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Nutrition elements enrichment in food by soil amendment with ancient minerals derived from coal before combustion and activated by bacteria

Utilization of coal derived minerals for soil amendment

Photo of KEYKE LIU
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Southern University of Science and Technology

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 3-10 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Shenzhen City, Guangdong Province

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

The People’s Republic of China

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Shandong province, the area of 150,000 km2 where the acid soil (<5.5) covers an area of around 12,640 km2

What country is your selected Place located in?

The People’s Republic of China

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Shandong province was selected for soil amendment tests by using our technology because it is the biggest agricultural province in China and also an important supplier of high quality agricultural products to all over the world. However, the soil in many areas of eastern and southern parts of Shandong province is now facing severe challenges. The soil became increasingly acidic, while the trace elements and minerals in the soil became deficient as a result of overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides over 3 decades. The acidification of soil has resulted in bad soil structure and decrease of crop quality. On the other hand, coal consumption of Shandong province ranked number one among the 31 provinces in China, accounting for about 10% of the total amount of China, and environmental pollutions induced by coal mining and burning are terrible in Shandong province. Coal purification technology is urgently needed to prevent those pollutions. Therefore, we have built a demo plant in Shandong province for coal purification before combustion, i.e. to separate the trace elements and minerals including the inorganic sulfur inside the coal before combustion. Enough coal derived minerals of micro-meter sizes supplied from the demo plant could be used as soil amendments with activation by bacteria.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Shandong province is the biggest agricultural province in China, and it is a vital place of supplying agricultural products for China and overseas. Meanwhile, Shandong province accounts for about 22% of agricultural products exports of China, which occupies the first position in China. The huge outputs of agricultural products are related not only to the developing of modern farming technologies, but also very tightly to the utilization of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. From year of 1980 to 2017, the output of food crops in Shandong province was increased from 23.84 to 53.74 million tons, while the total amount of chemical fertilizers used was increased from 1.35 to 4.40 million tons. It can be clearly found from the data that the crop yield is almost proportional to the amount of chemical fertilizer used, which suggests a fact that chemical fertilizers indeed helped people to get more food during past years. However, it can be also noted that the increase rate of crop yield per unit area of land drops with the dosage of chemical fertilizer per unit area of land. That is to say, the roles of chemical fertilizers on promoting crop yield may reach the limit at present in comparison with earlier century, which implies that the soil became degraded. Today, the average dosage of chemical fertilizers per acre of land in Shandong province is about 27.2 kg, which is 3.4 times to that of the world average. The overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides over 3 decades resulted in heavy soil acidification. A comparison of soil pH value in Shandong province between 1979 and 2011 reveals that the proportion of weak alkaline and neutral soil was decreased by 12.67% and 4.38%, respectively, while the proportion of weak acidic and acidic soil increased by 8.38% and 8.06%, respectively. It suggests that we should pay enough attention to the gradually emerging soil acidification phenomenon. Acidification of the soil would result in loss of middle and trace elements from the soil (e.g., Ca, Mg, Fe, B, Cu, Zn, Mn and Se), weak cation exchange capacity of the soil, and harm to plants, etc. At present, in many areas of eastern and middle-southern of Shandong province, there are remarkable crops reduction issues being relevant to soil acidification. Local farmers in these areas have to use alkaline fertilizers such as organic silicon calcium materials and bentonite materials containing trace elements of Fe, Zn, Mo, B and Se before cultivation.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The excessive utilization of chemical fertilizers for a few decades caused two major problems: 1) the minerals and trace elements in soil have been depleted due to acid leaching and excessive runoff (over-farming); and 2) the gradual compaction of soil due to bacteria in the soil being killed by acids over the years which restricts plant growth. Decreases of middle and trace elements in the soil would ultimately result in low content of minerals in the food. As shown in China Food Composition published in 1957, 1976, 1991, and 2018, respectively, the content of some minerals in many kinds of food decreased dramatically over the years. Meanwhile, deficiency of some minerals in the food can also lead to decreases of some beneficial metabolites in the food. For example, low content of Vitamin C in food has relevance with the deficiency of boron element. The human body does not only need carbohydrates from food but also minerals which involve in complicated and critical metabolic activities in the body. Many chronic or fatal diseases have been proved to be associated with lack of mineral elements in human body, such as obesity, asthma, bone malformation, heart disease and cancer. Natural food has always been the first choice for human beings to uptake minerals. However, the middle and trace elements in some food show such a substantial decrease within last 60 years, which raise alarms to people that how we manage the challenge of minerals decreasing as the middle and trace elements in the food keep decreasing in the future. At present, excepting for food, another attempt for people to supplement of minerals is intaking multimineral supplements. Moreover, the validity of minerals in the forms of supplements on preventing people suffering from chronic diseases are still ambiguous. In comparison, the mineral elements from natural food are available for most people, capable to be easily adsorbed by human body and hence effective to prevent chronic diseases. Therefore, some effective strategies are urgently needed to solve problems of soil acidification and to supplement middle and trace elements into the soil.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Land degradation, nutritional minerals loss in topsoil and environmental pollution from coal combustion are major global challenges, especially in China. By recently developed technology, the combustible and non-combustible substances can be fully separated from the coal before combustion. The non-combustible substances comprise of coal derived minerals (like kaolinite, pyrite, quartz, calcite, illite, sericite, etc.), with particle sizes of ranging from 1 μm to 300 μm. The coal derived minerals are weak alkaline and rich in K, Si, Ca, Fe, B and Se elements, which possess a great potential to be used as a soil remediator for adjusting the pH of acid soil and supplementing mineral and essential nutrients availability for plant growth. Moreover, the fine mineral particles added to soil could increase the fractions of silt and clay in the soil and improve the soil texture. Hence, the water holding capacity and cation exchange capacity of the soil could be remarkably improved. In our previous indoor studies, the growth of spanich could be enhanced by coal derived minerals. Meanwhile, the contents of Ca, Mg and Fe in spanich cultivated in the soil were observed to be higher than the ones in raw soil collected from Tengzhou city of Shandong province where soil acidification is now a problem for planting. In order to further confirm the feasibility of using coal derived minerals for amending the acid or minerals deficient soil in Shandong province, the minerals supplied from the demo plant was used as amendments for the acidic or minerals deficient soil near the plant. The research contents will include following parts: (1) The influences of coal derived minerals on the physical, chemical and biological properties of the soil. (2) The effects of coal derived minerals on improving the mass and quality of the crops (carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals). The pathways of the coal derived minerals affecting the quality of the crops will be fully elucidated by analyzing the interactions between uptakes of middle and trace elements and macro elements by the crops. (3) Based on the effects of coal derived minerals on the available nutrients in the soil, the formula of chemical fertilizers (N-P-K) for crop planting will be optimized in order to balance the consumption of chemical fertilizers, and the production and quality of the crops. (4) As a certain amount of mineral elements (Fe, B, and Se, etc.) are in non-available forms for plants, activation technologies for further enhancing the contents of mineral elements in the coal derived minerals will be exploited, including organic substances chelation and microbial activation methods. (5) Finally, considering the dosage of the coal derived minerals, fertilization consumption, and the production and quality of the crops for a unit soil, the feasibility conclusions on the coal derived minerals used for amendment of acidic or minerals deficient soils will be made.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The acidic or minerals deficient soil in Shandong province could be well remediated, with improved productivity and quality of the crops. The consumption of chemical fertilizers could be reduced due to the alternative soil remediation amendments produced from the ancient coal derived minerals. The solid waste caused by coal combustion could be remarkably reduced or even eliminated in the future, and more land spaces could be released for local people after the coal derived minerals are widely utilized.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

