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FAU researchers work to make agriculture irrigation more efficient

driptape

FAU researchers work to make agriculture irrigation more efficient (Image: Maincor AG)

Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection supports project with almost 600,000 euros

In co-operation with the Franconian company Maincor AG, researchers from the Department of Polymers Science at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) aim to develop drip irrigation systems that conserve more precious water and to increase efficiency while reducing costs. The researchers concentrate on various factors which determine the efficiency of such an irrigation system: costs may be reduced by up to 50 percent thanks to a differently designed system of pipe and drippers that will be produced using a specially modified pipe extrusion system. A prototype hose is expected to be completed by summer 2014. The project has been granted 587,000 euros in funding from the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection over a period of 24 months.

Water is by far the most important resource in agriculture. This is true for Germany, but it is all the more true for other parts of the world where water is more scarce than here. Drip irrigation, a method in which single drops of water trickle into the soil through small holes in a hose or pipe system, has proven to be especially effective and resource-conserving: it saves between 10 and 40 times more water than other irrigation systems. However, use over a wide area has been prevented by various obstacles so far: the systems are very expensive due to the high material costs. In addition, the small holes are easily clogged by suspended particles or algal formation. FAU researchers led by Prof. Dr. habil. Dirk W. Schubert and Dr. Joachim Kaschta at the Department of Polymers Science want to solve these problems with the help of Maincor AG, a Franconian machine building company and pipe manufacturer. As part of the project ‘High-speed system for the cost-efficient and flexible production of drip irrigation pipes from polymer materials’ they examine the various factors that can be adjusted to ensure economic and efficient irrigation.

The factor at the very top of the agenda is the efficient use of the synthetic material from which pipe and dripper are made. The researchers aim to save up to 80 percent in material by reducing the wall thickness from 0.9 millimetres to 0.2 millimetres and replacing the high-mass round dripper with a low-mass flat dripper. The second challenge is the high process velocity: at 200 metres per minute, it is almost twice as high as in previous systems. Both solutions are only realisable using a new machine design and optimised materials, which the researchers expect to find on the polymer spectrum. One concern, for example, is avoiding process instability, as the high velocities lead to rough surfaces. Proper welding of dripper and pipe in less than 0.3 seconds must also be ensured, as 11 drippers are fed per second. Changing the design also means a significant amount of development on the part of the machine building company.

The new flat drippers themselves contain an important innovation: the filter screens integrated into the drippers have so far been very prone to clogging; the hoses either have to be cleaned in a time-consuming process or even replaced. Movable, lamellar filter structures with a particular shape are to wash away the clogs during operation. The result: a 100-percent increase in service life and better quality irrigation.

Once the fundamental research is done, the scientists led by Prof. Dr. habil. Schubert and Dr. Kaschta will demonstrate the results in the form of a prototypical machine, a laboratory test, two field tests in a greenhouse and an outdoor test with various crops. Industry partner Maincor is expected to begin hose production as soon as 2014.

The researchers received the funding notification from Ilse Aigner, Federal Minister for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection.

Further information:

Dr. Joachim Kaschta
Phone: +49 (0)9131 85 27606
jochen.Kaschta@ww.uni-erlangen.de

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