LAKE LINDEN, Mich. — A biotech company in the Upper Peninsula is offering a portable, handheld device to test for agricultural nutrient runoff in soil and water for just $270.
NECi Superior Enzymes developed the device in conjunction with Michigan Technological University and Joshua M. Pearce, who holds assistant professorships in both materials science and engineering and computer science and engineering at the university. Pearce is also a 3D printing expert, and the photometer is manufactured on a 3D printer.
The company also got off the ground with government research grants. The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the firm a Small Business Innovation Research grant in 2011 to develop the portable soil phosphate test kit. More recently, the National Science Foundation awarded Superior Enzymes and MTU a $225,000 grant in 2014 to develop the photometer using open-source technology.
The $270 device includes the portable photometer and a 10-pack of test reagents. The handheld photometer measures the amount of nitrate or phosphate in a sample by measuring the light that is passed through the sample, following a simple enzyme reaction.
“We developed an accurate, reliable test method that works in laboratory settings. Then we simplified the method so that anyone can do it. We believe users should have confidence that their results actually mean something,” said Ellen R. Campbell, CEO of NECi Superior Enzymes.
The product was developed in response to a serious concern over agricultural nutrients fouling water. Algal blooms in Lake Erie and the Gulf of Mexico are caused by excess nutrients in those waters.
Nitrates and phosphates are essential for plant and soil health. Fertilizers rich in these nutrients increase crop yield and ensure food security. The problem comes when excess nutrients run off agricultural fields into local watersheds. This wastes valuable crop nutrients, contributes to harmful algal blooms, and causes unmanageable levels of nitrate at drinking water processing plants.
Learn more about NECi’s biotechnology tools anyone can use at www.nitrate.com.