The news: A gel developed by Stanford researchers could be sprayed on forests and vegetation to make them fire-resistant, helping to stop wildfires from spreading. It’s made from cellulose polymers (extracted from plants) and particles of silica, which are chemically identical to sand, mixed with a flame-retardant fluid.
How to use it: Fire-fighting sprays are currently used on wildfires only in emergencies: this new approach would deploy them protectively before any fires can break out. In a paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers say the gel is nontoxic and biodegradable.
Rain-resistant: The team tested the gel on plants in the laboratory and then on patches of grass by a road in California, supervised by local firefighters. They found it can withstand wind and up to half an inch of rain, so iy only needs to be applied once per fire season (if it rains more than that, the risk of wildfires plummets anyway).
The bigger picture: Wildfires caused by humans are a huge and growing problem, destroying millions of acres of forest every year. It’s an issue that will only worsen as the Earth gets hotter. Many wildfires start in the same areas, like roadsides, campgrounds, and near remote electrical lines, which means local agencies could take a targeted approach, spraying the most “at risk” zones with the gel.
Sign up here for our daily newsletter The Download to get your dose of the latest must-read news from the world of emerging tech.
This CRISPR pioneer wants to capture more carbon with crops
New research at Jennifer Doudna's institute aims to create faster-growing, carbon-hungry plants using the gene-editing tool.
These materials were meant to revolutionize the solar industry. Why hasn’t it happened?
Perovskites are promising, but real-world conditions have held them back.
Running Tide is facing scientist departures and growing concerns over seaweed sinking for carbon removal
The venture-backed startup believes kelp could be a powerful tool to combat climate change. But some scientists fear the ecological risks on large scales.
Inside Charm Industrial’s big bet on corn stalks for carbon removal
The startup used plant matter and bio-oil to sequester thousands of tons of carbon. The question now is how reliable, scalable, and economical this approach will prove.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.