Vincent Farrelly outlines how Aquaroot uses a biodegradable polymer that can be extruded through 3D printing, becoming a low-cost method to irrigate crops in a more economical and efficient way
Chem

Close-up picture of the expandable foam that has been develop for 3D-printed pipe. Honeycomb structure forms within seconds when the two polymer base components are mixed and exposed to air

In many parts of the world, access to water for farming and human consumption is becoming a critical limiting factor for development and achieving long-term environmental sustainability. For example, frequently, existing irrigation systems are expensive to install and run, sometimes resulting in 60 per cent or more in water waste through leakage and evaporation.

Often, irrigation and drainage pipes are bulky and static, offering limited opportunity to be customised or to be adapted to a changing environment or user needs. The pipes have to be manufactured, ordered, transported and stored and they require expertise to install. This results in additional time delay, labour, inflexibility, environmental impact and opportunity costs.

In Aquaroot Technologies, asked ourselves: can one do things differently and try to mimic Mother Nature by growing pipes like roots to absorb, clean and transport water? We looked at available technologies from other sectors and we created a proprietary platform that enables the user to print drainage and irrigation pipes on site and at scale, rapidly and economically. The aim was for them to be able to function in or on soil, or on and under hard surfaces such as concrete – just like roots do.

Being able to do this on site, and in real time, opens up the potential opportunities for users to create their own customised drainage and irrigation systems for specific applications, such as growing plants in glasshouses, emergency drainage in buildings and on land or the emergency/temporary channelling of water.

Collaboration with Athlone Institute of Technology


Vincent Farrelly, Aquaroot

Aquaroot Technologies started small, with some basic proof of concepts just to check that the above was possible to do. From this, we showed that it is possible to print basic structures and get water flowing through them and have water absorbed by them. This was our Root 1.01 version.

We got some grant funding last year to do some further prototyping with our polymer partners at Athlone Institute of Technology, and we have now a range of proprietary polymers that can be used which have different water-absorbing and transportation properties. The polymers come in two general formats: biodegradable and non biodegradable.

Our aim is that our AquaRoot system will be the de facto choice for users to create their own permanent or temporary waterpipe systems. Be that a horticulturist growing strawberries in a glasshouse, a construction worker draining a sump, or a farmer irrigating plants or providing water to animals.

We are learning every day, and we hit glitches all the time; that is all part of a start up and entering the marketplace with a new technology and product. But we are very appreciative of the people, organisations and companies that have given us advice and support as part of our journey to get this innovative product onto the market.

AquaRoot Technologies came first in the Irish heat of the 2017 International Climate Launch Pad business competition, which is the world’s largest green business idea competition and the company also competed in Cyprus in mid October in the International Finals.

We are planning to have our first beta 3D-printed pipe product out in commercial trials by mid 2018 and from this point on, work with development and commercial partners to find and develop applications in the agriculture and construction markets both in Ireland and international markets. We are interested in connecting to equipment manufactures and chemical development partners that can help us scale up the 3D pipe printing rapidly and economically for agriculture and construction applications.

Naturally, to do all this will take investment and growing the team, so we are seeking suitable investors, individuals and partners that share our big vision and will work with us in achieving this.

Author:
Vincent Farrelly, founder and chief executive office of AquaRoot Technologies + Polymer Centre, Athlone Institute Of Technology. He has spent over 20 years working in the European life science and technology  sector, research, new product development and commercialisation roles. Contact: farrellyv@gmail.com.

http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Aquaroot-1024x678.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Aquaroot-300x300.jpgDavid O'RiordanChem3D Printing,funding,startups,water
In many parts of the world, access to water for farming and human consumption is becoming a critical limiting factor for development and achieving long-term environmental sustainability. For example, frequently, existing irrigation systems are expensive to install and run, sometimes resulting in 60 per cent or more in water...