Listen to the full episode 192. #KyleTalksAgtech: The Science and Benefits of Nanobubbles w. Warren Russell and follow along with the transcript below.
You're listening to crop talk, the podcast for agricultural leaps. The guests you hear on the show are helping to shape the future of how we grow. They're in the field, warehouse and in the greenhouse, getting their hands dirty, and perfecting how we grow. You'll hear about their successes, challenges and what they believe the future holds for our industry.
I'm Kyle Barnett. Let's talk crops.
Hi, folks. Welcome to another episode of crop talk.
Warren, thanks so much for joining me this week.
Hi Kyle, nice to be here. Thank you for having me.
Well, why don't we kick it right off. And you can tell the listeners a bit about how you ended up with Moleaer and how you ended up in horticulture overall?
I started the company about six years ago with another gentleman by the name of Bruce Scholten, who's currently our Chief Technology Officer. And we recognized sort of early on the value of having efficient gas transfer into various kinds of liquids for various processes to enhance either the efficiency of the resources being used or the productivity of a particular process.
And one of the earliest standout applications or markets that really caught our attention was horticulture, and specifically, the role of oxygen being able to promote plant health and, in particular root health and combat disease. And it just was one of those underserved markets where there weren't a lot of, or there weren’t a lot of advancements in methods to treat water in a way that supported both, you know, improving water quality, as well as improving the option available for the plants to use.
And that's kind of how we got started the journey of Moleaer, looking into horticulture and controlled environment agriculture as one of our core markets to go and develop.
Yeah so, nanobubble I mean, it's maybe alien to a listener, I think everyone knows what a bubble is.
And they know nano, very small, but can you define exactly what that is?
I think the more apt description of an antibody was, more something along the lines of a colloidal particle. And so, the classification “nano” really refers to the size of this particle, which is, in our case, and most commonly, with other nanobubbles existing in the environment is around 100 to 120 nanometers. And that's the size of the bubble that we've determined where essentially, this fiscal of gas reaches an equilibrium point to a steady-state.
And what's unique about the bubble itself is that it has an electrochemically charged surface. And that provides stability in a bulk solution. And it's that electrochemical charge, that gives us these colloidal properties. So when it's in a bulk solution, let's just say water or irrigation water, it behaves very much like a colloidal particle. And what that means is, is that it's going to follow Brownian motion in liquid, and then and that basically boils down to a particle that's going to follow a random movement.
But if you look at that cubic meter or cubic foot of water, and you were to sample you would see an equal distribution and content size and distribution of these nanobubbles, equally right throughout that volume of water or liquid.
And that's what makes it very unique is that it's a lot more similar to chemistry than it is to an actual conventional idea of a bubble.
Yeah. Could you think of maybe a simplistic backyard setup or something in a home and maybe they would have an airstone?
So, it sounds like a nanobubble, actually, it doesn't rise to the surface is something I also understand about it, it actually stays suspended in the water. So, it's, you know, you see a bubble and it, it, you know, starts with the airstone that it rises to the top and pops into service.
A nanobubble can actually say stay suspended in the water. Is that correct?
Yeah, that's absolutely correct.
And it's one of those sort of early discoveries and a lot of erroneous assumptions by anybody that's experienced trying to put oxygen or air into water and, and just this visual presence, so you're describing a very common thing that you would see with a smaller type of operations, growers are using air stones, and maybe it's a Venturi system and you're looking at the water and you're seeing these bubbles being produced.
And you, you sort of falsely think that, well, it's putting a lot of oxygen to water, when in actual fact, sometimes the dissolution of that gas from that bubble is very low. So, to give you a very important metric to understand is sort of the dissolution of gas follows something called Henry's law.
And that basically means that according to certain temperatures and pressures, you're going to be able to dissolve certain sorts of ratios and concentrations of different gasses.
