Recyclable polymer foams as synthetic soils for cultivation of high­-value horticultural crops

An increasing amount of farming is done in controlled environments (greenhouses), as a method of increasing yields. These methods also allow farming to be done in areas that are not normally suitable for agriculture. However, these farming methods often suffer from soil borne diseases and pests which lead to the use of environmentally damaging chemical control. This has led to research into alternative, soilless growing mediums.

Polyurethane foams (PUF) have shown promise for use as synthetic soil, allowing plant roots to grow through the void space in the foam. There are, however, many aspects of these foams which need to be optimised before a viable product can be produced. This project will look at optimising the formulation of PUF, to closely mimic natural soil. This will include the use of bio-based raw materials, the addition of natural fillers to act as slow nutrient release agents as well as the addition of beneficial microbial life.

A final aspect of this project will be to close the loop and ensure that the PUF is recyclable in a manner whereby the foam breaks down into reusable materials.

Harry has written a blog about using mattresses to grow food at the Za’atari refugee camp – read here

And you can read all about the Grantham Centre’s work at Za’atari refugee camp here

Harry Wright



Professor Duncan Cameron

Director of Institute for Sustainable Food

Dr Gareth Phoenix

Department of Animal and Plant Sciences