The Characteristics of Time-Dependent Changes of Coefficient of Permeability for Superabsorbent Polymer-Soil Mixtures

Jakub Misiewicz, Sujit Sankar Datta, Krzysztof Lejcuś, Daria Marczak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Water uptake dynamics of superabsorbent polymers (SAP) in soil is of key importance for the optimum application of these materials in environmental engineering and agriculture, so goal of this paper is to determine time dependent values of coefficient of permeability for various SAP-soil mixtures. Retaining water in soil is a key requirement in critical zones to support plant growth. There is an urgent need for technologies that can increase soil water retention, given the increasing prevalence of droughts and scarcity of clean water as the climate changes, combined with the rising demand for food by a growing world population. SAPs are materials that can absorb significant amounts of water, and thus have tremendous potential to help increase water retention in soil. However, while some studies have characterized the equilibrium swelling behavior of SAPs in soil, how their addition influences the time-dependent flow of water through soil remains poorly understood. Here, we address this gap in knowledge by directly measuring the coefficient of permeability of SAP-soil mixtures, testing different soil grain sizes, SAP grain sizes, and different SAP-soil ratios. We find that SAP addition can dramatically hinder the flow rate of water through soil—reducing the permeability by several orders of magnitude, and in some cases causing complete blockage of water infiltration, at mass fractions as small as 1%. In this scenario coefficient of permeability of 1.23 × 10−4 m/s dropped by a factor of ~10 after 14 min, a factor of ~100 after 36 min, and by nearly a factor of ~1000 after 63 min, eventually causing complete blockage of infiltration after 67 min. Authors concluded that in this particular situation the size and quantity of SAP particles was enough to nearly completely fill the available pore space resulting in rendering the soil column almost completely impermeable. Moreover, we demonstrate that these effects are well-described by a simple hydraulic model of the mutual interactions between SAP and soil grains, providing more generally-applicable and quantitative principles to model SAP-soil permeability in applications. Ultimately, this work could help evaluate the optimal proportions and grain sizes of SAPs to use for a given soil to simultaneously achieve a desirable permeability along with increased water holding capacity in the plant root zone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number4465
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • General Materials Science


  • SAP-soil mixture
  • coefficient of permeability
  • flow rate
  • infiltration
  • superabsorbent polymers


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