With climate change a real, tangible problem in this day and age, drought is a common is an increasingly common occurrence, dwindling crops and food supplies. A 16-year-old South African girl has developed a super absorbent polymer (SAP) made out of orange and avocado peel that can carry hundreds of times its weight, potentially solving the drought afflicting her home country. Kiara Nirghin’s invention has so much potential, she won the Google Science Fair for Community Impact.
When mixed together and exposed to the sun, the orange skin and avocado peel act as a hydrogel in retaining and absorbing large amounts of water. When a plant is treated with SAP, it is more likely to hold rain’s water, which gives it a better chance of growing despite of drought.
“These SAPs can retain 76% of soil moisture; however these hydrogels are costly and are not biodegradable,” the teenage inventor says. “I have created a low-cost, biodegradable and chemical free superabsorbent polymer utilizing polysaccharide naturally found in orange peels and organically cross-linked with sunlight. Oil in avocado peels were then used in emulsion polymerization of the solution.”
As opposed to artificial SAP, which costs US $2,000 to US $3,000 per metric ton, the natural SAP costs around at US $30 to US $60 per metric ton.
Nirghin explains that winning this award will help her further develop the scientific aspect and the application of her idea as well as allieviating “the problems that South Africa faces in food security and sustainable agricultural development.”
Since 1904, the average rainfall in South Africa nine provinces averaged 608 milliliters per year. Last year, drought hit the country and rainfall averaged at a mere 403 milliliters, a 66% decrease on annual average.