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ASU, Phoenix testing water conservation technology with hydrogels

Posted: 8:13 AM, Oct 10, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-10 11:13:30-04

PHOENIX — Arizona State University is teaming up with the City of Phoenix on a cutting-edge project designed to help conserve water here in Arizona.

The two secured a federal grant to test and research a new water-absorbing technology. It looks like common table salt, but the little white granules could be the key to conserving millions of gallons and dollars in water. They're called hydrogels, and when injected into the soil, the polymers can hold up to 400 times their weight in water.

"This is kind of the gel aspect of it," said JoEllen Alberhasky with ASU Sustainability Services. The gel time-releases some 96% of the water it holds directly into the soil.

"You're saving water because it doesn't just seep into the ground," Alberhasky said. "It's held there for the grass. The grass uses it as it needs, and you don't have to put on so much water, that it kind of ponds at the top of the grass, and you lose it that way," she said.

The funding is a $100,000 grant from the US Bureau of Reclamation to test the hydrogels here in the Valley.

"Conservation is the bedrock of all our water resource planning," said Kathryn Sorensen, Director of Water Services for the City of Phoenix.

Testing will take place on the 12 acres of soccer fields at ASU's West campus. The fields currently consume 11 million gallons of water a year at a cost of more than $63,000. But with the hydrogels, the city expects to conserve 4.4 million gallons at a savings of $25,000 a year.

"And if we can save 40% of the water use, that would be a huge savings for the city, not just in terms of water, but also financially as well," Sorensen said.

If all goes well, Sorensen says you could start seeing the technology used in city parks, large green spaces, and eventually your own lawn.

"If this technology works, we'd love to make it available to homeowners, as well," she said.

Alberhasky says is will take around six to eight weeks for a vehicle to inject the hydrogels into the soil across the fields. But once they're integrated, they'll last for five to seven years.

ASU says the hydrogels are completely safe for the environment.