained from their fields. This includes recording water levels, soil moisture, or meteorological conditions and helping to interpret the data. Another aspect of this project is to develop a field scale hydrology model to inform when to open and close drains to control flows.
LoRa: A Low Cost IoT Technology for Field Water Management
By Evan Bernat
When constructing an IoT network of sensors, did you know that there is an alternative to WiFi-based solutions?
LoRa, or Long Range Radio, is a wireless communication technology that has gained popularity in recent years for its ability to transmit data over long distances with low power consumption. In an agricultural setting, this makes it an attractive option for connecting an IoT network of sensors to store hydrological and meteorological data.
One of the primary benefits of using LoRa in agriculture is its ability to transmit smaller packets of data over long distances without the need for expensive infrastructure. This makes it an ideal solution for remote locations or areas where it is difficult to install traditional networking equipment, and can cut down on operating costs when compared to WiFi or Bluetooth connection.
Another advantage of LoRa is its low power consumption, which allows sensors to operate for extended periods of time without the need for frequent battery replacements. This can be especially useful in agriculture, where sensors may need to operate continuously for months or even years at a time. Even a basic off-the-shelf node can be used for months on end using it’s internal battery.
In addition to these technical benefits, LoRa also offers a number of practical benefits for agricultural applications. For example, by automating the collection and analysis of hydrological and meteorological data, farmers can make more informed decisions about irrigation, fertilization, and crop management. This can help to improve crop yields and reduce water and fertilizer usage, ultimately leading to more sustainable and profitable farming operations.
To test the range at which a basic node can communicate with a gateway in a practical agricultural environment, an experiment was conducted. One LoRa-based microcontroller was programmed to send a packet when a button is pressed, and the another was programmed to display a message when the packet was received. The sender node was placed in a controlled location, in a relatively clear, open area. With the help of a car, the receiver node would receive packets at regular intervals while driving away from the sender. When in a flat, open environment, LoRa excels. At a range of 2.5km, there was seemingly no delay or loss of data. The test was continued as the car drove into an area that contained a fair number of trees, and other obstacles. The signal continued for another kilometer, bringing the total to 3.5km. In a fully open setting, it is expected that the connection would continue to be strong even at about 4-5km. This level off connectivity over long distances, even through obstacles, shows the true power of LoRa, especially when dealing with tile drain automation, since tile drains can be quite far apart.
This experiment was conducted with the intent of using a variety of sensors to control a tile drain filtration system that can hold water on a given field when needed, while also filtering out excess Phosphorus from the offput water. The sensors within the mesh give meteorological and hydrological data, such as water and soil temperature, soil moisture level, water level, flow rate, and others. The data given from these sensors can be put into a hydrological model to accurately determine when the system should shut off or open the tile drain, to increase crop yield as much as possible.
Overall, the use of LoRa in agriculture has the potential to revolutionize the way farmers collect and utilize data to optimize their operations. With its long range, low power consumption, and ability to transmit data over long distances, LoRa is a powerful tool for enabling the adoption of IoT technologies in the agricultural sector.
Fertilizer is important on fields but excess phosphorus in streams leads to algal blooms and impairs aquatic habitat, so in 2016 the Biosphere Association applied for a three-year Trillium grant to introduce best practices to reduce “nutrient loading” (phosphorus, nitrates) from soil erosion into local streams. Working with Professor Bulent Mutus of the University of Windsor and his graduate student David Ure, the Biosphere Association arranged field testing of a bioremediation filter they had developed. Over 70% of phosphorus was removed at the test site and full results were published in the Journal of Environmental Management. The biochemistry academics continued to work and developed an even more effective filter that reduced phosphorus loading by 90%!