What are Zeolites? What is NEREA®?
Zeolites are a group of naturally occurring[iv] microporous, aluminosilicate minerals having a honeycomb-like layered crystal structure, which can be highly chemically active: the nanostructure (size and shape of the chambers, at a scale of nanometers – millionths of an inch or less) and the high reactivity of the chemical sites in a zeolite makes it act like billions of tiny chemical reactors – “Nature’s nanotech” – which can be further altered deliberately to tune it for highly specific purposes.
NEREA®</strong begins with a naturally-occurring mineral zeolite – “clinoptilolite” – (known in the zeolite world by the technical code ‘heu’) from International Zeolite, which has an enormous reserve of some of the world’s highest-quality deposits. To transform IZ’s zeolite into a complete, “zeoponic” plant-growing medium, this network of interconnected tunnels and cages is treated and modified, loading it with nitrogen and potassium and combining it with other compounds containing phosphorous, and calcium – the ‘major nutrients’ – as well as a complete suite of the minor and trace nutrients. The zeolite acts as a reservoir for the nutrients which are slowly released ‘on demand’.
Indeed, the plant itself does the regulating (“dispensing”) of the nutrients as it needs them. With only the addition of water, into the “solid-state” growth medium, plants will grow in the zeoponic medium for what can be multiple growth cycles. No complex system of circulation, pumping, dosing, level-monitoring, measurement & testing, etc. with all the potential for infection, leaks, clogging, mold/algae — is needed.
Functionalization NEREA® has been functionalized – altered chemically – by a series of proprietary treatments, to create unique bonding sites – like customized “docking ports” – at specific junctions in its crystalline structure, for the various macro- and micro- nutrients to adhere to with a chemical (ionic – i.e. charge) bond. This also allows the plant root fibers to directly uptake exactly and only the nutrients the plant needs, as it needs them – rather than needing to seek out nutrients in more complex forms that aren’t yet broken down, or hunt through soil to find what it needs – the NEREA® has the complete mix of nutrients everywhere and throughout its composition. This results in a more compact and efficient root structure, faster plant growth, more complete plant nutrition, more flavorful food output, and far more efficient use of nutrient inputs.
NEREA® is a patented technology developed over more than 30 years by scientists with expertise in botany, crop science, nuclear chemistry, and other fields, at the University of Havana. Related to science researched by NASA for growing crops on the International Space Station, NEREA® is licensed exclusively to IZ.
Rechargeable Once the nutrient has been absorbed by the plant, the NEREA® can be “recharged”. Because the bonding sites – the “docking ports” which were functionalized for specific nutrient ions – remain, they will readily accept and bond with a new “charge” of nutrients when a solution of the calculated amount is passed through the NEREA®.[v]
Tailorable The NEREA® composition can be specifically tailored to the nutrient needs of the crop – for example, the ratio of ammonium to nitrate (NH4:NO3) in strawberries is highly significant[vi]; leafy crops require higher nitrogen whereas fruiting crops such as tomatoes require much higher phosphate and potassium. Multiple crops with custom nutrient requirements can be accommodated without separate hydroponic nutrient water systems with their redundant dosing and monitoring infrastructure costs and risks.
The NEREA® ‘Magic’: Root-level Nutrient Ion-Exchange. Plants require macro-nutrients – nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium (and generally calcium) – and micronutrients, another 12 or so elements – and “uptake” them through complex chemical interactions down at the tiny hair fibers of the roots. In soil – this requires the plant to actually hunt through the dirt – extending root structures – to find enough of all of these nutrients to nourish the plant sufficiently. With NEREA®, the material can feed the root-hairs directly, with a mechanism called ion-exchange – NEREA® is ‘charged’ with all of the elements that a plant needs in a way that it can immediately access; no root-growth aka ‘hunting’ necessary.
In NEREA®, all of the nutrients needed for the plants’ growth are immediately available, and it can focus its energy on maximum growth. Root growth is far more focused on nutrient uptake, with a greater ratio of plant mass towards desired fruit/vegetable/leaf output.
