New technique could prevent rain stopping play

Researchers at Newcastle University are employing electrokinetic geosynthetics to make waterlogged sports fields a thing of the past.

Fans of Torquay United Football Club probably don’t appreciate travelling to an away game at Carlisle United only to find that the game is postponed due a waterlogged pitch.

But cancelling matches because the pitch is waterlogged could be consigned to history, thanks to new technology that could revolutionise the international world of both professional and amateur sport.

Researchers at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne are starting trials involving a completely new concept – Electrokinetic Geosynthetics (EKGs) – which would allow groundsmen to draw water from grass sports fields and so help the turf to grow healthily.

EKGs are embedded in the soil and electrified, causing unwanted water to be removed.

The EKG concept combines electro-kinetics and geosynthetics to create ‘geosynthetic electrodes’, which are fine stainless steel elements coated with a polymer. The geosynthetic electrode can still be used to pass an electrical current through the ground, but the coating makes the metal more physically and chemically robust. The material is light and easy to install and comes in a variety of shapes including strips, sheets, and 3D forms.

Although electro-osmosis has been used since the mid-20th Century to rapidly draw water from fine-grained soil, the process was hindered by a variety of problems.

One of the main problems with electro-osmosis is that when an electric current is passed through water using electrodes, it splits releasing hydrogen and oxygen as gases, generating acid and alkali conditions in the water. These reactions corrode metal electrodes, which causes them to be less efficient, reduces their lifespan and can cause a potential pollution problem. Combining the two technologies can reduce these problems considerably.

Newcastle University has been working on the development of EKG for the last eight years, and has now ‘spun-out’ a company, called NuGROUND to market the technology.

EKG has several other potential applications – including stabilising railway embankments and helping to clean contaminated land. NuGROUND is concentrating much of its efforts in its start-up phase on the sports field applications.