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Thursday, April 16, 2015

To Hydrolock, or not?

Posted By on Thu, Apr 16, 2015 at 12:05 PM

So these local guys dropped a test tube, er um, cartridge of Hydrolock by our offices the other day, unsolicited. 

Its basic pitch, as seen on its Kickstarter page
HydroLock is a new water retention nano-technology that absorbs a predecessor shattering 1000x its weight in water. It is mixed in with soil, mulch and other agriculture grow mediums to reduce fresh water consumption and run-off water waste up to 75%.
Not being a scientist myself — don't act so surprised — I reached out to some area gardening experts (who shall remain anonymous so I don't end up with dirt in my eye) to seek casual input and to see if anyone's had any experience with these type products before. 

What I heard in response wasn't positive. 

One presumes it's a new form of "those plastic polymer crystals (you know the ones in your friends depends underwear). The trouble with those polymers is that they are friendly to the microorganisms. We don't know the long term effect of all those nano plastics in the food chain."

This person feared for worms eating the polymers, birds eating the worms, etc., on up the food chain and into the wider environment — just like how plastics are wreaking havoc on the oceans. 

The other had tried using a similar product in greenhouse production and customers had mixed reactions. This person said, "I'm not a big fan for a number of reasons: they take water to hold water, so that complicates what I'm watering; fertilizers can desiccate them to a point because fertilizers generally are salt based; air is just as important to roots and increased, retained moisture can lead to soil pests including bugs and diseases. If I need moisture retention, I cover the soil to reduce loss. That can be done with mulches, grass clippings, cardboard, etc."

click to enlarge Save a little time watering your housemates with Hydrolock. That much seems indisputable. - HYDROLOCK
  • Hydrolock
  • Save a little time watering your housemates with Hydrolock. That much seems indisputable.
So to be fair, I phoned company CEO Ian Azzam to learn more and pose some questions.  

Firstly, he assures that Hydrolock is not a plastic polymer from an oil base. Those are the predecessors, called polyacrylamide, to his product. He says those are indeed problematic to the environment, and still in use by large farms and commercial companies. 

He also points to a fuss regarding acrylamide in potato chips, and a law suit involving major potato chip and french fry manufacturers. 

His product is some newer form of polyacrylate, which he's importing from Germany, which starts with a potassium salt mixed with an undisclosed acid to create this super absorbent polymer. He insists this product is entirely non-toxic and biodegradable, to the point that common table salt can be utilized to reverse the gelling effect. 

Azzam says Hydrolock is animal safe, and could even be consumed by humans (not that he's suggesting it) to no ill effect. It does not seep into your food in garden beds either, he says, but instead just absorbs and releases water over and over again to aid with watering and combatting evaporation. 

Also, he says, many marijuana-grow outfits are using the product to cut their water usage and keep plant roots happy. 

Indeed overwatering can be an issue and some plants don't like to remain in moist soil long. Azzam says that's why his company has designed the easy cartridge-release format ($10 worth treats 55 pounds of soil, or about six houseplants) with clear instructions on how not to over-inject soil. 

His company is also working on other products for use in fire scenarios and home defense, which is equally relevant to drought in the American West right now. 

So ... in the end, I'm going to have to ask you to make your own mind up on this product, either through research or hands-on testing with it. The best way to get ahold of some is by donating through the Kickstarter or contacting the group directly via that page. 

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