Technological watch

Benefits of Implementing Carbon-Based Nanomaterials in Agriculture

A 2018 FAO report found that primary crop production totaled 9.2 billion tons worldwide, up by 50% from 2000. Agricultural output, however, is heavily reliant on agrochemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides, which is unsustainable.

Image Credit: Fotokostic/

Overuse of fertilizers and pesticides raises agricultural product manufacturing costs while also degrading soil and polluting the environment. Furthermore, abiotic and biotic stressors are present throughout plant growth.

As a result, discovering how to help plants cope with stress from external stimulants is crucial for efficient and sustainable agriculture. It can also help to reduce the heavy reliance on pesticide products.

New strategies are essential in solving these concerns to make agricultural production more effective, durable, and sustainable.

Nanomaterials, which have at least one dimension of less than 100 nm, have been demonstrated to be promising in agriculture, particularly in enhancing plant nutrition, minimizing pests and diseases, boosting stress tolerance, and assessing plant physiological conditions.

A new review published in the journal plants, MDPI explores the sustainable agricultural applications of carbon-based nanomaterials (CNMs), particularly in nanosensors, delivery tools and light converters as shown in Figure 1

Figure 1. The role of CNMs in nanosensors, agrochemical delivery, and light converters in agriculture. Image Credit: Zhu, et al., 2022

Carbon dots (CDs), carbon nanotubes (CNTs), carbon fullerenes (C60), graphene (GRA), graphene oxide (GO), nanohorns (CNHs), and carbon nanofibers (CNFs)  are all members of the CNM family.

DiscussionRemote sensing technology was created to monitor and regulate plant stress levels to alleviate the stress that leads to a decline in crop production and quality to facilitate sustainable agriculture.

Nanosensors could be a suitable choice for long-term and real-time monitoring of chemical-signaling molecules in plants, and can be used to track crop maturity and health, as well as to detect fertilizers, pesticides, and moisture in the soil, allowing farmers to make more informed decisions.

CNTs are frequently utilized in plants under abiotic and biotic stress to detect signaling chemicals such as H2O2, Ca2+, and NO, with the benefits of strong fluorescence stability, extended life, and fluorescence emission in the comparatively transparent near-infrared emission spectrum region of live tissues.

Nanosensors based on carbon nanotubes can track stress signaling molecules, allowing for better early identification of plant stress. However, most of these studies have been carried out in laboratories, and the proposed procedures have not been proven in real-world farming situations.

In pesticide detection, nanosensors based on CNMs with autofluorescence has been extensively utilized. The autofluorescence of CDs can be quenched to identify pesticides.

In conclusion, CNM-based nanosensors are promising options for assessing pesticide residues in agriculture. It is recommended that more effort be put into developing environmentally benign and biocompatible CNM-based nanosensors for detecting single or combined pesticide residues.

Agrochemicals like fertilizer and pesticides are necessary for agricultural development. However, most chemical fertilizers are used by plants less than 50% of the time, limiting the efficiency of agricultural production and polluting the environment.

Pesticides, in addition to fertilizers, are an important part of agrochemicals for agriculture. Traditional pesticides, on the other hand, have raised public concerns about their biosafety and environmental issues due to their ease of leaching, volatilization, and loss qualities.

Image Credit: David Moreno Hernandez/

Excessive pesticide use has also resulted in a slew of issues that need to be addressed right once, including plant disease resistance, soil biodiversity destruction, and negative consequences on human and environmental health.

As a result, more effective and environmentally acceptable pesticide methods are advocated.

Nano-pesticides, which include nano-insecticides, nano-herbicides, and nano-fungicides, can decrease pesticide volatilization and degradation, increase pesticide utilization efficiency, reduce pesticide consumption, and reduce environmental concerns.

CNMs are especially promising and can be employed as a pesticide carrier to improve pesticide utilization efficiency, in addition to adsorbing hazardous organic matter to limit its solubility and bioavailability.

CNMs are a good option for delivering agrochemicals into plants more efficiently than traditional fertilizers and pesticides. However, it is critical to comprehend how plants react to their surroundings.

Down-conversion nanomaterials (DCNMs) are commonly utilized to convert ultraviolet (UV) light into photosynthetic active radiation.

Under UV illumination, most CDs produced today can exhibit blue fluorescence. UV light was transformed to blue light by vinyl alcohol-encapsulated CDs, which improved lettuce photosynthetic efficiency.

CDs can also be used as a UV-visible light color converter on plastic films and LEDs in greenhouses to encourage plant growth.

In conclusion, using CNMs to convert UV and nIR radiation to visible light could be a promising way to boost plant photosynthesis. However, the use of CNMs as light conversion materials in the leaves and/or roots to increase plant growth requires further research. 

ConclusionThe applications of CNMs in agriculture production are discussed in this study, with the focus on their use as biosensors, carriers, and light converters. It is evident that the carbon nanoparticles might play a significant role in future agricultural output, including the improvement in food production and assistance with agricultural sustainability.

However, depending on parameters such as plant species, CNM type, and dosages, their effects may differ.

CNM research in agriculture is currently limited to the laboratory, so a considerable amount of field application data is required to allow their eventual large-scale deployment in agriculture.

Continue reading: Agricultural Applications of Nanofibers.

Journal Reference:Zhu, L., Chen, L., Gu, J., Ma, H., Wu, H. (2022) Carbon-Based Nanomaterials for Sustainable Agriculture: Their Application as Light Converters, Nanosensors, and Delivery Tools. Plants, 11(4), p. 511. Available Online:

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  • Written by

    Megan CraigMegan graduated from The University of Manchester with a B.Sc. in Genetics, and decided to pursue an M.Sc. in Science and Health Communication due to her passion for combining science with content creation. As part of her studies, Megan partnered with Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre as a Digital Marketing Assistant, producing content and updating sections of their website. In her spare time, she loves to travel, exploring each location's culture and history - including the local cuisine. Her other interests include embroidery, reading fiction, and practicing her Japanese language skills.


    This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 870292.