For environment, the acidic soil in Shandong province becomes healthier with good structure and abundant nutrition. The coal derived minerals are appropriately utilized, which minimizes solid waste production from coal combustion and releases more space for local people. The water and air pollution (smog) related to overuse of chemical fertilizer in acid area will be relieved. Moreover, the emission of carbon dioxide will be reduced as more carbon dioxide can be captured by more crops after soil amendment. Meanwhile, the CO2 adsorption capacity of the soil will be significantly increased by the improved permeability and moisture ability, the higher value of pH, and larger specific surface area of the soil. For diets, the yield of crops keeps at high level with relatively low chemical fertilizer consumption in acidic area. People can eat high quality food and chronic diseases induced by minerals deficiency will be effectively prevented. For economy, local farmers can earn more money as the chemical fertilizer consumption decreased and the production and quality of the crops increased. The local enterprises of coal mining will pay less money for solid waste treatment. Overall, utilization of coal derived minerals for acidic or mineral deficient soil amendment will make a possibility come true, i.e. the present farming state of high fertilizer consumption and relatively low quality of crops converted to a better state of lower fertilizer consumption, high crop production and good quality of crops.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Madam Yifei Li who is a trustee member of the Rokefeller Foundation forwarded the solicitation to me
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Attachments (7)

Comparison of Zn level in some food from 1957 to 2018 in China.jpg

Comparison of Zn level in some food from 1957 to 2018 in China

Comparison of Vitamin C level in some food from 1957 to 2018 in China.jpg

Comparison of Vitamin C level in some food from 1957 to 2018 in China

Comparison of Se level in some food from 1957 to 2018 in China.jpg

Comparison of Se level in some food from 1957 to 2018 in China

Comparison of Mn level in some food from 1957 to 2018 in China.jpg

Comparison of Mn level in some food from 1957 to 2018 in China

Comparison of Fe level in some food from 1957 to 2018 in China.jpg

Comparison of Fe level in some food from 1957 to 2018 in China

Comparison of Cu level in some food from 1957 to 2018 in China.jpg

Comparison of Cu level in some food from 1957 to 2018 in China

Comparison of Ca level in some food from 1957 to 2018 in China.jpg

Comparison of Ca level in some food from 1957 to 2018 in China


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