A new technology with fine bubbles could be of importance for New Zealand.
Imagine growing larger tomatoes and lettuces without having to add enhancers or chemicals, but by simply adding bubbles into the water. This approach has worked for several crops overseas, so what can New Zealand gain from this emerging science?
The benefits of using fine bubbled-water already has many applications, such as in food and beverages, crop-growing, and health and safety, which overlap with many of New Zealand’s key exports. Increasing food yields with lower water consumption and environmental footprint are critical issues facing New Zealand, and fine-bubble technologies might be one of the ‘bubbling solutions’ for us in the future.
Preliminary results from Japan
Dr Toshihiro Fujita, Chairperson of Japan National Mirror Committee of ISO/TC 281 Fine bubble technology, and Vice Chairperson of Fine Bubble Industries Association from Japan, was recently in New Zealand.
He described some preliminary results from Japan that demonstrated crop-yield increase of 15% for vegetables by irrigating with fine-bubbled water as compared to normal water. Increasing crop-yields and productivity by 15% via injecting fine bubbles to normal water alone can potentially be worth hundreds of millions extra in value if not billions.
Water containing ultra-fine bubbles also has the ability to sanitise and it already has wide-scale use in toilet flushing, and cleaning of highways, bridges, and roads across Japan. Reducing the amount of normal water previously required to give the same effectiveness in cleaning offers a more sustainable outcome. Not only does this provide opportunities for the primary industries, but also for the high-value innovation sector.
New Zealand innovation
Dr Fujita was interested to learn of New Zealand innovation in characterising ultra-fine bubbles. These bubbles are smaller than the wavelength of light and invisible to the naked eye. Most analysis tools, like microscopes, have difficulty distinguishing these tiny particles.
Dr Fujita came across a high-resolution analysis technology from New Zealand’s nanotechnology company Izon Science Ltd. Izon manufactures and develops innovative Tunable Resistive Pulse Sensing (TPRS) devices. These devices, called qNano and qMicro, can measure tiny particles from 200 micrometres down to 50 nanometres, which is very important for the ISO process and for quantitative analysis and research.
A New Zealand specialist in analytical nanotechnology, Dr Samuel Yu, has worked with TRPS and fine bubbles with many international clients. He explains the contribution that New Zealand can make to this field.
'We have been quantifying the size and concentration of micro and nano-sized bubbles with many overseas researchers that use them as potential medical carriers or vehicles for the controlled delivery of drugs to diseased cells.'
Fine bubbles have attracted great interest as a drug delivery capsules as their sizes can penetrate through to biological barriers inside our bodies. Bubbles can be stimulated to release the package of drug at a targeted site.
Dr Yu says knowing the number of drug-contained bubbles and the sizes of each individual bubble is important information when developing these potential medicines or vaccines. From detailed TRPS measurements, ultra-fine bubbles range from 100 to 400 nanometres, similar to sizes of some vaccine particles.
NZ researchers show interest
Dr Fujita says it will be great to see if New Zealand can become a participating committee member in ISO/TC 281, as he had met many interested researchers on his recent visit.
'I had many insightful conversations here with New Zealand researchers, such as Dr Brent Gilpin (ESR) and Dr Alex Yip (Canterbury University). I hope to create more interest across many groups and sectors in New Zealand. This is only the beginning.'
New Zealand is in a unique position to contribute to this emerging field, benefit from fine bubble technology applications for many of New Zealand’s core exports, and to have cutting edge research and innovation that can help create international quantification and monitoring standards.
Image: Two vials of fine bubble-containing water on the left, and one vial of normal water without fine-bubble on the right. Ultra fine-bubbled containing water can diffract laser light whereas normal water will be transparent.