ALACHUA – It was originally created by accident in the Sid Martin Biotech Incubator in Alachua, but it helps farmers save water and make their jobs easier.

EigenChem Technologies, a resident company of the incubator, has developed a fertilizer made from recycled rubber enriched with nitrogen. Unlike conventional fertilizer which needs to be applied two or three times a year, this fertilizer, called NTireForm, only needs to be applied once every year.

“Chemically speaking, it’s a very simple technology,” said Alexander Oliferenko, chief science officer for EigenChem.

It has two benefits over regular fertilizer, he said. First, it is more efficient. The nitrogen infused in it can be released slowly and evenly, meaning it doesn’t have to be applied to the soil repeatedly.

“You apply it once and save on labor,” Oliferenko said.

The rubber starts to swell in the rain releasing the nitrogen, becoming a soft, spongy material. It also acts as a water reservoir, soaking up the rainwater.

“You have backup generators for electricity, this is a backup supply for water,” he said. “It is a very useful agricultural product.”  

NTireForm can also have an application in the world of sports, he said. It can be used to help protect and maintain football fields and golf courses, for instance.

The fertilizer is created by a short, patent-pending chemical process. Tiny shreds of rubber are put into a reactor with 50 percent ammonia and 50 percent of another abundant compound derived from natural gas. It is infused with nitrogen, which makes up 80 percent of the final material in the form of crystals embedded in the rubber.

The federally funded Small Business Innovation Research program awarded EigenChem a $150,000 grant in May of this year for its work on NTireForm, which will last for six months. EigenChem is going to apply for phase two of the grant, which will award them $750,000 over two years.

The endgame of the project is to get the fertilizer in the hands of farmers.

“We’re not just an academic lab,” Oliferenko said. “Getting it on the market is the ultimate goal.”

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