Engineered Soil Pulls Moisture From Air to Water Plants

Thanks to the University of Texas at Austin for this article. A new type of soil created by engineers at The University of Texas at Austin can pull water from the air and distribute it to plants, potentially expanding the map of farmable land around the globe to previously inhospitable places and reducing water use in agriculture at a time of growing droughts. As published in ACS Materials Letters, the team's atmospheric water irrigation system uses super-moisture-absorbent gels to capture water from the air. When the soil is heated to a certain temperature, the gels release the water, making it available to plants. When the soil distributes water, some of it goes back into the air, increasing humidity and making it easier to continue the harvesting cycle. "Enabling free-standing agriculture in areas where it's hard to build up irrigation and power systems is crucial to liberating crop farming from the complex water supply chain as resources become increasingly scarce," said Guihua Yu, associate professor of materials science in the Walker Department of Mechanical Engineering. Each gram of soil can extract approximately 3-4 grams of water. Depending on the crops, approximately 0.1 to 1 kilogram of the soil can provide enough water to irrigate about a square meter of farmland. The gels in the soil pull water out of the air during cooler, mor

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4 thoughts on “Engineered Soil Pulls Moisture From Air to Water Plants

  1. It looks like you have to be affiliated with an academic institution or create an account with the American Chemical Society in order to read the abstract without purchasing it.

    The materials science engineers developed this water-harvesting polymer
    with certain properties that MAY be useful. They are speculating about what this new material could be used for.
    The scientific research on real-world applications has yet to be done.

    The photo above appears to show the radish-growing experiment taking place in a terrarium, not at farm-scale.
    Imagine the huge number of questions yet to be answered before this technology could ever be used in farm-scale food production.

    1. Yes, you’re right. It’s not ready for farm-scale production. I guess that wasn’t my thought. I just thought it was really cool to see scientists making progress on solving water issues, especially on parts of the planet that are much more arid than we are here in North America. Lots of great breakthroughs like this come across my desk every day and sometimes I like to share things that are interesting and have potential for a better future for people who are now struggling.

  2. “super-moisture-absorbent gels”–it’d be nice to know what the super gels are made of, and how they compost over time. Soil is not something you mess around with lightly.

    1. There’s a link to the paper’s abstract in the article and you can also view the supplemental materials for free. That should provide some answers for you.

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