BGU researchers' new invention tracks water pollution in real time

The sensor tracks nitrate levels in crops, thereby notifying authorities quickly to potential groundwater nitrate pollution, to help prevent poisoning of groundwater.

Sensor for measurements of nitrate in the soil (photo credit: Courtesy)
Sensor for measurements of nitrate in the soil
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Researchers at BGN Technologies, the Beersheba-based technology transfer company of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, on Monday introduced a technology that enables farmers to receive direct, real-time and continuous measurement of soil nitrate levels.
The innovation optimizes crop fertilization and significantly helps prevent potential groundwater poisoning.
The natural nitrate level in groundwater is generally low. However, too much fertilizer may result in the leaching of nitrates from the soil into the water table. A high nitrate level makes water undrinkable.
The technology was developed by Prof. Ofer Dahan, of the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research (ZIWR); Prof. Shlomi Arnon, of the department of electrical and computer engineering; and Elad Yeshno, a PhD student at ZIWR. It relies on an optical nitrate sensor that is based on absorption spectroscopy.
The technology is resistant to harsh chemical and physical soil conditions and enables continuous, real-time measurement of soil nitrate levels.
“Current methods for measuring soil nitrate are cumbersome, labor-intensive and do not provide real-time indication on the actual concentration of nutrients in the soil,” Dahan said.
“Our invention can supply farmers with valuable data on the amount of nutrient availability for the crops,” Arnon said. “Our solution enables the optimization of fertilizers application, thus preventing overfertilization, as well as economizing irrigation and reducing water-source pollution.”