Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Potential for a biodegradable micro-irrigation system

Micro-irrigation is a method of watering that delivers small quantities of water directly to the roots of crop plants. Scientists have made progress towards developing a non-toxic, biodegradable piping system for micro-irrigation purposes.
Potential for a biodegradable micro-irrigation system
Compared to traditional crop irrigation systems, micro-irrigation reduces water consumption by up to 60 %. However, the plastic pipes currently used degrade over time, and they are expensive and time consuming to remove from fields.

The EU funded the HYDRUS project to develop and test a –bio-based piping system alternative. Researchers set out to design a system that would perform as well as the standard plastic micro-irrigation system and degrade in a biologically friendly way at industrial composting conditions.

Using standard injection-moulding machinery, the team developed a process to manufacture pipes made of more than 70 % biopolymer. The drip part of the system required the design of a new mould due to the physical properties of the biopolymer used.

The production process was scaled-up for testing on the farm, and the new material performed as well as traditional plastic in the field. In addition, it passed all safety and ecotoxicity tests, and was shown to compost easily.

Unfortunately, the cost of raw materials means that the HYDRUS system is twice the price of a conventional micro-irrigation system made of regular plastic. Nevertheless, the project was successful in showing that it is feasible to make a biodegradable, industrially compostable and environmentally safe micro-irrigation system.

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