Unveiling the Solubilization of Potassium Mineral Rocks in Organic Acids for Application as K-Fertilizer
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Organic acids produced by soil microorganisms can be useful to promote the release of potassium (K) from potassium mineral rocks (KR), but the complexity of low reactivity minerals limits K solubilization and their use as fertilizer. Here, we investigate the ways that different organic acids (gluconic, oxalic, and citric) can affect the solubilization of potassium minerals, in order to propose process strategies to improve their solubility. For this, evaluations were performed using the model minerals KRpolyhalite (sedimentary mineral), KRfeldspar (igneous mineral), and KCl (commercial fertilizer). For KCl and KRpolyhalite, complete solubilization was achieved using all the organic acids, while for KRfeldspar, the highest K+ solubilization (34.86 mg L−1) was achieved with oxalic acid. The solubility of KRfeldspar was further investigated under submerged cultivation with the filamentous fungus Aspergillus niger, as well as after a mechanochemical grinding treatment. The biotechnological route resulted in solubilized K up to 63.2 mg L−1. The mechanochemical route, on the other hand, increased the release of K by about 8.6 times (993 mg L−1) compared to the natural mineral, due to the greater fragmentation of the particles after the treatment (with a surface area about 2.5 times higher than for the in natura KRfeldspar). These findings demonstrated the potential of applying biotechnological and mechanochemical routes with organic acids to improve the solubilization of K present in low reactivity mineral rocks, indicating the possible use of these minerals in more sustainable agricultural practices.