Water and Food Security

Polymer technologies address sustainability

The Water & Food Security program, led by Prof. David Mainwaring (Swinburne University of Technology), is developing polymer technologies which aim to assist Australian farmers meet the growing global demand for food by overcoming water scarcity and improving crop yields. The collaborative research involves expertise in polymer chemistry, water studies, microbiology, agronomy and soil science. Three product related outputs are described below.

System for controlling the air-water interface and reducing evaporation from water storages

The project is developing an automated polymer-based evaporation control system for use on water surfaces prone to excessive evaporation such as farm dams, irrigation channels and larger water storages. The system will apply and maintain an economical, environmentally friendly, thin surface layer of a novel monolayer-polymer complex, which
restricts the transfer of water to air enough to mitigate evaporation whilst not adversely affecting aquatic life or water quality.

Polymers for improving soil moisture management and cropping productivity

This project is developing a new range of advanced polymers that will help farmers better manage water and nutrients by optimising the growing conditions for plants in the soil. Potential products include polymers that control the distribution of moisture in the soil and sprays for improving water penetration in water-repellent soils. Up to thirty percent of Australia’s cropping land is water-repellent and this produces only ten percent of the nation’s broad acre crops.

Polyolefin-biopolymer films for more sustainable agricultural production

Plastic polyethylene films are widely used to improve productivity in agricultural production; examples include crop propagation films and mulch films. This project is harnessing polymer technology to make these films more sustainable by incorporating biopolymers which are renewable and improve their biodegradability. The performance of these films will be further enhanced by developing new compositions that degrade at rates specifically tailored to the requirements of their crop using degradable technology developed by the CRCP. The benefits of using the new degradable crop propagation films to improve the restoration of native woodlands and improve sustainable practices in horticultural crops will be assessed. The effects of climatic conditions and local factors, such as soils, on degradation rates of polymer films are being elucidated so that a decision support tool can be generated to inform optimal deployment of the films by the farmer.

For further information about the Water & Food Security program and any of its projects, please contact Program Leader Prof. David Mainwaring.

Research in evaporation suppressants has the potential to save water