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New “Foam Party” for Plants Could Boost Greenhouse Efficiency

Sunarc develops new cooling foam to save energy in greenhousesA new foam developed by researchers at Sunarc of Canada, Inc. promises to give greenhouse-grown plants a boost during the summer months, without expending excess energy on conventional shading devices. In terms of the refreshing and cooling effect, the new technology is like a foam party for flora – the only catch is, the party takes place on the roof and not indoors.

The Need for More and Better Greenhouses

As crop damage due to droughts, floods,  and other weather-related events becomes more widespread due to climate change, the relatively stable environment of greenhouses will play an increasingly important role in food supply. However, greenhouses are not completely immune to the effects of climate change. Hot summer temperatures have always been problematic for greenhouse plants, making it necessary for growers to spend money – and lots of energy – on cooling pads, foggers, shades, and other means of reducing the destructive effects of too much solar radiation. With climate change comes even hotter summers, and that brings up the potential for a significant increase in the amount of energy needed to run an efficient greenhouse.

New Cooling Foam for Greenhouses

Sunarc’s energy efficient solution is a foam that is spread between two layers of polyethylene film. The foam insulates the greenhouse from excess heat, reducing the need for forced-air ventilation. In contrast to mechanical shades, on sunny days the foam mimics the action of clouds, allowing more natural light to enter without adding to heat stress. At dusk and on cloudy days, the foam is drained off into a storage system to be re-diffused when needed.

Greenhouses and Energy Efficiency

Aside from new energy-efficient cooling technologies, more improvements are on the horizon. In Italy, solar industry leader Solyndra is testing a greenhouse with a built-in photovoltaic installation, which could provide more than enough energy to run a greenhouse.  Another focal point for energy saving is the sensing and monitoring systems used in many greenhouses; for example, California-based ClimateMinder is developing a solar powered greenhouse monitoring system that can run on solar power or stored energy.

Image (altered) Foam by rosmary on flickr.com.

 
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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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