From Waste to Resource: Developing a Circular Synthetic Soil Substrate for Sustainable Hydroponic Agriculture

Grantham Scholar Sophia van Mourik is developing a sustainable solution for hydroponic agriculture growth media made from polyurethane foam.

On being a Grantham Scholar

“The best thing about being a Grantham Scholar is the regular sharing of ideas and collaboration with researchers outside of my specific project field. Something I value hugely because tackling the climate crisis is going to take individuals from every background. Climate change is a problem placed across everything we do and being a Grantham Scholar has made that clearer to me more than ever.”

The project

To address the pressing issue of climate change while meeting the increasing demand for food production, controlled environment agriculture (CEA) farming systems like hydroponics offer a promising solution. Hydroponics reduces water consumption and land use while promoting efficient and eco-friendly farming practices.

This interdisciplinary project aims to develop a sustainable solution for hydroponic agriculture growth media made from polyurethane foam by combining knowledge from plant biology, microbiology, metabolomics, and polymer chemistry. The project’s goal is to create a biocompatible, bio-derived, and biodegradable synthetic soil grow media that can be fully utilized by soil microorganisms and converted back into starting materials or processed further to provide fertilizer for the next generation of crops, achieving a circular life cycle.

To ensure food safety, the project will carefully evaluate the foam-to-plant-to-crop process and compare it to existing substrate media like rock wool and coco coir. Modern mass-spectrometry metabolomics methods will characterize the microbiome that develops and any degradation and leaching from the substrate into the crop.

This project is in collaboration with Dow Chemical Company and Institute for Sustainable Food.


Fulbright and Gilman Scholars visit the Grantham Centre. In the summer of 2022 we were delighted to work with Global Engagement to host 25 Gilman Scholars and 58 Fulbright Scholars for a climate change themed conference. Several Grantham Scholars helped host the visitors, including Sophia van Mourik.

Sophia helped out at the 2022 Global Woman’s Breakfast Sheffield. This event was run by International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry to promote women in Chemistry and other STEM subjects.

Sophia van Mourik on social media

You can find Sophia on Twitter.

And you can connect with her on LinkedIn.


A close up on Tony Ryan at work in his lab

Professor Tony Ryan OBE

Grantham Centre Co-Director