New solar technology could help address water and food insecurity

Posted 1 March 2017

GreenhouseAustralian solar technology could significantly boost agricultural water-use efficiency, and help address future global food insecurity and water shortages.

Scientists from Edith Cowan University (ECU) have helped develop a world-first 'Intelligent Glass' solar technology for use in greenhouses.

The technology converts the ultraviolet and infrared components of sunlight into electricity while allowing visible light – which is important for photosynthesis – to pass through the glass.

“Our solar glass panels comprise spectrally-selective optical structures and inorganic nano-particles doped into epoxy material that laminates two sheets of clear glass,” said ECU's Electron Science Research Institute (ESRI) director Kamal Alameh.

“The glass structure allows most of the visible light to pass through while more than 90% of the UV and 95% of IR radiation energy is scattered and partially routed to the edges of the glass, where it is collected by PV cells to produce electricity.

“By blocking UV, IR and thermal radiation, our solar glass panels provide superior insulation properties compared to conventional glass and low-emissivity glass available on the market today. The reduction in heating, cooling and lighting costs by using this solar glass is expected to achieve up to 40% energy savings in glass greenhouses.”

Alameh said greenhouses could help address food security challenges by reducing evaporation, allowing for the use of drip irrigation and the possibility of shorter crop cycles.

But it’s hoped the new glass technology, developed with ClearVue Technologies, would deliver even greater benefits.

“The microclimate control in a greenhouse reduces water loss caused by evaporation because the glasshouse blocks wind, increases relative humidity, and our PV glass panels control the solar radiation reaching the crop for photosynthesis,” Alameh said.

“Greenhouses can support denser arrangements of crops than an identically sized plot in the open air, especially because the glass is designed to diffuse the incoming sunlight and spread it uniformly to all plants – even plants that are closely spaced can receive sufficient light.

A 300sq m trial greenhouse built near Perth will test the real-world application of the solar technology and quantify the results for further use.