Synthesis of zeolites and their application as soil amendments to increase crop yield and potentially act as controlled release fertilizers
Zeolites have been used in agriculture since the 1960s, due to the effectiveness of these crystalline microporous solids as soil amendments for plant growth, their cation exchange capacity (CEC) and slow-release fertilizer properties. Most work on slow-release fertilizers has focused on natural Clinoptilolite, Phillipsite and Chabazite. The aim of this study was to synthesize zeolites, study their effectiveness as soil amendments and their ability to act as controlled release fertilizers to decrease nitrate leaching. Nitrate pollution of groundwater is a major agro-environmental concern. The zeolites Phillipsite and Linde-type F were synthesized from aluminosilicate gels; ion exchanged to introduce ammonium and characterized using X-ray diffraction (XRD), X-ray fluorescence (XRF), Thermo-gravimetric analysis (TGA) and Scanning electron microscopy (SEM) techniques, both before and after ion exchange. Ammoniumexchanged Phillipsites (natural and synthetic), ammonium-exchanged synthetic Linde-type F (the zeolite having highest affinity towards ammonium) and ammonium exchanged Phillipsites (high crystalline and high aluminium) were compared with conventional NPK fertilizer.Three glasshouse experiments were performed to study the effects of zeolite-amended soils on maize growth. Ion exchanged synthetic and natural Phillipsites were first used as soil amendments (w/w 2, 4, 8% zeolite to soil). Synthetic Phillipsite, at 2% loading, resulted in the most significant improvement in both plant growth and phased ammonium release. The synthetic ammonium-exchanged zeolites Phillipsite and Linde-type F (at w/w 1, 2, 4%) were then compared; synthetic Phillipsite, at 2% loading, again resulted in the most significant plant growth response with an increase (≥15%) in shoot dry weight and a decrease (≥30%) in nitrate leaching. Experiments using unexchanged synthetic Phillipsite (at w/w 2%), but with added NPK fertilizer, showed increased plant growth and decreased nitrate leaching, compared with parallel experiments containing unexchanged synthetic Linde-type F (at w/w 2%) and a conventional fertilizer amended soil. This revealed the beneficial effect of Phillipsite for soil amendment, even without ion exchange to the ammonium form. To study the physico-chemical properties affecting the release of ammonium from the Phillipsite framework; high crystalline/low aluminium and low crystalline/high aluminium forms were synthesized and ion exchanged. Both forms were introduced as soil amendments (at w/w 1 and 2%) and experiments showed that the lower zeolite crystallinity decreased cation exchange and therefore decreased nitrate leaching. Experimental results from the glasshouse experiments and cation exchange capacity (CEC) experiments suggest that synthetic Phillipsite, at lower loadings (1 and 2% w/w zeolite to soil) have most potential as soil amendments for both plant growth and controlled-release applications. This conclusion is supported by soil leachate and shoots dry weight analysis. Furthermore, Phillipsite, synthesized in a low crystalline and low ammonium form, may be an even better soil amendment for controlled release of ammonium, which will thereby further decrease nitrate pollution.