A team of University of Colorado (CU) Boulder engineers recently received a $2.45 million grant from the USDA to develop a scalable, cost-effective greenhouse material that splits sunlight into photosynthetically efficient light and repurposes inefficient infrared light to aid in water purification.
The four-year research program could yield new technology capable of solving food, energy, and water security challenges posed by global population growth and climate change, according to an article in CU Boulder Today, published by the university.
The study, administered under the USDA and National Science Foundation’s Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems program, will be led by researchers from CU Boulder’s Department of Mechanical Engineering in collaboration with Michigan State University’s (MSU) Department of Horticulture and Department of Mechanical Engineering.
“We are excited to work on a project that addresses one of the most important global challenges with our multidisciplinary colleagues at CU and MSU,” says Ronggui Yang, a Professor of Mechanical Engineering who will lead the team.
According to the research team, by the year 2050, current greenhouse capabilities will likely be unable to keep up with worldwide human food consumption, making an increase in productivity an urgent mandate.
Under normal conditions, plants only use around 50% of incoming sunlight for photosynthesis, while the remaining half goes unused.
“The new CU Boulder technology will take the form of a semi-translucent film that splits incoming light and converts the rays from less-desired green wavelengths into more desirable red wavelengths, thus increasing the amount of photosynthetically efficient light for the plant with no additional electricity consumption,” says Xiaobo Yin, an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science and Engineering at CU Boulder.
The thin engineered material can be applied directly to the surface of greenhouse panels. The technology also makes use of the photosynthetically ineffective light by redirecting it to aid in solar-driven water purification.
“The near-infrared wavelengths can help clean brackish wastewater, allowing it to be recirculated in an advanced humidification-dehumidification interface and further reducing the greenhouse’s energy footprint,” said Yang, an American Society of Mechanical Engineers Fellow.
The researchers plan to create a pilot greenhouse facility to test the material’s properties over the course of multiple tomato production cycles and, later, expand the test to leafy greens such as lettuce and herbs.
Check out the full article here.