Evaluation of Nitrate and Potassium Ion-Selective Membranes for Soil Macronutrient Sensing

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Kim, Hak-Jin
Hummel, John
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Birrell, Stuart
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Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering

Since 1905, the Department of Agricultural Engineering, now the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering (ABE), has been a leader in providing engineering solutions to agricultural problems in the United States and the world. The department’s original mission was to mechanize agriculture. That mission has evolved to encompass a global view of the entire food production system–the wise management of natural resources in the production, processing, storage, handling, and use of food fiber and other biological products.

In 1905 Agricultural Engineering was recognized as a subdivision of the Department of Agronomy, and in 1907 it was recognized as a unique department. It was renamed the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering in 1990. The department merged with the Department of Industrial Education and Technology in 2004.

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  • Department of Agricultural Engineering (1907–1990)

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On-the-go, real-time soil nutrient analysis would be useful in site-specific management of soil fertility. The rapid response and low sample volume associated with ion-selective field-effect transistors (ISFETs) make them good soil fertility sensor candidates. Ion-selective microelectrode technology requires an ion-selective membrane that responds selectively to one analyte in the presence of other ions in a solution. This article describes: (1) the evaluation of nitrate and potassium ion-selective membranes, and (2) the investigation of the interaction between the ion-selective membranes and soil extractants to identify membranes and extracting solutions that are compatible for use with a real-time ISFET sensor to measure nitrate and potassium ions in soil. The responses of the nitrate membranes with tetradodecylammonium nitrate (TDDA) or methlytridodecylammonium chloride (MTDA) and potassium membranes with valinomycin were affected by both membrane type and soil extractant. A TDDA-based nitrate membrane would be capable of detecting low concentrations in soils to about 10-5 mole/L NO3 -. The valinomycin-based potassium membranes showed satisfactory selectivity performance in measuring potassium in the presence of interfering cations such as Na+, Mg2+, Ca2+, Al3+, and Li+ as well as provided a consistent sensitivity when DI water, Kelowna, or Bray P1 solutions were used as base solutions. The TDDA-based nitrate membrane and the valinomycin-based potassium membrane, used in conjunction with Kelowna extractant, would allow determination of nitrate and potassium levels, respectively, for site-specific control of fertilizer application.


This article is from Transactions of the ASABE 49 (2006): 597–606, doi:10.13031/2013.20476.