In many cities, mining towns, and many rural areas too, industrialization has taken its toll on the environment leaving a legacy of harm in the form of toxic land and poisoned peoples.  Factories and industrial plants are capable of not only creating products that form the basis of our commercial world, but also many portions of the infrastructure that we rely on, but at a cost – a cost to the environment.  And while we’ve been hearing these messages for decades, it doesn’t seem to hit home unless you happen to live in one of these areas that’s been affected.  The problem is that many people don’t even know that there’s a problem underfoot.

Furthermore, along with the problem of deterioration and massive depopulation that sometimes occurs in cities, like what happened in places like East St. Louis, and Old North St. Louis over last 50 years or so, what has been left in the wake of these changes has been many empty lots and entire blocks as a result of taking down many dilapidated buildings over time.

Just recently, the City of St. Louis, the Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, Washington University, and others have created a jointly-developed program to come up with sustainable ways of improving the region.  The Sustainable Land Lab Competition that aims to address this and other issues by bringing together various teams in an effort to show innovative ways that demonstrate sustainability, food issues, beautification, energy use, landscaping, and more.

Here’s a brief description from their overview:

The Sustainable Land Lab will be a living laboratory of two-year demonstration projects which will showcase innovative ideas and integrated strategies for transforming one of the St. Louis region’s greatest challenges, vacant land, into an asset that advances sustainability. The Sustainable Land Lab will be initiated through a public competition launched November 2, 2012, as part of the Sustainable Cities Conference, hosted by Washington University in partnership with the City of St. Louis. Teams will compete for the opportunity to demonstrate their ideas through tangible projects at the scale of a single vacant lot.[/quote]


So how is this relevant to Electric Fertilizer?


As mentioned in my About page and other posts, I delved into the science of electroculture, eager to learn as much as I could, I came across a very interesting application of electricity and it’s use in creating systems for cleaning toxic waste from the land and waterways called electrokinetic remediation.   Within this field was a whole wealth of information that kept me satisfied for a long time, yet while I loved the idea of using electricity for cleaning the ground, I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of pumping large amounts of electricity into the ground to make things happen.  It didn’t feel right to me.

But then I had an idea – perhaps we can do the same thing using plants and electricity together!  Cleaning heavy metals like lead and cadmium is possible using plants via a form of cleanup called phytoremediation.  This is accomplished using a variety of plants called accumulators or hyperaccumulators – plants that can grow (or thrive) under normally toxic growth conditions.

What I liked about phytoremediation is that it’s a technology anyone can use to take matters into their own hands.  If you suspect that the soils in your yard or neighborhood are contaminated, all you need to do is to do some planting, take care of the plants, and at the end of the season, take the harvested plants to a state-approved hazardous-waste destruction facility.  The problem with this approach is that it’s slow.  You not only need to wait for the plants to grow to maturity, but you also have to grow plants for multiple seasons to really be effective.  If only there was something that could be done to speed things up…

And now there is!  By combining the natural cleaning power of plants along with the acceleration mechanisms of electroculture, the process has the potential of greatly improving not only the speed of remediation, but also the efficiency in terms of uptake and storage in terms of biomass.

So, the purpose of this article is to share our involvement with the Land Lab competition through our recent involvement with one of the teams.  Despite being late to join the party, Electric Fertilizer is now an official member of The Sunflower+ Project team!  This team aims to grow sunflowers over an entire lot to not only provide a great-looking view, but to simultaneously clean the land of lead, arsenic and other contaminants so in the future, these bare spaces could be re-purposed into parks, community gardens, etc that are safe and clean.

Project Update:  We have been working with the team leaders on a solution involving using 1/4 to 1/2 of the entire area as a test plot for our system.  A new posterboard has been created to reflect our involvement in the project which will hopefully help propel us into the winners’ circle.  According to the schedule, we’ll know if we won by April 11th, 2013, so please wish us luck!

Stay tuned, we’ll keep you posted on how things go and any further updates as we move along with our implementation.


If you have any questions about the project or you’re interested in running a similar study in your area, drop us a note – we’d love to hear from you.

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Update! We Won!  Check out the next blog post for details.