26 Nov '15
Scientists at the Voronezh State University (VSU) in Central Russia have developed what they call “solid water,” a special sorbent to put into soil to replace traditional watering in areas with an arid climate, the Russian university .
An arid climate poses serious problems to many Russian regions. Lack of moisture in agricultural lands causes a dramatic drop in crop yield.
“Chemists at the Voronezh State University have suggested that a special sorbent be used instead of water. Their granules can absorb water and then give it away to plants,” VSU said in its press release.
As a solution the scientists offer small granules, or pellets, one kilo of which is said to be able to soak up about 500 liters of water, causing each pellet to swell up by an estimated 100 times.
It’s the properties of water that control the way the granules work. Water gets into the matrix of a polymer and develops bonds with the matrix’s walls, changing its own structure to that of ice. That helps it stay in the sorbent, a phenomenon the new solution owes its name of “solid water” to. When soil that surrounds the granules loses moisture, the bonds with the matrix weaken, the water regains its original structure, and flows into the soil.
“Using the polymer enables us to more than halve the volume of water and the frequency of watering in growing plants. In addition, water-soluble fertilizers and vegetal protection agents absorbed by the polymer don’t get washed away from soil, thus saving overall costs,” VSU said.
The granules don’t crumble in winter; therefore they can be kept on agricultural fields even when frosts come, VSU pointed out.
The Voronezh sorbent is expected to be marketed at a fairly competitive price of $10-12 per kilo, compared to some international solutions that cost at least $20 per kilo, according to the developer.