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Portuguese Technology on the podium of european innovation awards

13th October 2023

INESC TEC is the only Portuguese entity among the winners of the 2023 edition of the EARTO Innovation Awards. The Institute reached third place in the "Impact Expected" category - which acknowledges solutions with high potential for impact on society and technological transfer to the market - with MyNPK, a precision fertilisation sensing technology. "Precision fertilisation is a process that involves the use of advanced technologies and data analysis to apply the adequate amount of nutrients (at the right time) to a given crop, considering the specific needs of said crop", stated Rui Costa Martins, principal investigator of the project at INESC TEC.

According to the researcher, the project seeks to improve crop yields, reduce fertiliser waste, and minimise environmental impact. MyNPK emerged from this idea. "We developed an innovative smart photonics technology, capable of quantifying NPK, i.e., nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in liquid fertilisers, in situ and in real time; it uses UV-Vis spectroscopy and Artificial Intelligence", described Rui Costa Martins, adding that it is a system designed to methods like hydroponics and fertigation. This solution also focuses on soils and organic fertilisers, as well as on the measurement of nutritional absorption by the plants.

The technology, already being tested in hydroponics and protected by patents in several countries, differs from currently used solutions, by allowing NPK quantification at the cultivation sites, without the use of reagents; the current methods for quantification must be carried out in the laboratory, with complex compositional samples. "Our solution uses chemical network inference to determine NPK specification and optimise nutrient flow according to plants' physiology and uptake, maximising fertiliser productivity and use. The goal is to make food production efficient, resilient, and sustainable due to the reduced impact on the environment and water quality", concluded the researcher.

The awards ceremony took place in Brussels, on October 11. Created in 2009, the Innovation Awards aim to acknowledge members of EARTO – a European association of Science & Technology organisations, featuring INESC TEC as a member. It recognises innovative contributions with high social impact through two categories: "Impact Delivered" and "Impact Expected". The EARTO Association includes more than 350 members from more than 30 countries.