Nano-science coupled with nano-technology has emerged as possible cost-cutting measure to prodigal farming and environmental clean-up operations. It has ushered as a new interdisciplinary field by converging various science disciplines, and is highly relevant to agricultural and food systems. Environmental Protection Agency of USA defined nanotechnology as the understanding and control of matter at dimensions of roughly 1-100 nm, where unique physical properties make novel applications possible. By this definition all soil-clays, many chemicals derived from soil organic matter (SOM), several soil microorganisms fall into this category. Apart from native soil-materials, many new nanotech products are entering into soil system, some of which are used for agricultural production and some others for many other purposes.
Nano-science (also nanotechnology) has found applications in controlling release of nitrogen, characterization of soil minerals, studies of weathering of soil minerals and soil development, micro-morphology of soils, nature of soil rhizosphere, nutrient ion transport in soil-plant system, emission of dusts and aerosols from agricultural soil and their nature, zeoponics, and precision water farming. In its stride, nanotechnology converges soil mineralogy with imaging techniques, artificial intelligence, and encompass bio molecules and polymers with microscopic atoms and molecules, and macroscopic properties (thermodynamics) with microscopic properties (kinetics, wave theory, uncertainty principles, etc.), to name a few.
Some of the examples include clinoloptolite and other zeolite based substrates, and Fe-, Mn-, and Cu- substituted synthetic hydroxyapatites that have made it possible to grow crops in space stations and at Antarctica. This has eliminated costs of repeated launching of space crafts. A disturbing fact is that the fertilizer use efficiency is 20-50 percent for nitrogen, and 10-25 percent for phosphorus (<1% for rock phosphate in alkaline calcareous soils). With nano-fertilizers emerging as alternatives to conventional fertilizers, build ups of nutrients in soils and thereby eutrophication and drinking water contamination may be eliminated. In fact, nano-technology has opened up new opportunities to improve nutrient use efficiency and minimize costs of environmental protection. It has helped to divulge to recent findings that plant roots and microorganisms can directly lift nutrient ions from solid phase of minerals (that includes so-called susceptible (i.e., easily weatherable, as well as non-susceptible minerals).
Source: Mukhopadhyay et al. 2009. Nanoscience and Nano-Technology: Cracking Prodigal Farming.