Sprayable Biodegradable Polymer Membrane (SBPM) Technology
In an unpredictable climate and amidst increasing environmental degradation and pollution, farmers will be expected to feed a growing population using the same land area currently used for crop production, but with much less water, less nutrients and less agrochemicals. This will require intensification of irrigated and dryland cropping systems so that more of the water that enters the soil is readily available to the crops, rather than to weeds, or lost through soil evaporation or deep drainage. Current technology offerings that reduce soil evaporation and suppress weeds are dominated by petroleum based Preformed Plastic Mulch Films (PMFs), but they are proving to be a major source of pollution of our soil and water systems. Because the PMFs fragment rather than biodegrade, there is potential for plastic fragments and associated toxins to accumulate in our soils, impacting negatively on the soil microbiology and hence the health of our soils.
CSIRO has in response to the above problems developed a water based Sprayable Biodegradable Polymer Membrane Technology (SBPM Technology) that can be used as a replacement for PMFs. And because the sprayable polymer membrane is biodegradable it will help reduce pollution of our soil and water systems.
The innovation, uniqueness and flexibility of our Technology lies in the properties designed into the polymer membrane, including sprayability, biodegradability and non-toxicity. The ease and control with which the polymer membrane can be applied means it can be used with small handheld sprayers (suitable for household gardens in cities and rural household plots in for example Sub-Saharan Africa) and with large mechanised sprayers (suitable for large scale industrial farming).
The opportunity for a SBPM Technology is global, as it can be used to increase WUE and hence crop yields in just about every cropping system in every country across the world. It will also add value to just about every crop water management improvement strategy currently employed or being developed.
CSIRO has, with funding support from the Australian Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF), demonstrated that the SBPM Technology can be manufactured at multi-ton scale in Australia and applied on farm using existing and/or modified farm equipment. Collaborating farmers carried out pre-commercial farm trials with melons and processing tomatoes, providing the CSIRO research team with valuable experience in industrial scale manufacturing, farm-scale application, and performance and longevity of the SBPM Technology. On farm field trial treatments used different polymer loadings that were compared with standard farmer practice (the control). While the farm field trials yielded somewhat inconsistent results, they did confirm product manufacturability and practicality on farm. Additional tests also confirmed biodegradability and non-toxicity of the SBPM. The aim now is to seek collaborators/partners to help refine the polymer chemistry to reduce costs and improve performance, and to take the SBPM Technology to market.