The luscious locks of hair left behind on the salon floor could one day grow the salad you eat after your haircut, thanks to scientists from NTU, who have created the growth medium used in urban farming – known as hydroponics substrates – using keratin extracted from human hair.
In hydroponics, crops are grown without soil, using a substrate that acts as both a support structure and a reservoir for water and nutrients. support structure and a reservoir for water and nutrients. The keratin-based substrates developed by the NTU research team have been tested with crops such as microgreens and leafy vegetables, including the Chinese cabbage bok choy and arugula leaves, also known as rocket.
The NTU researchers first extracted keratin from human hair gathered from hair salons. The keratin solution is mixed with cellulose fibres to strengthen it, which is then dried into a spongy substrate.
The substrate is sustainable, biodegradable, and eco-friendly as it is made from waste material and becomes a source of nutrients for the plants as it degrades. Its yield is also comparable to current materials available in the market.
The research team is in talks with industry partners, including local urban farms, to perform large-scale field tests. One such test aims to tweak the composition of the substrate in order to accommodate different types of vegetable crops, including those with thicker roots.