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Published on 01/13/22

Nanobubble technology may improve soil health, sustainability in the turfgrass industry

By Maria M. Lameiras for CAES News
The sun rising over sprinklers watering plots at the Athens Turfgrass Research and Education Center.
CAES researchers Mussie Habteselassie, Bochra Bahri and David Jespersen are testing the benefits of using nanobubble-infused irrigation water to more efficiently grow sods and maintain turfgrass. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

While the old song “Tiny Bubbles” lauds the happy effervescence of a glass of sparkling wine, new University of Georgia research on nanobubbles seeks to discover whether the tiniest of bubbles can hold beneficial properties for turfgrass.

Led by soil microbiologist Mussie Habteselassie, the Georgia Department of Agriculture-sponsored study will evaluate the potential applications of nanobubble technology to control pathogens and improve plant growth, water use efficiency and soil biological health in turfgrass systems. Other researchers on the project include turfgrass and forage pathologist Bochra Bahri and crop and soil scientist David Jespersen, all with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Using technology that generates oxygenated nanobubbles — which are roughly 2500 times smaller than a grain of salt — researchers will apply nano-charged water to turfgrass root systems through irrigation.

Manufacturers of the nanobubble technology say the technology can improve root aeration, increase water use efficiency by changing surface tension and improve soil health by increasing microbial activity.

“This technology is based on the idea of putting oxygen into these tiny, nano-scale bubbles, which have a higher surface area per unit volume and therefore are more stable in liquid than bubbles with larger sizes, such as in carbonated drinks,” said Habteselassie, a professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences on the UGA Griffin campus.

Measuring microbial activity and disease control

Researchers will test the technology through laboratory, greenhouse and field studies to measure how using nanobubble technology influences water use as well as turf shoot and root growth. The study will track changes in activity, abundance and composition of beneficial soil microorganisms that play an important role in organic matter decomposition and nutrient cycling.

Mussie Habteselassie, (left) #### and #### install sensors in the soil on field test plots at the Rivermont Golf Club in Johns Creek, Georgia, to monitor oxygen, temperature and moisture. Rivermont course superintendent Mark Hoban agreed to work with UGA on the project in an industry-leading effort to transition into a golf course system that is more sustainable and less reliant on conventional inputs.
Mussie Habteselassie (left), a golf course employee and UGA crop and soil sciences researcher Viktor Tishchenko install sensors in the soil on field test plots at the Rivermont Golf Club in Johns Creek, Georgia, to monitor oxygen, temperature and moisture. Rivermont course superintendent Mark Hoban agreed to work with UGA on the project in an industry-leading effort to transition into a golf course system that is more sustainable and less reliant on conventional inputs. 

“What this potentially means is that, when you irrigate a field with nanobubbles, you increase the oxygen level in the root area of the turfgrass. More oxygen at the roots means better root development, increased water use efficiency, and also an increase in microbial activity. When you have increased microbial activity, there is better decomposition of organic matter and that releases nutrients and makes them more available to the plant,” Habteselassie said.

Previous laboratory studies show that, when nanobubbles burst, they create reactive oxygen species — chemicals that can oxidize and kill microbial cells — which may help to control plant pathogens that cause dollar spot and leaf spot, two costly, common fungal diseases of turfgrass.

Reducing chemicals, water use — and costs

“This is where the sustainability aspect comes in. If we can show that this works in turfgrass, it can lead to reduced use of chemicals and fungicides because the radicals released by the nanobubbles are controlling pathogens,” Habteselassie said, adding that the technology has been used for wastewater treatment, surface cleaning and controlling microorganic biofilms in food processing.

If researchers confirm the benefits of the technology, it could lead to reduced use of pesticides, fertilizers, water and other inputs, reducing the cost to grow sods and maintain turfgrass and decreasing the environmental impact of land use for golf courses.

The project is funded by the Georgia Department of Agriculture under the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and was developed in response to a request for independent testing of the technology by the Georgia Golf Course Superintendents Association.

Maria M. Lameiras is a managing editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.