Self-irrigated soil will change agriculture: it will draw water from the air

Scientists have created self-irrigated soil

The University of Texas’s engineers are developing a unique soil composition that can water itself. The authors of the project believe that the successful completion of a scientific experiment can change agriculture. A new type of soil that the scientists are creating is able to draw water out of the air and then distribute it to plants. That method will help to expand the map of agricultural areas used for growing various products.

The same method will be effective for regions with increasing drought. The development of the scientists is that special gels are introduced into the soil to capture water from the air.

When the soil heats up to a certain temperature, the gels begin to release water that seeps into the plant's root system. It converts some of the water into air, increasing humidity and making it easier to continue harvesting. In that state each gram of soil can release up to 4 grams of water. That is, depending on the plants grown, a kilogram of soil can provide enough water to irrigate one square meter of farmland.

The gels are most active during wet periods and at night. During the day, the Sun's heat activates water-containing gels to release their contents into the ground. One of the experiments the scientists conducted on the roof of the Cochrell School of Engineering Education Center in Utah Austin.

It turned out that hydrogel soil is able to retain water better than sandy formations in arid regions. That soil required much less water to grow different types of plants. The experiment lasted four weeks, and during this time, the scientists established that the soil can hold up to 40% of the water that it has absorbed since the beginning of the research.

A sandy soil can only retain 20% water. During the experiment, radishes were planted in the soil. In hydrogel, it grew without watering for 14 days, except for the period when water was required for the root system to take root. The radishes in the sandy soil were watered for the first four days. After the initial watering, none of the crops survived.

Reference: “Super Moisture Absorbent Gels for Sustainable Agriculture via Atmospheric Water Irrigation” by Xingyi Zhou, Panpan Zhang, Fei Zhao and Guihua Yu, 1 October 2020, ACS Materials Letters. DOI: 10.1021/acsmaterialslett.0c00439