A world-first invention in clear, energy harvesting glass has been developed by western Australian scientists. It is expected that if it used in greenhouses it could produce crops in any climate or season. Greenhouses powered by nanotechnology developed in WA could turn the driest of deserts into productive agricultural land thanks to a $1.6 million grant from the Federal Government’s Cooperative Research Centre.
The grant will be used to build a 300sqm greenhouse using transparent glass that can generate 50 watts of power per square metre of surface area.
Researchers from the Electron Science Research Institute (ESRI) at the Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Perth have developed a revolutionary new type of solar glass that is embedded with nanoparticles that work to draw out 90 per cent of the ultraviolet (UV) and infrared rays from the sun, transferring the rays to solar cells embedded on the edge of the glass panels.
The rays are converted into energy, while allowing 70 per cent of visible light to pass through while blocking 90 per cent of solar UV and IR radiation.
Potential uses for the harvested energy include providing power for lighting, heating, cooling, or water desalination and irrigation.
This solar-glass, developed by the ESRI in collaboration with ClearVue Technologies, will provide enough power to run heating or cooling for the greenhouse, as well as desalination to provide water. ESRI Director Professor Kamal Alameh said being able to convert unwanted radiation into electricity could be a huge cost-saver in greenhouses.
“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,” he 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.”
Professor Kamal said the solar-glass could be tailored to produce the perfect growing conditions for particular plants.
“Being able to selectively control light radiation, thus maximising the crop yield, while producing and storing electricity for water desalination, irrigation, heating and air conditioning, will enable greenhouses to operate in a closed environment,” he said.
“This is particularly significant for parts of the world that are too hot and dry for traditional greenhouse agriculture.”
ClearVue Technologies Chairman Victor Rosenberg said the key to the greenhouse project was the development of advanced glazing technology. He also said that the glass would provide farmers “safety and security of product” and reduce the need for chemicals.
“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 any other of the chemicals that are used because at the end of the day you do swallow them and you do eat them,” he said.
Professor Kamal said due to its designed self-sufficiency, there were no limitations to where such a greenhouse could be built, which could see agricultural production in areas currently too hot or dry to produce crops.
“The applications for our advanced solarglass technology could go far beyond greenhouses. It could be used in the construction industry, for public amenities like bus stops as well as for specialty products,” he said.
“If you have underground water that’s all we need to basically produce a crop.”
Professor Kamal said the solar-glass produced roughly 35 watts of energy per square metre of glass, which he believed was sufficient due to the amount of visible light the plants would receive. Ω
PH&G March 2017 / Issue 177