FABSoil plant at Eden Project

FABSOIL (Fabricated Soils) will develop sustainable soils manufactured from recycled and waste materials that are fertile and resilient.

The FABSOIL project has the aim of manufacturing and optimising a soil made from suitable waste materials that can perform at least as well as natural topsoil, while acting as a sustainable substrate in any environment to which it is deployed. These could include production of specialist crops, urban development or even increasing soil coverage in private residences. The goal is to make the material from suitable recycled and waste materials, ensuring its sustainability and fertility, maintaining a reservoir of slow-release nutrients to fuel plant growth to minimise fertiliser applications (Schofield et al., 2018).

The soils will provide a sustainable resource that can be applied globally – especially in the face of widespread soil loss and degradation in many parts of the world. They can be adapted depending on geographic needs and will provide material for major landscaping and land restoration projects, which currently demand large quantities of scarce natural topsoil.

As well as designing a sustainable resource, the FABSOIL project could initiate new commercial possibilities for the manufacture and analysis of fabricated soils in Cornwall and further afield, with businesses supplying the raw materials, processors, distributors and end-users all involved.

The state of soils

Soil normally takes thousands of years to form and supports diverse terrestrial ecosystems while providing food for the human population. This precious resource is now under pressure through intensive farming, climate change, and an increase in extreme weather events.

Soil engineered from waste materials may provide additional resource to guarantee food security and reduce the current pressure on topsoils.

Shoots growing in soil
Charcoal image

Biochar for better soils

Biochar is generally considered to comprise biomass-derived char, a solid carbon-rich residue produced from the thermal decomposition (pyrolysis) of plant-derived biomass in the partial or total absence of oxygen (Sohi et al., 2010). It is intended specifically for application to soil. Char has been used to improve soil for centuries, with the origins of its use being traced back to South America over 9000 years ago. It is also regarded as a potentially significant resource in efforts to reduce terrestrial greenhouse gas emissions.

On the FABSOIL project, we are experimenting with the application of biochar to our engineered soils.

Meet the FABSOIL team

Professor Mark Fitzsimons

(Professor of Environmental Chemistry)

Professor Mark Fitzsimons (Chem FRSC MI Soil Sci) is a biogeochemist with extensive experience in the study of nitrogen and its environmental cycling. He has studied the nitrogen pool in both marine and terrestrial environments and brings this expertise and experience to the FABSOIL project, on which he is Principal Investigator.

Find out more about Professor Mark Fitzsimons' work

Dr Mark Fitzsimons - FABSOIL project

Dr Sabine Lengger

(Lecturer in Chemistry)

Dr Sabine Lengger is an organic biogeochemist: She traces naturally present compounds, and pollutants, to determine the health of different environments. She uses chemicals of microorganisms, plants, and animals to find out about their position in the food chain, and how much greenhouse gas they produce. She is also interested in the use of advanced data processing and statistical methods to investigate patterns of naturally produced and anthropogenic compounds in the environment.

FABSOIL team - Sabine Lengger

Dr Giuliano Laudone

(Lecturer in Physical Chemistry)

Dr Giuliano Laudone is a lecturer in Physical Chemistry in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Plymouth. His research focus is on the experimental characterisation and modelling of the void structure and fluid flow in porous materials.

Find out more about Dr Giuliano Laudone's work here

FABSOIL team - Giuliano Laudone
Kate Schofield - FABSOIL project research fellow

Dr Kate Schofield 

(Research Fellow, FABSOIL project)

Dr Kate Schofield is a biogeochemist with experience in the application of analytical techniques for the examination of biogeochemical processes within natural and anthropogenically-influenced environments. Kate’s research has spanned both academia and industry-based roles, and encompassed a broad group of topics including the assessment of environmental fate and toxicology for industrial and consumer chemicals (such as PFAS and UV-filters), the study of nutrient dynamics and concentrations in various environmental matrices (manufactured and natural soils, river and estuarine waters), and the impact of environmental conditions on microbial growth rate.

Plants growing in FABSOIL

Artificial soils - a bite-size paper

Can artificially made soils be used as a sustainable solution for soil erosion?

In this year-long experiment, researchers measured the amount of nutrients lost due to the movement of water through soil.

Click here to read our bite-size paper on this research
Fabricated soil. Image credit: Plymouth Electron Microscopy Centre
FABSOIL - samples

European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)

The University of Plymouth is proud to be supported by the European Regional Development Fund. As one stream of funding under the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme 2014–2020, the ERDF focuses on smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
The main priorities involve contributions to research and innovation, supporting and promoting small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), and the creation of a low carbon economy.
European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) logo
FABSOIL - mixing soils
FABSOIL containers
Dr Jennifer Rhymes, FABSOIL
FABSOIL - fabricated soil
FABSOIL - soil testing