Solar glass offers clear vision for crop growth

23/02/2017 - 14:25

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Scientists at Edith Cowan University’s Electron Science Research Institute have received a $1.6 million federal grant to enable further development of a new type of solar glass that offers significant potential for agriculture.

Kamal Alameh with the transparent solar glass, which will be used in the construction of, and to power, a 300sqm greenhouse prototype. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Self-sustaining greenhouses powered by transparent solar glass technology could have a big impact on crop yields. 

Scientists at Edith Cowan University’s Electron Science Research Institute have received a $1.6 million federal grant to enable further development of a new type of solar glass that offers significant potential for agriculture.

In collaboration with local business ClearVue Technologies, the ESRI will use the grant, awarded earlier this month, to build a 300-square metre greenhouse, planted with cucumber and capsicum. Growth will be monitored for the next three years as part of a performance analysis to find the optimum solution for crop yield.

It will be the first to-scale model for the technology following promising trials of a four by four metre structure.

ClearVue Technologies chief executive Victor Rosenberg said the technology had already attracted commercial interest from overseas, and the company had been invited to display one of the transparent solar glass panels at an upcoming international solar power expo in Shanghai.

“You can talk about the technology as much as you like, but the demonstration unit is what’s going to bring sales,” Mr Rosenberg told Business News.

“I believe our product is a world-first for clear glass and the size that we’re at.

“And the difference between this and any other modern greenhouse is that we supply our own power from the glass, instead of acres of solar panels, which is what many are doing to power structures today.”

The solar glass can generate 50 watts of power per square metre of surface area, providing enough power for a greenhouse to self-run irrigation, heating and cooling systems, as well as water desalination.

“This first structure is very important for the birth of this whole industry for us,” Mr Rosenberg said.

“When crops get wiped out it might take them years to recover; this could provide security for farmers.

“We’re also hoping to reduce the amount of insecticides that are used because you’ve got enclosed and controlled environmental conditions.”

Development

Researchers have been refining the advanced glazing technology for the past five years, and have secured five patents to produce a solar glass panel that can block 90 per cent of solar ultraviolet rays and infrared radiation, while allowing 70 per cent of visible light to pass through.

ESRI director Kamal Alameh said by controlling light radiation within a self-sustainable closed environment, farmers could maximise crop yield, especially in parts of the world that were too hot and dry for traditional greenhouse agriculture.

“We can convert a desert into a greenhouse with only the use of the sun and underground water,” Professor Alameh told Business News.

“Visible light needs to pass through for photosynthesis and the growth of a crop, but you also need to block the infrared that causes heat inside the greenhouse.

“Our technology does this and at the same time converts the UV and infrared into electricity, so we can produce and store power from the glass without the need to have power lines in the area.”

Professor Alameh said two panes of the low-ion glass were laminated with epoxy (adhesive) mixed with two different types of inorganic materials, which were ground into nanoparticles.

“We use less than half a gram of these powders within one square metre, and those powders interact with the reflective light,” he said.

“The reflective radiations interact with those powders and are scattered and sent to the edges of the glass, where they are converted to electricity via solar cells on the frame, and then stored in a battery.”

Although there are similar technologies currently available in the market, Professor Alameh said these were not as transparent or efficient as the ESRI-ClearVue product.

“Some technologies use solar cells but embed them into the glass, so you can block maybe half the light or allow 30 per cent of visible light to pass through,” he said.

Mr Rosenberg said the application of the solar glass technology extended beyond greenhouse structures and had strong potential for use in the construction industry, for ‘curtain walls’ as well as public amenities.

The panels have recently been used interstate for the construction of a bus shelter, with further developments to include a digital timetable powered by the solar glass.

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