22 October 2021, Germany: The first people to try electricity to kill unwanted vegetation were the United States-based railroads in the 1890s. Scientists working for the railroads discovered that their new technology, high-voltage electricity, killed weeds dead.
Today, 130 years later, scientists are still working to perfect and commercialize electric weed-killing technology.
Hybrid electric desiccation is one of the most promising systems, and one that is already being used on a dozen European commercial farms. This system does not use herbicides or tillage.
Hybrid electric electrocution uses a highly conductive liquid that’s sprayed on the weed just before the zapper comes along. The liquid is designed to increase the power and spread of the electric jolt. A 5,000-volt jolt ruptures the weeds’ cell walls so water cannot move within the plant. Hybrid electric desiccation is a joint project with partners Crop.Zone in Germany and Nufarm of Australia. The electrophysical weeder project is known as Nucrop.
According to an email from Crop.Zone chief executive officer Dirk Vandenhirtz, pre-treating plants with the conductive liquid called Volt.fuel will efficiently control weeds and reduce energy use compared to conventional weeding technologies or other electric weeding technologies.
Volt.fuel is not a chemical herbicide.
“The Volt.fuel active ingredient must reach the site of action as effectively as possible so the electric current penetrates the contacted leaves with the least amount power loss. Volt.fuel bridges leaf hairs and irregularities on the leaves, softens wax layers and thus increases electrical conductivity,” he said.
Current up to 5,000 volts is generated by the tractor with a power take-off generator and purpose-built high-voltage units. Using special applicators, the current is passed through the above-ground plant, plus through the roots and soil.
This destroys the water supply to the plants, killing them. Thistle taproots are killed to a depth of six inches. Depth of destruction depends on type of applicator, soil moisture, plant species and the amount of energy applied.
Experiments have shown that electrophysical treatment has no significant impact on earthworms in the soil. Nucrop is conducting ongoing ecotoxicological trials in 2021.