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

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - AgrowFab (FAR INFRARED RADIATION SMART FABRIC HEATING ELEMENT FOR CROPS’ ROOT ENVIRONMENT OPTIMIZATION IN GREENHOUSES)

Reporting period: 2021-05-01 to 2022-03-31

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.

The consortium has tested and validated the Agrowfab technology in multiple field studies including experimental pilots as well as early adopter installations both in Israel and Japan. A comprehensive communication and commercialization plan has been created and initial agreements have been signed with an OEM manufacturer in Israel and a national distributer in Japan. The consortium partners have made resource preparations for the scale-up of production in two manufacturing plants. As part of the approved risk management and mitigation plan, the consortium has developed a B2C product to overcome COVID restriction challenges in the B2B segment, a launch plan was prepared and is ready for deployment.
During the project, the consortium 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 were tested in a thermal power range between 300 – 1.600 W/m². 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, transformed the controlling approach which relays on deep understanding of soil parameter and the heat profile of AGROWFAB system underground.

A local controller has been fully developed, it is located on the end side of the plant bed or on the external side of the sprouting table, and it measures and collects the environmental conditions and controls the temperature accordingly to the local demand. The local demand pushes up to the MCU and prioritizes 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 used to conduct demonstrations of AgrowFab technology in real greenhouse environments and to monitor and validate its effect on crops’ yields and energy consumption.

Agrowfab systems was initially installed and tested during the Winter season in 2 main sites, 2 in Israel and 2 in Japan. In Israel, the system was tested in a nursery greenhouse for multiple crops, an energy consumption analysis was conducted against competitive technologies. The second test site in Israel was a strawberry greenhouse. In Japan, experiments were carried out in Tomato and Broccoli nurseries with growth comparisons done with existing methods.

During the final period of the project, Agrowfab B2B systems were installed in additional strawberry and pineapple greenhouses at Israel in addition to the already deployed system at the early adopter customer. All installations performed successfully during the winter season, proving that Agrowfab system is able to generate increased yield for strawberry as well as its potential use for off-season production. Our early adopters in Japan and Israel are aiming to enlarge their pilot installations. In preparation for the commercialization of the B2B product a new website has been launched and the consortium has planned to participate in trade shows for the coming 2 years.

COVID-19 pandemic brought economic activity to a near stand-still due to tight restrictions on movement. This represented a market opportunity for AGROWFAB team to launch a B2C AGROWFAB solution. The pandemic has created a growing market of home-gardening as people are growing herbs, fruits and vegetables in their own homes. Our AGROWFAB B2C solution is a modular, recycled planter kit which enables year-round crop growth with automated heating, irrigation and soil EC monitoring. We have branded the solution and prepared an online launch plan.
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 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, AgrowFab can be applied exactly where needed. Its mechanical flexibility provides unlimited design, allowing the final user to apply it to any surface or size. Our solution provides faster reaction time, up to 45% faster in temperature delivery to the roots.

After a 3 years project we have designed a practical and validated method for installing the AGROWFAB system in a greenhouse, and a smart control unit that operates 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.

In addition with the B2C AGROWFAB solution, home-grower hobbyists can become professional growers all-year-round gardening with minimal effort.
Nursery greenhouse experiment, Israel (2)
Strawberry growbag experiment_Israel_1
Strawberry experiment, Israel (2)
Heat module layout experiment
Pineapple experiment, Israel
Strawberry growbag experiment_Israel_2.jpg
Strawberry experiment, Israel (1)
Flowerpots wrapped with different heating sheets
Nursery greenhouse experiment, Israel (1)
Broccoli seedling experiment - Japan
Project technology (website)
Experimental greenhouse