Environmental and hydrological implications of innovative sprayable biodegradable polymer membrane

Project summary

Plastic mulch films are widely used in agriculture to enhance crop production by suppressing weeds, conserving soil water and increasing soil temperature. However, the majority of plastic mulch films are not biodegradable and are typically removed after each growing season. Recovery of these plastics from the soil is difficult and can affect successive crop yields while causing substantive cost to farmers and negative environmental effects. Due to increasingly stringent regulations regarding use of non-degradable plastic in agriculture they are likely to be phased out in the near future. In the past 10 years several classes of ‘biodegradable’ materials have been studied, but most of these films are reported to be relatively weak in mechanical properties, not efficiently degradable and cost prohibitive. More recently, researchers have turned their attention to sprayable biodegradable polymer coatings for use on soils due to their easy application and versatility. The main objective of the proposed collaboration is to explore the value of recently patented water based Sprayable Biodegradable Polymer Membrane (SBPM, developed by CSIRO) through field experiments and numerical modeling. First part of the research will be focused on experimental settings and data collection regarding water balance monitoring with various sensors. The second part will include hydrological model calibration based on field data and performing simulations of water and solute behaviour under sprayable mulch. These simulations will include multiple scenarios (e.g. different management systems, irrigation methods and mulch applications), thus provide information about the environmental and hydrological effects of such practices in agricultural fields. Expected results will be published in recognized scientific journal and should increase the usage of this innovative technology in agricultural production, resulting in lowering plastic pollution problems. The group will further explore global funding possibilities or EU funding agencies to conduct research under different environmental conditions in Croatia.

Reduction in cumulative soil evapouration (water loss) in pot trials usingbiodegradable PU based membranes (SBPM) sprayed onto the soil surface compared withbare soil surface treatments

Estimation of the hydrological SBPM using HYDRUS suite



The main objective is to explore the value of recently patented water based Sprayable Biodegradable Polymer Membrane (SBPM, developed by CSIRO) through field experiments and numerical modeling.

Specific objectives include:

i) Setting up a field experiment with improved SBPM in Australia;

ii) Installation of field sensors for soil water balance monitoring and a setup of soil physics laboratory in Townsville;

iii) Collecting first data from the field trial and calibration of hydrological model;

iv) Performing 2D numerical modeling for water flow and solute movement (nitrate) using HYDRUS 2D/3D suite;

v) Execution of multiple modeling scenarios which include different management techniques like furrow irrigation and drip (subsurface) irrigation;

vi) Analysis of the field and numerical results and make an assessment of SBPM from environmental and hydrological points of view;

vii) Dissemination of the results through publications in scientific journals and upcoming meetings and events and exploring the funding opportunities for further research.


  • Adhikari, R., Bristow, K.L., Casey, P.S., Freischmidt, G., Hornbuckle, J.W. and B. Adhikari. 2016. Preformed and sprayable polymeric mulch film to improve agricultural water use. Agricultural Water Management 129: 1-13.
  • Filipović, V., Romić, D., Romić, M., Borošić, J., Filipović, L., Mallmann, F. J. K., Robinson, D. A. 2016. Plastic mulch and nitrogen fertigation in growing vegetables modify soil temperature, water and nitrate dynamics: Experimental results and a modeling study. Agricultural Water Management, 176, 100–110.
  • Šimůnek, J., van Genuchten M. Th., Šejna, M. 2016. Recent developments and applications of the HYDRUS computer software packages. Vadose Zone Journal, 15(8), pp. 25, doi: 10.2136/vzj2016.04.0033, 2016.


  • Sprayable Polymer Membrane for Agriculture (CSIRO Ref. TW8842) Based on International Application No. PCT/AU2015/000334. Inventors: Bristow, K.L., Adhikari, R., Casey, P.S., Freischmidt, G., Hornbuckle, J.W.
  • Hydrophobic-Hydrophilic Switchable Polymers for Use in Agriculture (CSIRO Ref. TW8998) Pending Australian Provisional Application No. 2016901048 Inventors: Bristow, K.L., Johnston, P., Adhikari, R.

Croatian Science Foundation (CSF)

"for Unity Through Knowledge Fund - UKF Secretariat"

Ilica 24

HR-10000 Zagreb, Croatia


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