Manhattan, Kan. — The National Science Foundation has announced that Vaishali Sharda, assistant professor in the Carl and Melinda Helwig Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at Kansas State University, will receive a nearly $6 million grant to develop spray-on bioplastics that protect soil and control weeds in an environmentally friendly way.
Sharda will direct the four-year collaborative project, “RII Track-2 FEC: BioWRAP (Bioplastics With Regenerative Agricultural Properties): Spray-on bioplastics with growth synchronous decomposition and water, nutrient and agrochemical management for enhanced field crop production,” alongside three co-principal investigators from K-State and two teams of researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the South Dakota School of Mines. Joining her from K-State are Ajay Sharda, associate professor of biological and agricultural engineering; Pascal Hitzler, professor of computer science; and Katherine Nelson, assistant professor of geography and geospatial sciences.
The grant is funded through NSF’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, or EPSCoR, RII Track-2, which is designed to build collaborative teams with complementary expertise and resources.
The project aims to reduce the use of plastics, herbicides and associated environmental impacts in agricultural production by creating an all-in-one bioplastic system that can better manage weeds, nutrients, soils and water resources.
“Creating a protective layer over soil when growing field crops could help farmers better manage many issues at once,” Sharda said. “Covering soil with sheet plastic prevents weed growth, erosion and moisture loss, but using large amounts plastic creates waste, is not eco-friendly, and is too costly for field crops.
“New, locally sourced types of bioplastics that fully break down into safe by-products can be made. These new materials could provide farmers with a green way to control weeds, fertilize crops, protect soil and water resources, and work with nature to better manage their fields.”