A University of Windsor PhD student has found old greenhouse tomato roots, which are often thrown out, are better than garlic, cannabis and leek roots in cheaply removing phosphate that can fuel algal blooms.
“There are literally tons of them,” chemistry and biochemistry PhD student David Ure said Monday of the abundance of roots from the massive greenhouse industry in Leamington and Kingsville.
“This is one of those waste materials that’s something people need to get rid of and there’s no current use for it, so this is one of those, ‘Wow, this is perfect.’ ”
Ure, who earned his undergraduate degree at Western University, said a field test in manure-contaminated water in the Bruce Peninsula last year showed the tomato roots could remove 71 per cent of the phosphate.
He wasn’t expecting much from the roots. Past research had used processed shrimp shells, but they were expensive, so he was looking for material to chemically modify as a filter to capture phosphate.
That’s how the greenhouse waste material came into play. Tomato plants that grow hydroponically in recirculated, fertilized water are periodically cleared out of greenhouses to start a fresh crop. Ure said he was using the tomato roots just as a control experiment.