The 69% of water that is extracted from the surface of Earth is destined for agriculture and cattle raising, according to percentages from the FAO. Facing a climatic crisis that has meant more droughts and more heat weaves, water is becoming scarce, making it an invaluable resource to fight world hunger. With the objective of easing this problem, the chemist and food engineer, Bárbara Tomadoni, works to create organic materials that can help reduce the consumption of water in agriculture. Thanks to her creations, that also minimize the use of fertilizers, Tomadoni was selected as a winner in the Latin American Innovators Under 35 from the MIT Technology Review LATAM edition.
The young scientist, from the Termoplastic Compounds Material Group from the Institute of Scientific Research and Material Technology of Argentina, thinks that “There is great potential in the development of biodegradable bio gels to control moisture in soil." She seeks to replace current hydro gels that can pollute soils and crops for alternative bio based organic polymers, like the sodium alginate made from marine algae and Chitosan, a fiber chemically derived from crustacean shells.
Her bio gels absorb great quantities of water and then free it at times of drought. Her test trials show great success. These materials also work to reduce the use of fertilizers, since they are released little by little into the soil: the excessive use of manure pollutes water greatly. Tomadoni adds, ”My project is based in hydro gels to fight drought and the unparalleled use of agrochemicals. We contribute to circular economy by using local marine residues while developing national products with great added value. It's important to contribute with a national product that can diminish the economic loss we are suffering from due to drought, as well as helping us produce more food.”
Alain Picasso, a member of the jury for the 2019 Latin American Innovators Under 35 and director of the Agency for Energy Development of the EDF Renewable Energies, France, underlines that the solution with hydro gels proposed by Tomadoni looks promising.