Agriculture today is responsible for nearly a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Growing crops, raising livestock, and clearing land all produce greenhouse gases. Agriculture is also threatened by climate change – rising global temperatures fuel heat waves, droughts, and extreme rainfall which can easily destroy an entire season’s crop. Scientists say that without significant changes, farming’s global warming footprint will grow rapidly over the next few decades.
Agriculture, while an emissions source can also be an important climate solution and is uniquely positioned to fight environmental decline. In this context, farming with zeolites has captured great interest.
Zeolites are useful in agriculture because of their large porosity, cation exchange properties, molecular sieving, absorption, and adsorption, as well as their affinity for ammonium and potassium cations. Zeolites can be used as carriers of nutrients and a medium to free nutrients. Zeolite’s ability to lose and gain water reversibly, without the change of honeycomb structure results in their ability to be used as fertilizers, stabilizers, and chelators. The main use of zeolites in agriculture is, for nitrogen capture, storage, and slow release.
It has been shown that zeolites, with their specific selectivity for ammonium, can take up this specific cation from animal digestion, farmyard manure, composts, or ammonium-bearing fertilizers, thereby reducing losses of nitrogen to the environment. Research studies also show the benefits of zeolites for feed production, livestock health and growth, soil quality, crop management, and remediation of waste and the environment.
During the 1960s, Japanese farmers used Zeolite to control the moisture content and odor of animal waste while increasing the pH level of their acidic volcanic soils when spreading manure. They later learned that clinoptilolite zeolite can be fed to pigs, chickens, and ruminant animals to give a noticeable increase in body weight while improving the overall health of the animal. From the utilization of composted manure as a fertilizer source, farmers soon learned that zeolite was remaining in the root zones of their crops and providing continuous efficiencies to their crop yields. Since then, zeolite has primarily been used as a feed additive and soil amendment throughout Asia and Europe.