Eco-Friendly Gel Mix for Better Crop Growth

Jenn Hoskins
28th April, 2024

Eco-Friendly Gel Mix for Better Crop Growth

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • A study created a hydrogel that improves water use in agriculture and fertilizer release
  • The hydrogel becomes less viscous under pressure and reverts back, useful in varying temperatures
  • The hydrogel mix increased plant growth in soil and reduced water evaporation significantly
Hydrogels, water-absorbing materials with a network of polymer chains, are of considerable interest in a range of applications, from biomedical uses to agriculture. A recent study by the Institute of Chemical Technology has made significant strides in this area, creating a hydrogel that combines two biopolymers, konjac glucomannan (KG) and gellan, in both its high acyl (HAG) and low acyl (LAG) forms[1]. This research could pave the way for more efficient use of water in agriculture and controlled release of fertilizers, addressing critical issues like water scarcity and improving crop yields. The study found that adding KG to HAG and LAG hydrogels improved their pseudoplasticity, which refers to their ability to become less viscous under stress and then return to their original state when the stress is removed. This property is valuable for applications where the material needs to flow under pressure but retain its shape otherwise. The hydrogels also exhibited thermal hysteresis, meaning their properties changed with temperature in a reversible manner. These characteristics are particularly useful in environments that experience temperature fluctuations. Researchers observed an increase in elasticity and water holding capacity (WHC) in KG-LAG hydrogels. The highest WHC was recorded for specific ratios of KG to HAG and LAG, which are crucial for applications that require maintaining moisture over extended periods. These findings build upon earlier research that showed how the addition of KG improved the elasticity and water retention of pea protein hydrogels[2]. Interestingly, the composite hydrogels showed lower crystallinity than those made from individual biopolymers. This reduced crystallinity could be beneficial, as it often correlates with increased flexibility and higher absorption capacity. The hydrogels also had a rough surface with small pores, attributed to the aggregation of glucomannan on the gellan network, which could be advantageous for trapping and slowly releasing substances like water or nutrients. The study explored the swelling behavior of the hydrogels across various pH levels, finding that HAG and a specific KG-HAG combination swelled more at low pH, while LAG and a particular KG-LAG combination swelled more at high pH. At a neutral pH of 7.0, the hydrogels demonstrated a swelling index greater than 300%, indicating a strong capacity to absorb water. In practical terms, the application of a 1K1H hydrogel mixture to sandy loamy soil significantly improved the germination rate of fenugreek microgreens from 60% to 80% by the 15th day. This hydrogel also reduced the moisture evaporation rate of the soil from 35% to less than 15%, which could be a game-changer for farming in semi-arid conditions where water conservation is critical. Furthermore, the composite hydrogels facilitated a controlled release of phosphate fertilizer, which is an important aspect of nutrient management in agriculture. Controlled release ensures that plants receive nutrients at a steady rate, improving uptake efficiency and reducing environmental pollution caused by fertilizer runoff. This study not only contributes to our understanding of hydrogel properties but also demonstrates practical applications that could have a significant impact on agriculture and water management. It ties together previous findings on the benefits of combining polysaccharides with other biopolymers to enhance hydrogel properties[2][3]. Moreover, it expands on earlier work that did not require the addition of crosslinkers to create superabsorbent hydrogels[4], by showing that combining KG with gellan can lead to superior hydrogels with beneficial properties for real-world applications. In conclusion, the integration of KG into HAG and LAG hydrogels represents a promising advancement in the field of hydrogel research. The Institute of Chemical Technology's findings offer potential solutions to some of the pressing issues in agriculture, such as water conservation and nutrient management, by leveraging the unique properties of these composite hydrogels.

AgricultureSustainabilityPlant Science


Main Study

1) Composite hydrogels fabricated from konjac glucomannan and gellan gum: Rheological characterization and their potential application in sustainable agriculture.

Published 15th July, 2024 (future Journal edition)

Related Studies

2) Inclusion of konjac glucomannan in pea protein hydrogels improved the rheological and in vitro release properties of the composite hydrogels.

3) Crosslinkers for polysaccharides and proteins: Synthesis conditions, mechanisms, and crosslinking efficiency, a review.

4) Effect of pH variation and crosslinker absence on the gelling mechanism of high acyl gellan: Morphological, thermal and mechanical approaches.

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