Technology to help crops use saltwater being developed

September 15th, 2008 - 4:48 pm ICT by IANS  

Sydney, Sep 15 (IANS) Technology being developed by the University of New South Wales could offer new hope to farmers in drought-hit areas by enabling them to grow crops by using salty groundwater.Greg Leslie, of University’s UNESCO Centre for Membrane Science and Technology, is working with the University of Sydney on technology which uses reverse-osmosis membranes to turn previously useless, brackish groundwater into a valuable agricultural resource.

“We are looking at ways to grow plants on very salty water without damaging soil,” Leslie said. “We’re incorporating a reverse osmosis membrane into a sub-surface drip irrigation system.”

The irrigation system relies on the roots of the plant drawing salty groundwater through the membrane - in doing so removing the salt which would otherwise degrade the soil and make continued cropping unsustainable.

Desalination such as this requires a pressure gradient to draw clean water through the membrane. Leslie has demonstrated that, by running irrigation lines under the ground beneath the plants, the root systems of the plants provide enough of a pressure gradient to draw up water without the high energy consumption usually required for desalination.

“We’re going to provide agriculture with a tool to grow crops in drought years when there is limited access to run-off and surface water,” he said.

The membrane technology, developed by Leslie and the University of Sydney’s Bruce Sutton, has been patented.

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