Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Agriculture, Food and Environment


Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Sue E. Nokes

Second Advisor

Dr. Michael D. Montross


Superabsorbent polymers (hydrogels) as soil amendments may improve soil hydraulic properties and act as carrier materials beneficial to soil microorganisms. Researchers have mostly explored synthetic hydrogels which may not be environmentally sustainable. This dissertation focused on the development and application of lignin-based hydrogels as sustainable soil amendments. This dissertation also explores the development of pedotransfer transfer functions (PTFs) for predicting saturated hydraulic conductivity using statistical and machine learning methods with a publicly available large data set. A lignin-based hydrogel was synthesized, and its impact on soil water retention was determined in silt loam and loamy fine sand soils. Hydrogel treatment significantly increased water retention at saturation/near saturation by 0.12 cm3 cm-3 and at field capacity by 0.08 cm3 cm-3 for silt loam soil compared to a control treatment with no added lignin hydrogel. Hydrogel application significantly increased water retention at -3 cm to -15,000 cm soil water pressure head by 0.01 - 0.03 cm3 cm-3 for the loamy fine sand soil. Calculations demonstrated that at a 1% (w/w) concentration or lower, lignin-based hydrogels in silt loam and loamy fine sand soils would not increase plant available soil water storage. The incorporation of lignin-hydrogels significantly decreased saturated hydraulic conductivity. In unsaturated conditions, application of the lignin-based hydrogel at 0.1 and 0.3% (w/w) increased hydraulic conductivity. New pedotransfer functions (PTFs) for predicting saturated hydraulic conductivity were developed using machine learning (ML) and a large public database. Random forest regression and gradient boosted regression both gave the best performances with R2 =0.71 and RMSE = 0.47 cm h-1 on the validation data set. The concentration of lignin-alginate hydrogel added to Rhizobial cell culture did not affect cell survival. All treatments of wet bioencapsulated beads achieved a similar yield of 97%, however, the presence of starch in the lignin-alginate beads increased the survival of Rhizobium cells.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)