KAU develops fertilizer from human hair

By TheHindu on 26 Aug 2017 | read

Having a haircut is not only about looking smart, it could also spell good news for the plants in your garden. Scientists at Kerala Agricultural University have developed an environment-friendly method to convert human hair into liquid fertilizer.

Preliminary field tests of the plant tonic derived from discarded hair have shown encouraging results. P. Rajendran, Vice Chancellor, KAU, said the university would set up a pilot plant after more extensive tests.

The experiments carried out at the Department of Agricultural Microbiology, KAU, involved a thermochemical process for treatment of hair waste. The hair supplied by barber shops was rinsed, washed with chemicals and heated.

Most of the hair is dissolved at this temperature to form a dark solution with the smell of rotten eggs. The chemicals were then neutralised. “The resultant solution was found to contain a high percentage of nitrogen (9,000 ppm), with potassium and phosphorous in lesser quantities. It also contained low levels of calcium, magnesium and sulphur,” Dr. Rajendran said.

The liquid fertilizer made from hair was applied as foliar spray on bhindi in the Olericulture field on the Vellanikkara campus of the KAU.

D. Girija, who led the experiments said the plants sprayed with the solution were found to have more vigorous growth and early flowering than the plants treated with normal fertiliser package.

Waste management

“Besides providing an organic substitute for chemical fertilizers, this also represents a breakthrough in managing the waste generated by discarded human hair,” Dr. Rajendran said. The university had embarked on the research project following a request from barbers associations.

Like chemical fertilizers, human hair provides nitrogen and other nutrients for plants as it decomposes. But hair degrades very slowly, sometimes taking years to release its nutrients. Left to accumulate, it clogs drainage systems and waterbodies, posing a menace in urban areas.

Dr. Rajendran feels that the process could be tweaked to recover plant growth materials from other protein sources like animal fur, horns, hooves and feathers.

“With a high recovery rate and raw material supplied virtually free of cost, it could turn out to be a profitable business,” he feels.