So, if you look at air, air being you know, about 21%, oxygen, is really only a limiting amount of oxygen that you can put into solution under standard conditions. And so, when you look at the bubble that's rising from, let's just say a diffuser, is actually only transferring between one, best case scenario, 3% per foot of water as it rises.
So, you can imagine if you've got a little tank, maybe it's an NFT system, reservoir, or you've got maybe even a large deep water culture pond. And that water is only between one and maybe three feet of depth, that diffuses only transferring, you know, a very, very minimal amount of the gas that you're putting in.
So that's what one of those early points of recognition for us was looking at, well, you know, these systems are impeded by the availability of oxygen, are there other ways that we can introduce gas more, in this case, oxygen more efficiently into these systems, and then just the sheer advantages of nanobubbles.
And what's unique about it, is that through this nanobubble process, we're actually introducing two forms of gas into that solution, the bulk of that gas that we inject is immediately dissolved in the form of dissolved gas or dissolved oxygen. And then you have this residual amount, which is a nanobubble, as you described, it is stable and solution.
And while it does have a percentage of that gas, in that bubble, we're much more focused and interested in sort of the electrochemical charge of that surface of the bubble. And its ability to either oxidize or remove biofilm and other physical effects that it can have on improving water quality.
Yeah, yeah. And I think back. So, to the listeners, Warren, and I actually used to work together, and I was selling Moleaer in my past for a bit of time, and it's, it's funny, you bring up earlier that, you know, people expect that the bubbles are going to be breaking the surface.
And I remember and you might remember, let's say this, this specific site installation, where the person might have been having some issues, and they were, well, we fixed it because now we see how the bubbles rising to the surface. And they didn't really understand the concept of a nanobubble.
So, it's, it's funny the perception that you know, you need to see the bubble and see it rise to the top and see if pop and break the water surface means that there's, you know, air saturation within your water.
The other thing that I wanted to mention, and maybe you could talk a bit more about this is I know that Horde Americans had done an experiment where they were able to grow plants in Texas in the heat of summer in a very, very, I won't even say warm I'll say hot water.
So is a nanobubble. Are you able to grow in warmer water climates?
I know that's usually a killer for plants to be in very warm water.
But when there's high oxygen in nanobubbles in the water, are you able to grow in warm to hot water as well?
Yeah, it's a great question.
And something we're asked a lot about and in true credit to Chris Higgins from Hort Americas is that was one of the early questions that he posed to us was coming back to this concept of Henry's Law. And basically, as that water gets warmer, the gas holding potential, in this case, oxygen, the capacity of that water is significantly lower than if the water was colder. And so, you have compounding issues.
One is you have a warm water environment, and you have a low oxygen level. And so those conditions are very conducive to pathogenic growth, specifically potassium. And that's what challenges the market. So as a grower, you kind of have two options, right? You can cool that water, which comes at a certain expense because of the energy required to do that. And the other way is what I wanted to evaluate early on is, could elevating the oxygen content and that water, specifically dissolved oxygen constantly water, enough to alleviate some of that pressure from diseases and really support the plant, which we would consider in a more stressful environment.
And that project that you're referring to in Texas, looked to answer exactly that. And I think what we demonstrated was yes, the potential is absolutely there. I think in the extreme example, we saw yield improvements up to 40 to 50%, for some varieties of leafy green varieties.
And while that may be the exception, and probably not the rule, in most cases, I think we came away with that saying, like, yes, one, even in very difficult environments, we can efficiently and that's the key word here is there are other ways of putting oxygen to water.
The question is, can you do it economically and efficiently, so that it's not a cost burden to the farmer, that you are addressing these sorts of growing impediments?
And I think we've come around, we've we come away from that project, we've done it at a number of other locations as well, either the growers looking to offset their cooling altogether, or they're trying to sort of reduce the amount of cooling that they have to do.
So, all it really comes down to sort of providing the best growing environment, but also reducing operating costs.
