Organic Maintenance of Harvard Landscape with Sustainable Biofertilizer

Project: Organic Maintenance of Harvard Landscape with Sustainable Biofertilizer

Team: Dilek Dogutan Kiper, Quentin Gilly, Paul Smith

Scools/Units Represented: Nocera, OFS, FMO 


  • What are we trying to accomplish?

Every year academic institutions nationwide attempt to revitalize their campus green spaces by reseeding grasses, supplying fertilizer, applying pesticides/herbicides, etc. In addition to high costs, these practices can have a negative effect on the surrounding environment. Nitrogen and phosphorus-containing nutrients found in traditional fertilizers can easily become runoff. In the case of Harvard’s landscape this will accumulate in the Charles River and Boston Harbor which could be toxic to the local marine environments. Sustainable university campuses should aim to preserve land fertility without sacrificing the vitality of the surrounding environment. In this application, we propose an innovative solution for Harvard’s landscape runoff with a new sustainable biofertilizer discovered in the Nocera Group in 2018.  In addition, it has been reported that synthetic N-fertilizers emits 245 million tons CO2/year. The biofertilizer developed in the Nocera Lab, however, remove CO2 from air. The research is done in close collaboration with Harvard Office for Sustainability (OFS), and Facilities, Maintenance Operations (FMO).

•  Why and for whom is this important?

The super measure or “why” statement of our project is to make Harvard’s landscape healthier while reducing the runoff from our current organic and/or N-fertilizers. The Nocera biofertilizer will also remove CO2 from air. In this project, with the new technologies we will have the opportunity to connect the discoveries from Harvard research laboratory (the Nocera Lab) to Harvard’s campus, allowing for real-time technology transfer. This work is important to those of us who care about the Charles River and Boston Harbor marine environment. It is also important for us to enrich the experiences of Harvard students by connecting them to a Living Lab opportunity. Students such as Daniel Loh who work in the research lab will get the chance to see how their efforts translate into creating a sustainable, healthy campus. This will expand on the previous work and collaboration between the groups, Dilek Dogutan Kiper – CCB, Quentin Gilly – OFS, Paul Smith – FMO. As a result, we are building on the Harvard project that brings research labs, administrators, and facilities and services teams together to provide greener, healthier, and more sustainable campus to Harvard community.

• Why should we do this? What is the benefit?

There are three primary benefits to funding this project: 1) Reducing runoff. Traditional organic fertilizers have nitrogen and phosphorus containing nutrients for the health of the plants that unfortunately cause runoff. The new biofertilizer from the Nocera Group utilizes a bioengineered bacteria, X. autotrophicus, that deliver these nutrients at the rate of uptake by the vegetation. This means that there is no excess nutrient supplement left in the soil available to become runoff. A successful pilot will provide the information needed to scale up the application of the new biofertilizer across the campus. 2) Reducing CO2 from the air.  The Nocera Lab research results show that using the new biofertilizer methods across the US we could remove 933 million tons of CO2/year by sequestering the carbon in the soil. 3) The project gives us the opportunity to create new connections and collaborations across the Harvard campus. It is a cross-school, cross-campus project that includes CCB, OFS, and FMO. Thus, the proposed project encourages administrative innovation and collaboration in Harvard community by supporting faculty, students, administrators, and facilities and services.