As countries around the world grapple with water shortages due to fast-growing populations and changing climates, silicon technology from Midland’s Dow Corning Corp. is helping farmers around the world irrigate their crops more efficiently, reducing the amount of water required.

According to UNICEF, almost three million people lack sufficient water in China’s northern Shanxi province; in India, 12 states are facing the most severe drought in a century; and in Pakistan, nearly three million citizens are at risk of starvation due to a drought that has affected crops and livestock.

Roughly 70 percent of all fresh water used internationally is for agricultural purposes, so technology innovations and conservation through efficient irrigation systems are going to play an increasingly important role in ensuring adequate water supply to keep up with expanding food requirements, according to Conservation International.

Solar-powered pumps and silicone rubber membranes used in drip irrigation systems to control water flow are two such silicon-enabled innovations that can help.

Photovoltaic solar panels rely on polycrystalline silicon to covert the sun’s energy into electricity and can power devices such as water pumps that can be moved from one location to another without having to be connected to a municipal power grid, which is especially critical to farmers in remote villages.

“Solar energy provides an exciting convergence of sun and silicon — two abundant, natural resources that will enable a sustainable, environmentally friendly solution to global energy and water needs,” said Greg Bausch, solar product market manager for Hemlock Semiconductor Group, one of the world’s largest producers of polycrystalline silicon and a joint venture of which Dow Corning is majority shareholder.

But the role of silicon-based materials does not stop there. Due to its durability and ability to perform across wide temperature ranges, silicone rubber used in drip irrigation systems can help control the amount of water — in some cases, just a few drops at a time — released into the soil.

“Water conservation is one area where silicon-based materials can help address a growing global problem and make a difference in people’s lives,” said Justin Jorgensen, global marketing manager for Dow Corning’s Xiameter brand. “In addition, the need to conserve water is most urgent in parts of the developing world where cost is an issue. With the Xiameter brand, we provide reliable, high-quality, standard silicone products without the cost or complexity of customization that our customers don’t need.”

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