And I always related the experimental side is it's kind of like a soda on a warm day, right?
If you have a warm soda, it almost seems flat. And then if you have an ice-cold soda, it's much more carbonated.
So, it's, it's the temperature, it's that capacity to hold. I mean, probably a very simplistic example. But when I used to use.
Yeah, that's one of the best examples.
And I think you would send it even in your listeners would recognize more to that point about, like when that soda is warm, and you open it and the bubbles are very large, right? Whether it's cold, and the bubbles are very small.
And just the longevity of that of the carbonation was warm, and it goes flat much faster, whether it's cold, it stays carbonated for longer. And the same principle applies to oxygen in water.
So yeah, that was the origin, where we looked at could this, you know, fulfill a particular niche in a controlled environment, agriculture. And we've subsequently sort of branched out and really just taken it and looked at the different values that we could create these nanobubbles could provide to either water treatment, plant health, plant growth, root health, sort of combating certain kinds of diseases, and we've been able to sort of check those boxes along the way. And I think the key takeaway that I think we come away with, and I hope, you know, that, that is a clear narrative from the company is that this is an enhancing technology. And you know, to the best degree, we don't try and sell it as a magic bullet.
But when you look at oxygen nanobubbles and the different values that they add, rather than, you know, something that's just solely an oxidizer, and you're trying to manage your sort of disease pressures with, you know, a chemical or something like ozone, this is something that, you know, has some of these sort of contributing effects towards improving water quality, improving plant health, but it's a lot more complimentary to all whether it's an IPM strategy and use of beneficial bacteria, you know, it complements that and in addition to it complements your chemical treatment programs as well in a way that really provides a just a more integrative and successful program for the grower.
Yeah, and it's really just adding another tool to the toolbox to improve the overall environment for your plants. And I know we've talked a lot about a few of these so far, we really want to hear about the value adds of, you know, nanobubbles and more of this oxygen saturation.
Can you speak more about some of the different value adds, whether that be fighting Pythium or in that line of thinking, what do you really get out of a nanobubble black and white, from your perspective?
Yeah, so let me let me start with just giving you the high-level overview of what the technology does and the output that it creates in that case.
Specifically, the Nanobubble itself in conjunction with oxygen, so, we basically take water and it's and we bring water into our core technology, where we're introducing sort of, in this case, oxygen, we're converting that oxygen into a Nanobubble. And we're sharing that gas in that in that flowing water. And that is dissolving that oxygen into the water. And you have this by-product of Nanobubble. And so, we come away with two key sorts of outputs from that.
One is we're elevating the dissolved oxygen and net water. In conjunction with the increasing dissolved oxygen, we're increasing the oxidation-reduction potential that water, and I'll talk about the importance of that in a second.
The other part is we've got this nanobubble that has an electrochemically charged surface and high internal pressure. And the value of having this stable fluid particle and solutions is that can actually provide a lot of added treatment potential in terms of disrupting biofilm that's currently sort of hovering in your irrigation system could and
And so, to be able to treat that in a way that removes and scours the biofilm from these surfaces, and when you're able to bring that into bulk solution, so instead of an attached biofilm, but rather a floating by bacteria moving through and through, you can much more easily inactivate that with whatever your treatment program is.
So, we have growers that use everything from peroxide to maybe it's UV chlorination, chlorine dioxide, you name it, we've kind of seen it all. And really, the more efficiently that you can maintain the cleanliness of a system, the better it is that you're able to really maintain your or at least inhibit your sort of pathogen-forming bacteria and diseases. So, in the context to the disease pressures, again, there's a lot of erroneous information out there regarding nanobubbles and oxidation and their ability to inactivate and kill bacteria.
I think that's a common, misnomer. In many cases, what we're doing is we're creating an environment that's more conducive to beneficial aerobic bacterial growth. And in doing so you're consequently suppressing pathogenic, and it's really called competitive exclusion. So, promoting the good stuff, suppressing the bad stuff. And that can be a very, very effective IPM strategy against disease pressures.
