A 16-year-old schoolgirl from Johannesburg has created a superabsorbent polymer (SAP) made using orange peel and avocado skin in order to solve South Africa’s drought crisis.
Kiara Nirghin has recently won Google Science Fair’s 'Community Impact Award' for the Middle East and Africa region with her project, entitled ‘No More Thirsty Crops’.
The project saw Nirghin develop the polymer that could store reserves of water a hundred times its own weight, in order to help create reservoirs that could be utilised by farmers for watering crops in times of severe drought.
The low-cost, biodegradable and chemical free superabsorbent polymer uses polysaccharide naturally found in orange peels and organically cross-linked with sunlight. Oil found in avocado peels is then used in emulsion polymerisation of the solution.
"Kiara found an ideal material that won't hurt the budget in simple orange peel, and through her research, she created a way to turn it into soil-ready water storage with help from the avocado," Andrea Cohan, Programme Leader of the Google Science Fair, told a CNN reporter.
Currently, South Africa is experiencing one of the worst droughts in 45 years. With major lack of rainfall, many agricultural crop growths are under major strain.
Nirghin says she wanted to help play her part in tackling such a major crisis. "I wanted to minimise the effect that drought has on the community and the main thing it affects is the crops," Nirghin told CNN. "That was the springboard for the idea."
Nirghin will now be issued a mentor from Google who will help her develop and test her polymer, with a view to commercialisation.
Dr. Jinwen Zhang, a Professor of Materials Engineering at Washington State University, who is developing absorbent hydrogels to address drought, said he thought the idea would work. "Using waste products for low-cost feedstock for large volume is definitely worth further investigation,” he told CNN.