Bhavya’s war on biowaste

| Posted Jul 07,2023

Soil CRC PhD student Bhavya Mod is enrolled at the University of Newcastle and was recently announced as a finalist in the Early Career Researchers Competition run by Cooperative Research Australia. Read about Bhavya’s PhD research into soil carbon storage and find out what motivates him.

What is the aim of your PhD project?

My PhD project is called ‘Carbon storage in soil using agro industry biowaste’ and aims to address the soil problems faced by Australian sugarcane farmers, including depletion of soil carbon, low effectiveness of fertilisers and low levels of silicon in soil.

To target these problems, I’m developing a novel, hybrid material from sugarcane green waste. The first component will be a highly functional charcoal. Waste effluents like phosphoric acid will be used to modify the charcoal, making it porous and enabling its function as a rich source of carbon and a slow-release fertiliser.

The second component, silicon nanoparticles, will be a very effective supplement to improve silicon levels in soil and plants. These nanoparticles will also be synthesised from locally sourced sugarcane waste, making them cost-effective and practical.

Farmers will be able to customise their desired combinations of fertilisers and pesticides to be loaded on this hybrid material, according to their needs. Our material therefore aims not only to improve crop productivity, but do it in a manner which is cost-effective, sustainable, and circular!

What do you hope your research will achieve?

Besides improvement in soil fertility, I anticipate my work will provide farmers with a sustainable alternative to chemical fertilisers while also providing them with an excellent tool for waste management, and a potential circular model for the sugarcane agro-industrial system.

What is the inspiration for your research?

I strongly believe that an ideal sustainable system must be economically viable along with being environmentally sound. My research aims to create such a holistic harmony—it is something I am truly passionate about.

Soil is the fundamental platform for all human activities, but it can be an overlooked discipline within the larger environment and earth sciences. With the many challenges posed by climate change, research in soil science will be a game-changer for the future. 

What has been the highlight of your PhD work so far?

Through my PhD, I’ve been fortunate to work with multiple stakeholders and I’m grateful for the opportunity to make a direct positive impact on their lives.

Outside of that, finding out I was a finalist in Cooperative Research Australia’s 2023 Early Career Researchers Competition was definitely a highlight! I feel very privileged to have made the final cut alongside three other inspiring PhD students, which enabled me to present my research at the prestigious Collaborate Innovate conference.

Conferences like these also serve as a wonderful opportunity to engage and network with other researchers and stakeholders. I’m really thankful to the Soil CRC for encouraging and supporting PhD students to participate in different conferences and events.

Watch Bhavya’s competition submission:

Who are you working with during your PhD?

My PhD is based at the University of Newcastle and is supervised by Professor Ajayan Vinu and Dr Gurwinder Singh from the University, as well as Dr Lukas Van Zwieten of the NSW Department of Primary Industries and Professor Nanthi Bolan from The University of Western Australia.

My research aligns with Program 3 of the Soil CRC, which is focussed on new products for soil fertility and function. I’m fortunate to be connected to local Queensland grower groups like Herbert Cane Productivity Services Ltd and Burdekin Productivity Services, who will be assisting with surveys and logistics.

What comes after your PhD?

I’m optimistic that my PhD will lead to a fulfilling career in the agriculture or environment sector, whether in a research or managerial capacity.

I would love to continue working in the sustainability, waste management and circular economy space. This is where my interests lie and where I believe I can make a positive contribution.

Read Bhavya’s student profile