Karathanasis and Matocha began conducting lab research in January to see if they can find a material that will break down fragipan samples taken from the soil at the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton. Materials they are currently studying include calcium carbonate, fly ash, municipal waste and poultry litter.

These materials were mixed with water to emulate rainfall. In addition to visually observing the fragipan samples breaking down, the researchers will analyze the solution for inorganic and organic ions, pH level and released chemical binding agents. This will give them to clues to the chemical process that must occur for the fragipan to dissolve. Research will continue on these materials for the next several months, Karathanasis said.

As Karathanasis and Matocha identify potential materials, Murdock and Grove will conduct field studies on them. They have already begun studying the extent that different depths of the fragipan affect yields. They are also looking at certain promising materials and plants.

 “There are some early indications that poultry litter, annual ryegrass, magnesium and sodium will disperse the pan,” Murdock said. “Increasing soil pH will also disperse the pan. Some organic compounds also seem to do so, but we don’t know what those are yet.”

The researchers hope to positively identify materials capable of breaking up the fragipan within five years.


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