Today’s Solutions: May 31, 2023

Researchers from the University of Texas have designed a self-watering soil that could provide plants with the on-demand hydration they need, even in dry climates. It may sound like something out of a sci-fi novel, the new soil uses moisture-absorbing gels to capture water from the air. This water is then released when the soil is heated to a certain temperature, hydrating the plants it hosts. 

The new technology would automatically water plants when their environment reaches a certain temperature. Furthermore, when the soil releases moisture, some of it returns to the air, increasing humidity to repeat the cycle again. The technology essentially capitalizes on nighttime moisture and better conserves it for use during the hot hours of the day. 

After testing the soil in Austin, Texas, the team found that it was able to conserve and distribute water much more effectively than traditional soil in dry climates. Over a four week period, the soil retained about 40% of the water it started with compared to 20% in untreated sandy soils. When the team planted radishes in the treated soil, they survived for 14 days without any supplemental irrigation. 

The team believes the technology could be used to reduce water use and irrigation costs in drier agricultural areas and even extend growing ranges into traditionally non-plantable areas. As our climate warms and demand for food increases, innovations like this will be vital for continuing to feed a growing population. Additionally, the researchers believe the technology could be used to cool solar panels and data centers and even expand access to potable water. Although further ecological impact studies need to be done before this technology can be widely distributed, we’re excited to see where this innovation goes.

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