And so, when you see sort of a game, like what we see quite commonly, and in certain kinds of grows, they have these warm, maybe it's an earliest sort of summer month, the water comes in, I mean, the water gets very warm, all of a sudden, they had, they weren’t prepared to have a PGM outbreak.
And once Pythium takes hold, it becomes very difficult to manage. And what we're trying to do with our systems is, really more consistently to create an optimal environment that has water conditions that are not conducive for growth. So, the likelihood of it happening is much less.
And the other, the other important sort of recent learning that we are finding a lot of added value is the fact that the Nanobubbles themselves, because of their charge, are actually able to reduce surface tension. And so, by reducing surface tension, even in substrate, particularly guys growing and sort of larger pots, lowering the surface tension, of that irrigation water is a really important ability to create a uniform distribution or what we'd call water potential. Which is really the movement of that water through, it can be soil or substrate as it drains through and its lateral movement through that root zone.
So yeah, one of the more important discoveries that we've come to understand about nanobubbles is the impact and role and being able to change and also water surface tension. And why that's important because surface tension of the water affects the way that water can move through capillaries, either in substrate or soil.
And so being able to reduce the surface tension of your irrigation water can have some pretty significant impact on sort of the mobility and what we would define as the water potential, which describes the way water will drain through these capillaries and move laterally through that root zone. And that's really important in helping to improve our net mobility of the nutrients and also to deliver that water uniformly through that root zone and substrate.
Within take, you're getting a lot of these learnings from our applications in outdoor crops and specialty crops related to berries and even berries and substrate. And tracking not only moisture content through the soil profile but also the movement of salts through that soil profile.
And that potentiation to help increase the mobility of, salts, particularly sodium can have pretty significant root health. So, when you have growers that are using cocoa and trying to manage these sort of salt concentrations in that cocoa, this can have a pretty important effect and being able to maintain all the salinity of that root zone at a lower level by increasing the mobility of those salts through and out of the root zone.
So, does this potentially mean that you can improve fertilizer uptake to the point where a grower can reduce the quantity of fertilizer they're using?
Is that a potential with the Nanobubble?
Yes, that's one potential, and with a lot of these situations, it's granted, you take into account to do work in a lot of different industries. And we are kind of always faced with a customer always faced with two prospects, either you can improve the efficiency of a particular process. Or you can promote productivity in a way. And this could be a yield improvement, or it could be in resource recovery in the context of controlled environment agriculture.
We've now done a couple of studies in Europe one, there's no recovery control, another one with fogging, and looking at sort of the role of nanobubbles and plant health and productivity could be yield could be in some cases, it's cannabis, it could be cannabinoid content, but also looking at the role of nutrient uptake. And again, we have some customers whose focus is on productivity. And they may utilize nanobubbles to reduce the fertilizer input in a way that enhances the efficiency of the process.
And we have other guys that take that information and really want to continue to push the plant as much as they can to the full genetic potential because they want to get the maximum yield out of the only caution that we say in those situations is that you know, people can take it too far and be too aggressive.
But certainly, the research and the data that we've collected to date are very supportive of improved nutrient uptake. And growers have taken that information and dealt with it in a variety of different ways, as I've just described, but the potential is definitely there for improving efficient uptake. I mean, nutrient efficiency uptake.
So, to more or less sum up the values of nanobubbles, I would say that really what you're trying to do here with the Nanobubble is create an environment in which the bad things don't want to be there, they can't thrive, they can't survive, they can't do much of anything.
And it also can improve the conditions that you're working in by being more flexible, with higher parameters, like things like temperature.
And lastly, you can potentially improve your resource usage. So, less fertilizer with the same or higher yields is more or less the ultimate goal.
Yeah, I think that's a perfect summary. And the only thing I would elaborate on is really, which is probably one of our, one of the leading reasons that growers adopt this technology is that in many cases, it does add all of those values. And most importantly, it's about risk mitigation.
