New film for greenhouses splits light to improve photosynthetic efficiency and increase crop yields

Engineers from the University of Colorado Boulder are developing a new greenhouse material that allows the light from the sun to be split into two forms. These forms will then be used for distinct purposes, such as plant growth and water purification.

  • The project, part of a $2.45 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and administered under the National Science Foundation’s Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems (INFEWS) program, will create a customizable and inexpensive material that will help separate photosynthetic light and infrared light.
  • The material is a semi-translucent film that will split the light it receives, converting it from a green wavelength to a more beneficial red wavelength. This will add more photosynthetically efficient light that can be used in growing plants.
  • Moreover, the light that cannot be used for photosynthesis will be transferred to help with solar-driven water purification. The near-infrared wavelength can be used to treat wastewater, which allows it to be used again in other processes.
  • Researchers suggest that this development could enhance the farming industry in the U.S., and prompt new best practices for greenhouse systems in various climates, particularly in very dry regions that have limited access to freshwater and areas where growing crops are not financially viable.
  • This innovation builds on previous successes in the study to create a suite of adaptable materials that can cool structures and enhance the productivity of solar panel, and its other applications.
  • For the pilot program, the engineers intend to build a greenhouse facility to test the properties of the proposed material during various tomato production cycles. They will then move to grow leafy greens like lettuce and herbs.

The four-year study is a collaboration between the CU Boulder’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Michigan State University’s Department of Horticulture and Department of Mechanical Engineering.

 

Journal Reference:

“Greenhouse technology could be the future of food.” CU Boulder Today, 19 Jan. 2018, www.colorado.edu/today/2018/01/17/greenhouse-technology-could-be-future-food.

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