Water and nutrients are two important inputs to agriculture that need to be used judiciously with higher efficiency to save these limited resources. For these purposes, a series of nanoclay–polymer composite (NCPC) superabsorbent nutrient carriers were prepared. These NCPCs were based on the reactions of different types of nanoclays (10 wt %) with partially neutralized acrylic acid and acryl amide by a free-radical aqueous solution copolymerization reaction with N,N′-methylene bisacrylamide as a crosslinker and ammonium persulfate as an initiator. The nanoclays isolated from three different types of soils were dominant in kaolinite (clay I), mica (clay II), and montmorillonite (clay III), and a portion of each was freed from amorphous aluminosilicate. Thus, there were six different types of nanoclays used, namely, those dominated by kaolinite, mica, and smectite with and without amorphous aluminosilicate. Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and X-ray diffraction (XRD) investigations showed evidence of interaction between the clays and polymer. XRD investigation also showed that the reaction between the polymer and clays I and II occurred on the surface of various clay particles without intercalating into the stacked silicate galleries, whereas in the case of clay III (the smectite-dominated clay), evidence indicated the intercalation of polymer into the stacked silicate galleries of the clay and the exfoliation of the clay. The water absorbency decreased in the NCPCs compared to that of the pure polymeric hydrogel. In case of the pure polymer, the entire amount of nutrient loading released within 15 h of incubation; this was higher than that of the NCPCs. In the initial stage (up to 15 h), no significant differences in nutrient release were observed among the different polymer/clay composites, but there were differences in later stages. Among the different NCPCs, the percentage release of nutrients at 48 h ranged from around 70% in the polymer/clay III composite to 90% in the polymer/clay I composite. The presence of amorphous aluminosilicates in clay did not make any difference in the nutrient-release rate. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J. Appl. Polym. Sci., 2014, 131, 39951.
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