Laboratory Determination of the Impact of Incorporated Alkali Lignin-Based Hydrogel on Soil Hydraulic Conductivity

Toby A. Adjuik, Sue E. Nokes, Michael D. Montross, Riley Walton, Ole Wendroth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Superabsorbent polymers (hydrogels) have been studied for their ability to influence soil hydraulic conductivity because they can store and release water due to their swelling properties. However, concerns related to the increased use of synthetic hydrogels necessitates a switch to bio-based hydrogels, which are renewable and more biodegradable in comparison to synthetic hydrogels. In this study, we synthesized a lignin-based hydrogel and amended a silt loam soil with it at concentrations of 0, 0.1, and 0.3% (w/w). A laboratory permeameter, double membrane tension infiltrometer, and evaporation method were used to measure the saturated (Ks), near saturated, and unsaturated hydraulic conductivity (K) of the samples, respectively. Saturated hydraulic conductivity was significantly decreased by the application of hydrogel at 0.1 and 0.3% (w/w) in comparison to the control treatment. The application of 0.3% (w/w) lignin-based hydrogel only significantly decreased hydraulic conductivity at −1 cm soil water pressure head. Hydraulic conductivity in the 0.1 and 0.3% (w/w) treatments increased along the K(θ) curve in the unsaturated zone (−750 cm < h < −10 cm) in comparison to the control treatment, which we hypothesized was due to bound water in the hydrogel being released and creating a wider path for the movement of water. The 0.1 and 0.3% hydrogel treatments also tended to store more water than the control treatment, especially after 24 h of evaporation. The implication of this study is that lignin-based hydrogels could swell and retain water in saturated soils and the bound water could be released to enhance the flow of soil water in unsaturated soil, thereby reducing the water stress of plants, which require less energy to move and absorb water.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2516
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Hatch-Multistate under 1002344 and 1003563. Co-author O.W. acknowledges support for this work through KY006120 Hatch/Multistate Project “Soil, Water, and Environmental Physics to Sustain Agriculture and Natural Resources”.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by the authors.


  • bio-based hydrogel
  • evaporation method
  • near-saturated hydraulic conductivity
  • saturated hydraulic conductivity
  • tension infiltrometer
  • unsaturated hydraulic conductivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Biochemistry
  • Aquatic Science
  • Water Science and Technology


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