The team believes that this ground-breaking new hydrogel has the potential to change agriculture around the world. Hydrogels per se are polymeric materials that have the ability to absorb huge amounts of water and slowly release it to the soil over time. As a result they can be used to store water during rain periods and later release it to help crops survive droughts.
While agriculture generally accounts for more than 70% of all global fresh water use, the new product might help farmers to save 40% of irrigation water by reducing the watering frequency. In addition to that the biohydrogel is more than a water absorption and storage material as it also functions as a soil conditioner that traps and thereby reduces the loss of agrochemicals like fertilizers, pestizides and herbizides. This means the biohydrogel does not only decrease agricultural costs, but also prevents environmental pollution.
This novel biohydrogel is based entirely on natural raw materials coming from wood and is one hundred percent biodegradable. Thereby it improves soil fertility and increases microbial activity, consequently enriching the soil. Moreover, if the biohydrogel degrades over time, it becomes hummus and therefore is able to convert unproductive soils, even sand soils, into agricultural productive soils. This enables farmers in the arid regions of the world to use their land more effectively.
The team from BOKU already filed a patent and is now looking for partners and investors to bring the product to the market. OeAD Alumnus Gibson Stephen Nyanhongo aims to help farmers all over the world to overcome drought periods with this ground-breaking new hydrogel.
Read more about Alumnus Gibson Stephen Nyanhongo
In early 2000, his journey to Austria began, when he was awarded an eight-month North-South Dialogue Scholarship of the Austrian Development Agency to carry out his research project within his MSc Biotechnology degree he was pursuing at the University of Zimbabwe in his home country. Between 2002 and 2005 Gibson received another North-South-Dialogue Scholarship to pursue his PhD studies investigating enzyme reaction mechanisms during the transformation of nitroaromatic xenobiotics and toxicological studies of their metabolites.
In 2012, he did his “Habilitation” (Professorial Promotion) at Graz University of Technology, Austria. His work has been highly appreciated to the extent that he was awarded the 2013 Graz University of Technology Innovation award, the 2007 Government of Steiermark Environmental Protection award and the 2014 Josef Umdasch best research award.
Finally, Gibson Nyanhongo from Zimbabwe found his scientific home at the IFA Tulln, a branch of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna and works at the Institute of Environmental Biotechnology. In 2017 he was also awarded for funding oft he scientific and technological cooperation project Austria – South Africa by OeAD.