Nanotechnologies for green herbicides

Title of the research project

NANOGRASS - Development of a NANO-herbicide formulation to minimize the impact of aGRochemicAls on Soil and Subsoil

Scientific area 

Environmental Engineering, Nanotechnologies


Chemical substances used in agriculture (agrochemicals) have a significant impact on the quality of soil, surface and subsurface water. NANOGRASS has developed an approach to reduce their uncontrolled dispersion in the environment by developing a new environmental friendly formulation based on biodegradable nanoparticles.

Project coordinator

Tiziana Tosco

Description of the research project 

The extensive use of herbicides is a common, and often unavoidable, practice in agriculture, but presents numerous drawbacks related to their toxicity and mobility in the environment, which may significantly vary among different products. Several widely used compounds are very effective in weed control, but are toxic to humans and animals, poorly degradable, and tend to accumulate in soil, subsoil and water. Others are less toxic and persistent, but their use is limited, since they are too volatile or soluble, and consequently a large quantity of product applied in the field is lost in the environment. NANOGRASS promoted the use of this second group, by developing a new environmental friendly nano-formulation to protect soluble herbicides, target them to weeds, and limit the uncontrolled spreading in the subsoil and groundwater. Nanoparticles composed by food-grade biodegradable materials were used as carriers for the soluble herbicide (the so-called active ingredient). Once applied in the field, the particles slowly release the herbicide where necessary, limiting losses into the subsoil with rain and irrigation. Thus, the amount of active ingredient required for an effective field treatment is significantly reduced. Moreover, the use of biodegradable nanoparticles avoids any potential risk associated to the presence of residual, synthetic nanomaterials in the subsoil, which is typical of other nanopesticides based on non-biodegradable carriers.

Impact on society 

The improvement of soil and water quality is a major societal challenge. NANOGRASS exploited the potential of green nanotechnologies to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, by promoting the use of less toxic and more easily degradable herbicides, compared to those mostly applied nowadays. 

The approach followed in NANOGRASS for herbicides is potentially applicable to other agrochemicals (insecticides, fertilizers, etc.), thus opening perspectives for a family of nano-formulated products with minimal environmental impact. 

Research results

After testing different formulations, one of them, based on natural, bio-compatible, low-cost materials was successfully developed. The synthesis method has low environmental impact and cost, particularly if compared to other nano-formulations proposed nowadays for application in agriculture. Laboratory tests were performed on release, volatilization and transport in soil and subsoil media, and the results were used to develop numerical models able to foresee environmental spreading and fate of full-scale applications. Greenhouse tests and environmental and economic impact assessments were also carried out. The project results show that the new formulation will contribute to reduce the dispersion of the herbicide in the environment, both in air and in the subsoil, with benefits for the environment and for workers, while maintaining the same level of efficacy on weeds control.

Among the main scientific results, we highlight:

  • 1 recorded patent together with Università di Torino;
  • 4 scientific publications on international magazines and 3 project presentations at international conferences;
  • 3 new collaborations with Auckland University in New Zealand, VITO Research Center in Belgium and Mc Gill University in Canada.

Short CV of project coordinator 

Tiziana Tosco holds a PhD in Environmental Engineering and is currently an Associate Professor at Politecnico di Torino in the Department of Environment, Land and Infrastructure Engineering (DIATI). She has been working for fifteen years in the Groundwater Engineering group in several national and EU funded projects, mainly facing topics related to groundwater contamination and development of new remediation techniques based on the use of nanotechnologies. She is author of more than 40 papers in international journals, 70 conference proceedings, and she has supervised 5 PhD and more than 20 MSc thesis.

Working group @Polito 

Roberto Pisano, Associate Professor, Department of Applied Science and Technology (DISAT);

Barbara Onida, Associate Professor, DISAT;

Monica Granetto, Post-doc DIATI

Federico Mondino,  Post-doc DIATI

Carlo Bianco, Post-Doc, DIATI;

Fiora Artusio, PhD student, DISAT

Lucia Re, Research fellow, DIATI

Past members: Francesca Giotti, Luca Serpella.


Academic partner: Dipartimento di Scienze Agrarie, Forestali e Alimentari (DISAFA), Università degli Studi di Torino: Prof. Francesco Vidotto, Dr. Silvia Fogliatto

Non-academic partner: Intrapore GmbH, Essen (Germany): Dr. Julian Bosch, Dr. Elio Brunetti

  • Budget: 149.387 euro
  • Start date: 15/09/2017
  • End date: 14/09/2019