Mankind is facing a historic challenge: in the coming years, more people than ever before will need to be fed. The land available for this is limited. And the way food is grown on it is already unsustainable. Agriculture is responsible for too much energy and water consumption, too many greenhouse gases and environmental toxins. Much more needs to be produced, but in a more economical way. And this at a time when climate change is worsening growing conditions.
At Creavis, we are working on solutions to this problem. They are grouped together under the term "Agriculture Solutions". So-called biostimulants are particularly promising. These are, for example, naturally occurring bacteria that have been shown to strengthen plants in their growth or make them more resistant to harmful environmental influences. It is known, for example, that the soybean plant can only be successfully cultivated in Europe if it is provided with certain soil microbes from its countries of origin. Our biotechnologists have also identified plant health promoting microorganisms for other plants.
Less need for fertilizer
We have already developed an initial product for nitrogen fixation. It contains bacteria that bind nitrogen and make it available to the plant. This has potential. Every year, more than 113 million tons of nitrogen fertilizer are applied worldwide. Each ton of this causes 1.2 tons of CO₂ during production. The decomposition of unused nitrogen in the field also produces nitrous oxide, which has around 300 times the greenhouse effect of CO₂.
In our own trials, we were able to demonstrate that, thanks to our development, plants achieve the same growth even with significantly less nitrogen fertilizer. The finished product for agriculture puts the identified microorganisms into a biocompatible formulation that reliably transports them to the inside of the leaf.
A particularly efficient method of protecting plants before they germinate and ensuring that they thrive afterwards is known as seed dressing. This pretreatment of the seed has been tried and tested for thousands of years. A coating protects the seed from pests, for example, or promotes plant growth directly at the germ after sowing. This means that less active ingredient is needed. Evonik supplies a number of excipients for this market. At Creavis, we are now also developing new microbial solutions for this purpose. They ensure, for example, that the seed remains protected against fungal attack without the need for chemical fungicides, or that health-promoting microbes colonize the roots after germination and displace pests.
In the search for the microbes that have the appropriate effect, our biotechnologists have also specifically analyzed organisms from extreme habitats. We were able to identify organisms that can be used to increase the plant's resilience to stress factors such as heat, drought, or poor soils - for example, through deeper rooting. Creavis has already demonstrated this for individual crops.
In the development of our products, Creavis, as a business incubator, links research and know-how from several business lines and international locations in order to realize innovations in this completely new market more quickly. In the process, our biotechnologists have built up their own bioarchive for useful agro-microbes. To do so, we systematically explore the potential of individual microbes in the laboratory. This allows for the identification of exactly the organisms that are best suited for particular seeds and tasks. Evonik's microplastic-free carrier substances and biocompatible additives are then used in the formulation to store the microorganisms stably or to transport them reliably into the leaves, even by simply spraying them on. Farmers around the world are finally waiting for practical solutions to the historic challenge in the field.