IIT Innovation Series: Boosting biofertilizer productivity

The optimized process developed by the team at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi provides an efficient and economical way for large scale manufacture of biofertilizers

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New Delhi: Agricultural production worldwide is faced with severe problems caused by climate change and ever-increasing population. The need of the hour therefore is to practice sustainable agriculture with agricultural amendments that are efficient and environment friendly. Modern bio-technologies such as biofertilizers consisting of microorganisms are a powerful tool to improve soil fertility for sustainable production, besides being excellent alternatives to contaminating and energy demanding chemical fertilizers.

The IIT Delhi group under the leadership of Dr Vikram Sahai and consisting of Prof V S Bisaria, and Dr Shilpi Sharma of the Biochemical Engineering and Biotechnology Department developed a LabView platform based process control software and a high productivity fed-batch process.

The group of researchers did the same by using bench scale bioreactors, for enhanced production of cell mass of the two pseudomonad strains R62 and R81. The developed process is an efficient way of mass production of the PGPR strains by the fed-batch culture using a pH-based feeding strategy.

The fed-batch culture method has been scaled- up in a 14 L fermenter. Compared to a batch culture method which is currently used by industry, the developed fed-batch culture method provides about 20-fold higher viable cell counts of the biofertilizers, to the order of 2.7 x 1010 cfu/ml (colony forming units/ml). In other words product output of one cycle of fed-batch process is equal to that from 20 batches of conventional process. The optimized process thus provides an efficient and economical way for large scale manufacture of biofertilizers.

The fed-batch fermentation process developed by IIT Delhi also provides a platform technology for large scale cultivation of other microbial biofertilizers with high cell counts for their application in agriculture.