Structurable One of the highest value-add opportunities is for NEREA® to be incorporated into structured form-factors, e.g. flexible porous plugs, mats, and other firm growing media. By combining NEREA® into existing inert urethane foam + soil/soilless mixes from e.g. Jiffy, iHort, QuickPlug, etc., IZ can create an entirely new category of products, e.g.: “don’t add-nutrient-ever” plugs for the entire category of home grow-your-own-food-appliances (started by AeroGarden),; but also rapid-start plugs or pots for medium/large nursery operations; for the emerging “living wall” and (literally) rooftop garden industry; etc.
By incorporating the plant’s lifetime supply of nutrients into the structured, porous medium, IZ can create a plug for home garden appliance merchants like LettuceGrow, ClickAndGrow, MyGardyn, etc. that will never need nutrients added to the water.
* Alternatively, IZ could market plugs (with or without seeds) directly to consumers to bypass the manufacturers and their razor/blades cost/subscription model, for example the quite-expensive nutrient solution from Aero Garden. * Or, IZ could provide plugs to competing appliance merchants as a differentiator; i.e. that they provide a no-nutrient-needed product model. Any of these could be marketed through a channel partner, e.g. Jiffy.)
Go To Market / “Dollar One”: What Products, What Channels, What Applications
One key market advantage of NEREA®, distinct from a commodity mined bulk good like the base zeolite (clinoptilolite), is creating one or more structured, use-/market-specific, high-value-add, high-margin products.
Example Scenario: Multi-Crop Longtunnel Customer The structurable NEREA® substrate can be provided in tailored “recipes”, in long poly bag ‘pigs’ that can be deployed side-by-side in a longtunnel greenhouse, using bencheswith watering tubing – creating in effect a hydroponic setup for multiple crops without the expense and complexity of NFT water trays, 24×7 circulation pumping, nutrient dosing and monitoring, risk of clogging/pump failure/crop loss.
In this system, strawberries are being grown directly from NEREA™ substrate tubes with water injectors – the equivalent of a hydroponic system but with 90% less equipment needed and risk of equipment/crop failure..
Long rows of green lush plants surrounded by pastic roofing and flooring between the rows
Example Scenario: Plug/Pot Seedling Nursery Operation Rather than mixing seed-starting mix with a fertilizer component and seeding seed-starting trays for eventual potting-up, a nursery could use a structured NEREA® plug with a seed hole (or even a structured 96-plug “mat” of plugs). Due to NEREA™’s increased efficiency, the seedlings would be ready for potting-up considerably more quickly, resulting in larger and thus higher-margin plants in the same time. (* Another product possibility would be a structured potting-up NEREA® “Plug-Plus” – for the nursery to simply insert the ready-to-pot-up plant with plug into the cavity of the next-size, thus saving on labor cost and, again, have a larger, higher-value plant ready for sale in less time.)
While this all looks and works very similarly to conventional nursery/soil operations – requiring very little adaptation to operators (in fact generally making things simpler) – it actually functions almost identically to hydroponics, with its advantages: i.e. even in basic nursery pots, this is all zeoponic agriculture. (Or again: “solid-state hydroponics”.)
At this point: the benefits of NEREA®-based zeoponics are well-proven, with the leadership team and resources in place to create and distribute several core products, and begin Go-To-Market steps with key partners.International Zeolite – as it reinvents itself from a traditional mining concern to a transformative 21st century ecotech leader – is actively engaging capital and strategic partners to drive its investment in technology and talent, product ramp-up, and distribution.
[i] www.alliedmarketresearch.com/vertical-farming-market (retrieved 27 June 2021)
[ii] Such as with the recent alliance between Driscoll’s and Plenty, https://www.globalaginvesting.com/plenty-partners-driscolls-year-round-indoor-production-strawberries/
[iii] Personal communication, CEO, joint-venture from major global agtech company, June 2021.
[iv] Zeolites can be and often are synthesized as well for specific purposes, e.g. specialty chemical catalysts — however: the clinoptilolite in IZ’s huge and very high-quality reserve is ideal for the NEREA® process and as such represents an enormous commercial opportunity.
[v] Based on observation, some original NEREA® developed over 30 years ago is still at near-full functionality after annual usage and recharging.
[vi] S. J. Tabatabaei, L. S. Fatemi & E. Fallahi (2006) Effect of Ammonium: Nitrate Ratio on Yield, Calcium Concentration, and Photosynthesis Rate in Strawberry, Journal of Plant Nutrition, 29:7, 1273-1285, DOI: 10.1080/01904160600767575