This article originally appeared in the AgriHebdo magazine (in French). Click here to access the original.
Water is precious: Aqua4D has developed a system that not only saves water but uses its inherent characteristics to solve several challenges facing agriculture today.
The technology of the Swiss-based company Aqua4D is based on a multidisciplinary approach. At its core, it uses the effects of resonance fields on water: “These very low frequency resonance fields act on clusters of water molecules and will modify certain specific properties,” explains Eric Valette, Aqua4D CEO who received his PhD specializing in water treatment processes. The technology transforms the structure of the water, without modifying its chemical composition. Initially back in 2004, Eric Valette and Walter Thut, engineer and co-founder of the company, turned their attention to using the system in buildings. “By reducing the size of the clusters, the process improves the dissolution and distribution of mineral and organic elements in the water. As a result, there are no deposits in the pipes. Furthermore, existing residues are gradually eliminated.”
However, it became clear to them that this treatment is also in high demand the agricultural sector. The system prevents the deposition of bioflms in drinking water systems as well as the clogging of micro-irrigation. “In view of the innovative nature of the approach, the first years were devoted to pilot projects,” explains Walter Thut. Applied research in agriculture has increased exponentially over the years, with various academic collaborations with engineers and agricultural experts. These show that the AQUA4D method provides a sustainable and profitable solution to several problems faced by farmers.
Video: “Aqua4D & Agriculture 4.0”, from Switzerland’s Le Temps
“By intervening on water, the entire ecosystem is impacted. When you think about it, it makes sense. When you see it first-hand, it’s real,” says Urs Johner, a food producer in Chiètres. He uses the AQUA4D® technology at his greenhouses, over a surface area of 8 ha. This treatment increases the quality of water absorption as well as its infiltration. As well as minerals, fertilizers are also better dissolved. As for penetration into the soil, better water retention is observed. This not only saves water, but also improves the development of the plant root system. The treatment of an element, in this case water, has a positive effect on the soil, the plant and therefore the harvest. In addition, these new conditions help to control nematodes and salinization of the substrate.
The reasons for integrating the technology vary. In countries such as Switzerland, France or the Netherlands, concerns about crop health or the resolution of a clogging problem are at the forefront. Saving water is now just one more benefit. In Chile, California and South Africa, on the other hand, water saving is a decisive factor. Meanwhile, in Brazil and North Africa, soil salinity is an important motivation. In Switzerland, the farmers surveyed are adopting the technology to improve the quality and quantity of their crops. “The yellowing of the lettuce grown under the 8 ha of my greenhouses prompted me to try out AQUA4D. Since then, I have had only green lettuces. I save water and improve the soil,” explains Johner.
The integration of the technology does not require any adjustments in the management of the operation. “The unit, which can be powered by solar panels, is placed at the final stage of irrigation. The system is maintenance-free, and the farmer’s work does not change, only that irrigation management can be adapted,” explains Eric Valette. “The process provides a sustainable, profitable and universal response to a series of global agricultural problems.” By acting on the structure of water, a stable component, the treatment is able to support farmers all over the world. Since the first units were installed in Switzerland, treatment systems are already operational in more than 40 countries.
Next step: field crops
On a daily basis, the Aqua4D team is dedicated to research and development. Given the innovative nature of the approach, commercialization requires collaborations with agricultural research institutions in different countries. This need to illustrate the effectiveness of the approach regardless of the environment and climate allows them to uncover more leads and to respond to the main challenge: the creation of a sustainable and profitable agriculture. To illustrate the effects, the company uses a variety of the latest monitoring tools. “We are implementing Agriculture 4.0 by collaborating with various companies and startups around the world,” says Valette.
In addition, the Swiss company is currently working on adapting their system to the irrigation of arable crops. There are many challenges at the engineering level. This new step is supported by the European Commission (Horizon 2020) and the Swiss Climate Foundation, among others. “The implementation of our treatment in the field crop sector will make it possible to advance and propagate not only water and energy savings, but also soil, plant and crop improvement on a larger scale,” concludes Valette.