Biodegradable materials for soil regeneration

Food security is of particular concern to Abu Dhabi and the UAE as the population of the Emirates continues to grow. Current government projections show that the population of Abu Dhabi will grow at 5.24% annum (excluding labor camps) surpassing 4.5 million inhabitants by 2030. Unfortunately, The Emirate of Abu Dhabi is located in a desert and experiences low annual rainfall, extreme summer temperatures, and has soil that is unsuitable for large-scale agricultural growth, making the goal of being totally self-dependent unattainable. Despite this, agricultural production in Abu Dhabi has increased considerably in recent years. Although it is currently a small component of the total GDP – less than 1% in 2012 – agriculture is a crucial component of the Abu Dhabi’s government goal of diversifying its economy.

New biological based technologies can help alleviate some of the problems with agricultural soils and help increase the sustainability and productivity of these soils. Recent work has shown that the engineering and production of micro- or nano- beads composed of biomaterials show promise for the slow release of nutrients into arid and low carbon containing soils. Our project takes advantage of this previous work, using as the base for the engineering of microbeads that will be able to sustain soil microbial communities while providing a source of moisture, nutrients, and carbon to the UAE’s arid soils.

In this study, we aim to use a meta-functional genomic analysis approach to simultaneously study all the members of the microbial communities present in agricultural soils in the UAE. In addition, we are designing and constructing hydroscopic microbeads composed of local UAE biomass waste and novel hydrogel materials designed to slowly degrade in the Abu Dhabi environment. We also aim to further investigate the short and long term viability of the microbeads in the environment by performing short field tests of the microbeads. The overall aim of the methods used in this study will be to construct microbeads with a microbial community designed to enhance regeneration and carbon retention of the Abu Dhabi soils.

This project is of great importance to the UAE as it has the potential to help alleviate the poor conditions of the UAE soils and increase both the overall production of food from current agricultural farms and increase the availability of farmland for future agricultural use.