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Researchers develop soil conditioner capable of storing water without using chemicals

By Lim Chang-won Posted : October 15, 2021, 10:35 Updated : October 15, 2021, 10:35

[Courtesy of the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute]

SEOUL -- South Korea's state-run nuclear energy research body has used radiation to develop a soil conditioner capable of absorbing and storing water in the ground for plant growth without using chemicals. Researchers will transfer their technology, which can be applied to hydroponic cultivation and smart farms through upgrades, to a private company for commercialization.

A soil conditioner can be used to improve poor soils or to rebuild soils. A wide variety of materials have been described as soil conditioners, and many soil conditioners come in the form of certified organic products. Soil conditioners may be used to improve water retention. The addition of organic materials can greatly improve water retention abilities.

The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) said its branch, Advanced Radiation Technology Institute, has developed a microporous soil conditioner that can be completely decomposed by microorganisms and is harmless to the environment. Biomass sawdust and activated charcoal were mixed with a natural polymer hydrogel material and used radiation to create a soil conditioner.

Natural polymers are often water-based and can be extracted. A hydrogel is a three-dimensional network of hydrophilic polymers that can swell in water and hold a large amount of water while maintaining the structure due to the chemical or physical cross-linking of individual polymer chains.

Thanks to the molecular structure consisting of numerous small holes, the soil conditioner has a large surface area, which can absorb water 500 times its volume, the institute said, adding that it can promote plant growth by mixing potassium and calcium used as fertilizers. The technology was transferred to Hummustech, a biomass startup.

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