As the world searches for sustainable food security solutions, there’s been rapid growth in commercial greenhouse horticulture, which enables food to be grown year-round on minimal acreage, shielded from its environs and hence requiring fewer inputs.
A corresponding growth in glasshouse R&D has led to some exciting technology.
One such innovation, an Australian and world first, is a game-changing new ‘solar-glass’ developed by researchers at the Electron Science Research Institute (ESRI) at Edith Cowan University in Perth in partnership with ClearVue Technologies Ltd.
The transparent, energy-harvesting nanotechnology film, patented as ClearVue Advanced Glazing Technology, has the potential to create desert oases of year-round ‘self-sustainable’ primary production.
Each panel of ClearVue film sits within the glass sheet of the greenhouse, drawing in solar energy and directing the radiation to solar cells, while an impressive 70 percent of visible light passes through the panels into the greenhouse.
The revolutionary new film is embedded with micro- and nano-particles that work to extract 90 percent of the ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) rays from solar energy and transfer them to compact photovoltaic cells embedded on the edges of the ClearVue panels, where they are converted to electrical energy that can be used to provide heating, cooling, lighting, irrigation, water desalination and the like.
Temperature control, arguably the most important element in a commercial horticultural greenhouse, is crop-dependent; optimal growing temperatures can range substantially from around 15°C to 29°C. As conventional glass has limited insulation properties, maintaining a constant temperature inside a greenhouse requires continual monitoring and costly climate-control systems that burn additional energy – especially when external temperatures are extreme.
The new ‘solar-glass’ technology has insulative properties “superior to [that of] any other glass product on the market”, claims ClearVue Technologies, helping to protect crops from summer’s heat and winter’s chills – and if more climate control is needed, power generated by the panels can be used for heating or cooling.
A self-sufficient, eco-friendly commercial greenhouse?
The new technology could be a big cost-saver to greenhouse operators, ESRI director Kamal Alameh told ABC Rural in February 2017.
“In a closed environment you don’t need a lot of water, so you don’t need a lot of energy to filter the water if you have underground water,” Professor Alameh said. “You also don’t need a lot of cooling and heating because we use these thin-film coatings to actually block the unwanted radiation, so that we can save on the energy used for cooling and heating.
“We hope to end up with a self-sustainable greenhouse that doesn’t need the power from the grid, and then it can be producing its own energy to produce the maximum or a good crop yield.”
Professor Alameh said the technology was designed for self-sufficiency; potentially enabling food production in regions currently seen as too hot, cold or dry to produce crops. “If you have underground water that’s all we need to basically produce a crop,” he told ABC Rural.
The energy-collecting film is capable of producing around 35 watts of energy per square metre of glass, says Professor Alameh – which should be sufficient to power most greenhouse operations, as lighting needs would be reduced thanks to the amount of visible light the plants would receive.
A cleaner, greener product
ClearVue Technologies chairman Victor Rosenberg said the glass would provide farmers “safety and security of product” and could cut greenhouse operators’ use of chemical inputs.
“With a closed environment under good controlled conditions, we want to get to the point where we can actually reduce the use of pesticides, fungicides and ... [other] chemicals,” he told ABC Rural, “...because at the end of the day you do swallow them and you do eat them.”
From a business perspective, the insulative and power-generation properties of the panels should substantially offset capital and installation costs.
The panels have already been trialled on a ‘self-sustainable’ bus shelter in Melbourne. ESRI recently received $1.6 million in grant funding from the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Programme to construct a 300-square metre trial greenhouse in the Perth area with ClearVue Technologies and Apex Greenhouses (Australia).
For more information, visit ClearVue Technologies Ltd’s website, check out the ClearVue horticulture industry case study or contact Victor Rosenberg on +61 411 661 333 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the Electron Science Research Institute’s cutting-edge research, visit the ESRI web portal.SUBSCRIBE to our fortnightly e-newsletter to receive more stories like this.