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FAR INFRARED RADIATION SMART FABRIC HEATING ELEMENT FOR CROPS’ ROOT ENVIRONMENT OPTIMIZATION IN GREENHOUSES

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - AgrowFab (FAR INFRARED RADIATION SMART FABRIC HEATING ELEMENT FOR CROPS’ ROOT ENVIRONMENT OPTIMIZATION IN GREENHOUSES)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2020-04-30

Challenge: Existing greenhouse heating systems fail to direct the energy to the crops, heating the whole greenhouse instead. This causes a large cost in terms of energy consumption, therefore in GHG emissions. Moreover, some of these heating systems create a favourable environment for pest proliferation, resulting in wasted crops and lower productivity.
AgrowFab solution: a cost-efficient and sustainable technology, an all-year-round root micro-environment management system that integrates heating, capillary irrigation and fertigation. It consists on a smart fabric and a Root Environment Control Unit that can be combined with other smart management systems to simultaneously control the root-zone environment, maximizing crops yields.
This pioneering technology enables:
• the direct heating of crops with accurate temperature delivery (up to 120°C),
• minimizing heat loss (-40%),
• enabling soil sterilisation and decreasing the need for pesticides (-20%),
• a direct crop yield increase of +35%.
Our consortium is formed by San Hitech Ltd. – a leading engineering company with >20-year-experience and a wholesale branch for industrial electrical supplies – and ThermoSiv Ltd. – a experienced manufacturer of smart heating fabrics – which have joined their engineering and commercial capabilities to bring AgrowFab to market.
During the first period of the project, the consortium has completed the development of the final fabrics features for the different crops' environment: specifically, detached soil implementations for Tomato and squash. The weaving structure for each crop was planned considering the required voltage, temperature and power. Several configurations have been tested in a thermal power range between 300 – 1.600 W/m². Our weaving suppliers helped us to manipulate the features of the weaves and produced the samples of the different weaves tried. Different covering materials were applied. Both technical performance and cost considerations were assessed.
The development and upgrade of AGROWFAB system control unit has transformed the ‘old’ method of control enabling a safer, more efficient and smart method of control. The previous control method was based on simple thermostat initiation; readings coming from temperature and humidity sensors placed in the heated crop beds engaged or disengaged the total system power according to pre-set cut-off values. In case of large surface systems, an analog timer was set to cyclically transfer power between predetermined zones.
The TCU (thermal control unit) was previously developed to modulate power based on specific zone parameters coming from the zone temperature and humidity sensors, allowing partial power regulation for maintaining steady state temperature at a certain zone.
The AGROWFAB consortium efforts and achievements in WP1 and WP2, transformed the controlling approach which relays on deep understanding of soil parameter and the heat profile of AGROWFAB system underground.
We have completed the development of the local controller, located on the end side of the plant bed or on the external side of the sprouting table, will measure and collect the environmental conditions and control the temperature accordingly to the local demand. The local demand will be ‘pushed’ up to the MCU and prioritized according to available power at a given moment.
We designed an experimental plan, including analytical methods, which serves as a guideline for the construction of the test sections and for the type and amount of data collection. This is being, and will be, used to conduct a demonstration of AgrowFab technology in a real greenhouse environment in two locations with different climate conditions, and to monitor and validate its effect on crops’ yields and energy consumption.
Greenhouse managers need to improve their crops productivity to guarantee food security. Heating crops roots is essential to obtain higher yields, but existing technologies fail to direct the energy to the crops, heating the whole greenhouse instead. This wastes up to a 40% of the energy used, has a large cost in terms of GHG emissions and promotes pest infestation.
AGROWFAB overcomes these shortcomings: it can potentially enhance crop yields by 35% and minimize energy waste by at least 40% through accurate and faster temperature delivery. It also decreases the pesticide use by 20%. All these benefits are packaged in one green solution at low initial investment and annual costs much lower than alternative solutions for the same conditions. As opposed to traditional systems, which are floor or ceiling-mounted, AgrowFab can be applied exactly where needed. Its mechanical flexibility provides unlimited design, allowing the final user to apply it to any surface kind or size. Our solution provides faster reaction time which can reach up to 45% faster in temperature delivery to the roots.
It is expected that the project will terminate with a practical and validated method for installing the AGROWFAB system in a greenhouse, in a smart control unit that can operate the heating fabric efficiently over a large sized GH while matching temperature with irrigation and fertigation systems, and ultimately in a cost effective and validated solution for facility owners that can replace traditional heating systems. These advances are over and above the current state of the practice; they will be driven by scientific understanding of the problem from both thermal and biological facets and will generate new journal and conference articles.