Ht2ftw-Smart materials for greenhouses
The demand for vegetables and fruits worldwide is increasing. Vegetables and fruits for fresh consumptions are produced in protected cultivation. With increasing affluence, the area of protected cultivation in the world is increasing, leading to increased demand for fresh, high-quality vegetables, without chemical residues. Protected cultivation in greenhouses makes this possible by capturing the sun’s energy to raise inside temperature. Several properties of the cover materials contribute to crop productivity, quality and even the content of healthy compounds. The amount of sun radiation entering the greenhouse determines its temperature; light in the PAR wavelength range drives photosynthesis, the fundamental motor of crop production; the wavelength composition of light has a “signalling effect” on crop development and on the content of nutraceuticals of food products and the geometrical distribution of light affects crop productivity. In addition, the properties of the cover (and additional screen) material(s) determine the energy that is lost at night, requiring replacement by heating.
There is a great need and a huge potential for the development and application of “smart” or “adaptable” cover materials that would make it possible to control the quantity, spectral composition and geometrical distribution of solar radiation entering the greenhouse. Next to light and temperature, a smart control of the growth factors CO2 and humidity is very important to optimize crop production and nutritional food products. New selective membranes and other “smart” or “adaptable” materials are needed so that a microclimate and light environment is generated that maximizes food production and desired quality aspects and containing healthy components, while minimizing/nullifying the need for fossil energy. This program will benefit from a two pronged approach: the adaptation of existing knowledge and materials to solve horticultural challenges, but also new higher-risk/higher-reward research to solve these challenges.
The long-term goal is that new greenhouse production systems will utilize sunlight in a very efficient way since they will be covered with smart or adaptable materials. Solar light at any climate zone in the world will be converted into a form (quantity, quality, geometrical distribution) exactly needed by the crop to produce fresh products with high yield, good taste and high content in healthy components. All growth factors (light, temperature, CO2, humidity) will be controlled by smart or adaptable materials in order to reach a minimum input of resources during food production (energy, CO2, water).
In this program we focused as well on fundamental research for new smart material development as on industrial research of modification of existing materials and implementing adapted materials in greenhouse production systems. Short-term product screening and testing was combined with mid-term material adaptation and long-term fundamental new smart material development.
The program was a crossover of the topsectors T&U and HTSM (High-tech 2 Feed the World) and offered a unique collaboration of horticultural supply industry (Glastuinbouw Nederland, Mardenkro, Glascom Tuinbouw/DA Glass, RKW/Hyplast) with high-tech industry (Vereniging FME-CWM, Fujifilm, BASF, Saint-Gobain/Cultilene, Sabic) as well as a unique collaboration between academic researchers in the areas of horticulture (Wageningen University & Research) and chemistry (Technical University of Eindhoven) to design new greenhouse production concepts with smart materials for the horticultural industry.
The Dutch horticultural sector profits from knowledge brought in from the international high-tech industry and benefits from the knowledge and new products developed in this program. At the same time the visibility of the Dutch greenhouse horticulture as a high-tech production sector is directly enlarged.
The goals of this project are:
1. Define technical requirements of smart materials: Identify the most promising characteristics of smart materials for various regions in the world based on optimized crop growth, production and nutritional value.
2. Global market assessment: Different technologies will be assessed and developed in order to create technical solutions which are specific for different climate zones all over the world and different types of food production systems. For the different technologies the global market size and potential will be investigated. Future market trends and needs will be assessed.
3. Technology assessment of existing materials: Review existing materials and identify the need for adaptation for viable application in protected cultivation. Screening available materials from high-tech industry for horticultural use, technical evaluation of material properties, feasibility for horticultural use, feedback of detailed properties to individual industry partners, summary of general properties for participating consortium.
4. Adaptation of existing smart materials to innovative systems: Adapt selected materials from high-tech industry for horticultural use, test and demonstrate application of some selected smart materials separately in horticultural environment on small scale (within this project). Combine selected smart materials and demonstrate application of these high-tech materials in greenhouse production systems on larger scale (not in this project, additional public financing will be asked for that).
5. Development of new smart materials: Develop new smart materials using academic knowledge of technical universities for application in greenhouses for transfer to commercial partners.
6. Networking between high-tech and horticultural companies. Exchange of knowledge between both industries. Bring knowledge from international high-tech industry to the Dutch horticultural sector. Enable Dutch supply industry to export knowledge internationally. At the same time the visibility of the Dutch greenhouse horticulture as a high-tech production sector is enlarged. Exchange of knowledge between academic and industrial partners.
