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February 5th, 2009
Waterproof sand " or as German scientist Helmut F. Schulze calls it " hydrophobic sand, a nanotechnology wonder seven years in the making.
By simply laying down a 10-centimetre blanket of DIME Hydrophobic Materials sand beneath typical desert topsoils, the new super sand stops water below the roots level of the plants and maintains a water table, giving greenery a constant water supply.
So the sand is inside polyethylene sheets like this roll of fiberglass insulation.
The waterproof sand is the filler.
Some people are concerned about plastic being used on such a large scale or the environmental effect of the plastic. Yet they are also concerned that plastic will sit in landfills forever. They can select a plastic that will not decompose. This is rolls of plastic with waterproof sand buried under the topsoil to create an artificial water table.
This is the first use of nanotechnology to make a major impact on a major problem. Ironically it is similar to the first product that claimed to use nanotechnology, which were waterproof/stain resistant pants. Nanotechnology could make more impact on water scarcity with emerging nano-membranes for water purification and desalination. Nano-membranes would be several times more energy efficient. They are still a few years from large scale deployment of nano-membrane desalination.
- The benefits of success are not only increased food production but also relieve geopolitical pressure for water scarcity
In the Middle East, attention is not primarily focused on issues linking water and poverty. The region is more associated with 'water conflicts' and 'rivers of fire', images that popular media are eager to adopt. Put like this, it is suggested that the main problems with water in the Middle East are related to tensions among countries generated by water scarce environments.
Better water management can mean less poverty and few wars in the middle east and many other countries with water scarcity
Lester Brown, environmentalist, indicates, water scarcity may be the most underestimated resource issue facing the world today. As world water demand has more than tripled over the last half-century, signs of water scarcity have become commonplace. Some of the more widespread indicators are rivers running dry, wells going dry, and lakes disappearing.
Eighty-five percent of the water in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region is used for irrigation and that is potentially the main area from which the growing urban demand can be met.
- Saving 75% of water from irrigation could save millions of lives and prevent a massive humanitarian disaster and regional chaos with water wars.
So water scarcity get mitigated and regional poverty (from more local agriculture) gets reduced and the chance and probably the amount of water wars will be less.
The large rolls sandwich the sand between layers of polyethylene and can be produced in lengths of up to 50 metres. "The coating is done in 30 or 45 seconds," said Hareb. "We have the capacity of manufacturing 3,000 tonnes per day."
By comparison, when regular desert sand lies beneath, water bleeds endlessly downward leaving roots dry until the next watering.
With new hydrophobic sand in place, traditional watering of desert plants five or six times a day can be reduced to one watering, saving 75 per cent more water, a precious resource that is dwindling across the Arab Peninsula.
One of the advantages of the hydrophobic sand, Schulze said, is that while it allows aerobic activity to move upward from the soil, it prevents underground desert salinity deposits from passing through to plant roots above; salt is corrosive and kills plants.
He added that each grain of sand used in the process is coated with SP-HFS 1609, a top-secret additive, the precise nature of which he declined to disclose noting that it's proprietary.
Other forms of hydrophobic sand on the market used for cleaning up oil spills - are coated with silicas that are water repellent.
"It's super thin," Schulze said. "Every single sand kernel gets a skin, a coating, which encloses it."