So to the extent that people make mistakes within nutrients, people, maybe you have served these sort of peak summers, particularly in Europe, you have these extreme temperatures coming through now, with the change in climates. And in these, these are very serious risks to growth, particularly if you're looking at long crops like tomatoes, and making those mistakes early on or having these extreme sorts of environmental stresses come through at different points can have a significant impact on the total productivity of a crop.
And again, we just see a lot of gravity gravitation towards this is so complementary to what I do with so minimal downside risk, but all these upside benefits in terms of really mitigating some of these other stresses that can have a much more costly impact on my crop.
That those are one of the leading reasons well that is one of the leading reasons why this is being adopted at the rate of it that it is being done.
Yeah. And I think the industry always wants to be proactive instead of reactive.
So, if this is something that enables that, that you can put in the proper solution before you're just trying to fix something, once you're trying to fix something, whether it's a pest or disease outbreak, it's so much harder than if you were precautionary instead. So absolutely.
My final question for you, Warren, you're in a number of industries.
So, you have a wide view, but just focusing on CEA, specifically, where do you see this industry headed in the next couple of years? What's your future prediction?
A year from now, five years from now? 10 years from now? What do you think the landscape may look like in the future?
We're very bullish on CEA for a simple reason. I mean, at the time of this recording, right, we've got so much going on in the global supply chain.
I think, you know, earlier on when we started down this road, there was a lot of momentum around CEA because of you know, maybe it was sustainability initiatives. But I think a lot of it had to do with food security, you have a lot of foodborne diseases or not disease, but illnesses, from contamination and people, lots of people get sick, if you look at just the statistics in the US alone, foodborne illness is a major, a major issue.
And so, the ability to have traceability has more control over your inputs. And I think that's sort of a demand that customers are starting to expect from their suppliers expect from a sort of supermarkets to have their traceability to know what's going into their products.
And then just now I mean, just look at like what's going on globally with COVID, the supply chain, the wars that are going on, being able to rely on foreign exports, or inputs to bring food in from other areas, is not always bankable as it used to be. So, bringing that food production closer to home, closer to where it's consumed, reducing your carbon footprint.
And again, being able to sort of look at if you just look at California right now, with the water scarcity, it's not alone, there are many cases in the world that are facing similar dire circumstances, the importance of improving the sustainability of our food production is now paramount. And for those who are for those reasons, we have to expect that, you know, it's going to be a strong growing market for the US, and years to come.
Yeah, yeah. And I, you mentioned food security, and I look at guess, the United States, and I see all the money going into the Middle East, for instance, are these, you know, Dubai Type regions, where they import everything.
Basically, everything is imported, and they spend a great deal of money on it.
And then when you're reliant on external factors like that, from a governance standpoint, in there's a, there's a lot of value to be had with looking at internalizing this. And as you also said, the controllability to mitigate things like food safety issues, and just have more control. So that if there's, you know, a really bad growth season that the country isn’t in a really unfortunate position.
So yeah, I completely agree. Completely agree. Warren, thanks so much for joining me this week.
If someone wanted to learn more about Moleaer maybe see if one of these generators is a good fit for their grow operation or just pick your brain a bit.
How would they best go about reaching out?
Through our websites is by far the easiest way to do it.
If you want to reach out at email@example.com.
In general, you'll be routed to one of our business development managers that's concerning provide expertise to review the project and provide the right recommendation.
Absolutely. Happy to take any questions. Anybody that has any sort of specific needs.
More than likely we've dealt with it before.
So, happy to review that with anybody and provide the guidance that we think is best under the circumstances.
Beautiful. Well, thanks once again, Warren for being a guest on crop talk this week.
Thanks, Kyle, My pleasure. And thank you for having me.
Thanks for listening, folks.
Until next time, keep growing strong.