The project idea is in line with MMIP B5E12A Energy saving, production and use, in concrete terms with the program “Kas als Energiebron”, which has the long-term ambition of a sustainable and profitable greenhouse horticulture sector, which is climate-neutral, in which water is used sustainably and cultivation systems are resilient and robust. This project develops new sustainable technologies to make maximum use of the natural sunlight, new greenhouse covering and screen materials are developed for high light transmission, spectrum selection, light distribution. Due to their properties, materials with a high insulation make a direct contribution to the energy-saving objectives of the mission and to the development of climate-neutral horticultural production systems. Furthermore, materials with “smart” properties such as moisture absorption / permeability in the greenhouse roof or in screen materials are being developed, which can drastically reduce the ventilation requirement and thus the heating requirement. This also gives concrete contribution to the subject of energy saving. However, integral sustainability of the greenhouse "system" is only guaranteed if the additional CO2 shortage is solved in a sustainable manner, such as e.g. through new materials. Moisture-regulating materials also make an important contribution here to keep the conditions for the crop optimal.
This project idea contributes to the development of key technologies ST1 for Smart Agri-Horti-Water-Food. A next generation of high-tech materials and (nano) coatings and (nano) structured materials, functional additives, membranes or coatings and materials with responsive properties are being developed. The new materials will strengthen the position of the high-tech industry in the Netherlands, contribute to sustainable and profitable international greenhouse horticulture and to the health and well-being of consumers in Europe and beyond. The material development in this project is realized through a collaboration of high-tech companies that are strong in material development or even have already developed materials for other applications which, after adjustments, also offer added value for horticultural adaptations, and companies active in horticulture that meet the needs of the horticulturalists and greenhouses. By means of these projects, both sectors are connected to each other, get to know their needs and bring about co-innovations together. This project is a unique initiative in the field of material development for horticulture.
The following results were planned within the different workpackages:
WP1 Technical requirements of smart materials
- identify the most promising characteristics of smart materials, for various regions in the world based on optimized crop growth, production and nutritional value
- expected effect on production and/or resource requirement for each combination of “smart” property, for various materials and regions
WP2 Global market assessment
-provide industrial partners with the information required for their return-on-investment analysis and to identify target markets
-global areas of protected cultivation (vegetables & fruits and floriculture) and an indicative distribution into low-, mid- and high-tech level
-market trends based on future developments, e.g. demographics, (internat.) government policies, income (welfare)
-potential production area and value for the most promising combinations of climatic region/material/smart properties
WP3 Technology assessment of existing smart materials
- identify and test potentially useful existing materials of industry partners -- quantify the need for their adaptation for viable application in protected cultivation
- summary of useful/promising properties in existing materials, including an analysis of present constraints to greenhouse application as such (potential business cases)
WP4 Adaptation of existing smart materials to innovative systems
- assess and test on small scale the potential of adaptations of existing materials for greenhouse application
- first small scale test results of effect of adapted smart materials on food production and quality
- concept plan for medium scale test/demonstration to be submitted to other tender such as proof-of-principle in IDC Energy.
WP5 Development of new smart materials
- develop new smart materials for application in greenhouses (fundamental research within the scope of a PhD research)
The following innovations were planned to be in the scope of new smart material development for greenhouse application within WP3-WP5:
- High transparency and insulation e.g. smart glass with new coatings, hydrophilic and self-cleaning surfaces, multi-layer plastic sheets with increased IR absorption, new air bubble films, new high-performance plastic film polymers to combine high light transmission with high energy saving.
- Generation of diffuse light e.g. nanocoatings or microlenses incorporated in or on glasses, nano- and microparticles or new surface structures on plastic materials and new coatings combine wide geometrical light distribution with high light transmission. Organic based polymer materials to change their scattering properties upon exposure to specific triggers such as light or heat to accommodate local light/temperature characteristics.
- Switchable modification of the solar spectrum e.g. multi-layer plastics or liquid crystalline polymers capable of reversible reflection and transmission of incident NIR and outgoing thermal IR change energy balance of greenhouses, photochromic and/or thermochromics modify light intensity and quality depending on light or temperature levels, electrically switchable glasses modify light intensity and light scattering, luminescent down- or up converting materials modify solar spectrum and create more light for photosynthesis, coloured temporary coatings, plastic films or screens modify light spectrum (mainly scope of WP5).
- Humidity control/filtering e.g. control of air humidity by new polymers or responsive organic membranes, filtering based on chemical structure, size, electrical charge by gas separating membranes, hydrogels and superabsorbent polymers control air humidity and reduce potentially evaporation.
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