This tech needs to be integrated with drip irrigation. Then you create a local stable wet spot that surrounding plants can draw water from and even transport that water throughout the root system itself. all this remains well covered discouraging any evaporate water losses.
Recall those holes in tropical Sahel. Adding bio char retains nutrients while this system of drip irrigation retention provides a useful wet spot allowing the plant to become large enough to break up the soil.
Better yet is that there must be plenty of other potential feed stocks as well. The process used is easily adapted anywhere. A pot to boil out pectin is easy and actually drying can be done by actually spreading it all over a flat of packed soil. the sun and soil heat will quickly prepare the material and simple rollers will crush the material. Brooming it all together will include ample dust which may well be best practice anyway. It makes it much easier to handle.
A 16-year-old from Johannesburg, that's who!
"Currently, South Africa is experiencing one of the worst droughts in its history," said Nirghin. "I started looking at it, and not only is it affecting my community, it's a worldwide problem. From there, I started looking at, 'OK. What could I do to lessen the impact that the drought had on South Africa's food supply?' — which is one of the main things that it is affecting."
Using orange peels and avocado skins, Nirghin created her own superabsorbent polymer (SAP) to nourish crops in desperate need of water.
An SAP is a powder-like material that can take in large amounts of liquid without taking up a lot of space. In fact, it's known to absorb hundreds of times its own weight. SAPs are planted alongside crops to create mini reservoirs of water that keep soil moist longer and allow growing plants to survive with less rainfall or water.
"I started looking at what characterized a superabsorbent polymer and how I could emulate that characterization," she said. "And one of those things were the polysaccharide found in orange peels."
The project, dubbed "No More Thirsty Crops," earned Nirghin the grand prize at this year's Google Science Fair.
"[Commercial SAPs are] not biodegradable and they’re extremely costly," said Nirghin. "And one of the important aspects that’s often overlooked is that the making of the superabsorbent polymers pollutes the environment. … The production is not only timely, it’s very difficult to reproduce in poorer areas … So I looked at basically minimizing all those negative aspects."
In Nirghin's research paper, she estimates her SAP would cost about $30 to $60 per metric ton to mass produce — whereas current commercial SAPs can go for a staggering $2,000 to $3,000 per metric ton. Even better? Nirghin found her method to be more effective at retaining water than commercial SAPs.
Nirghin now has her sights set on getting her SAP in as many hands as possible and affecting more positive change around the world.
On top of her Google Science Fair victory, Nirghin's invention also garnered her a spot on Time's 30 Most Influential Teens of 2016 — an honor that could help her spread even more good. For starters, she's already looking to expand her SAP to test water filtration as well as oil removal from water.
Nirghin also has an inspiring message for anyone looking to follow in her footsteps.
She said, "One of the main things is looking at what your community is facing because it's great coming up with an idea, but unless it impacts your community and makes it better — like the Google Science Fair says, 'What will you make better?' — that should be one of the main driving forces to lessen the impact of the problems of your community."
From there, just think of that idea as a freshly planted crop. With a little nourishment and attention, it can grow into something even stronger and more essential than you ever imagined.