When the lights are out, it looks like a regular grow-rack. However, inside is a specially developed type of diffuse glass, containing both LED lights and a reflecting mirror. This new equipment, the CoolGrow VF developed by MechaTronix, makes it possible to do dynamic LED research in an affordable way.
“There aren’t many products available that make research with LED affordable, of high quality and flexible”, Koen Vangorp, CEO with Mechatronix, explains. “We’ve seen there are many opportunities with grow lights – but what we’ve seen most is that there’s so much more to discover.”
With their newly developed CoolGrow VF, the company offers a solution to this. The light recipe offered to the plants is completely dynamic. “Both the light level and the spectrum can be adjusted via the new Bluetooth Mesh technology. A grower can set the amount of red, blue, far-red and green with their mobile phones. All data is saved securely in the cloud”, Koen shows. The choice for green instead of white lights was made to give growers even more control. “White of course is comprised of blue and phosphor. If you want to do research right, you’ll want to steer the blue light separately, and that’s not possible if you’re working with white light. Also to me, it is important to create a working atmosphere that’s as comfortable as possible to employees.Therefore you’ll want to include the green light as well.”
But enough about the research lights - time to discover the technique inside. Remarkable about the CoolGrow VF is how the LED lights are assembled within a layer of diffused glass. “This way the distance from the plants to the LEDs can be shortened and the irradiation is as uniform as possible. If we would have placed the LEDs on a bar, there would be an overlay and we would have to realize a 20 cm distance to the plants.” According to Koen, there’s a second advantage to the use of diffused glass. “By diffusing the light, the light penetrates into the crop deeper. To optimize results, we want the spectrum to get in touch with the crop’s complete morphology. And that’s what we’re able to do thanks to the diffused glass.”
Thanks to glass producer Scheuten, now the LEDs are placed within this double layered glass. “Stogger from the Netherlands was behind the development of the technology and the wireless controls. We’ve partnered with Chesswise to create a cloud solution and store the data online.”
Then there’s another secret hidden within the glass. The CoolGrow is equipped with a reflective coating inside the glass, reflecting the light that the plant itself reflects. “When talking about vertical farms, ROI is the first thing that comes to your mind. We know the plant reflects about 10-15% of the light they achieve. On top of that, certainly with young crops, there is a lot of intercanopy space, which also can reflect a lot of light. If you talk about 100 mmol, this easily leads to up to 40 mmol being lost. By re-reflecting all this light through the glass, the profitability of the lights goes up with 20%.” According to Koen, this will not influence the spectrum being used.
The CoolControls Bluetooth technology also logs the temperature per panel, and allows adding various sensors like PAR sensors, humidity and EC. “Therefore growers don’t need expensive sensors but can start with their research right away. And of course when you operate a vertical farm, you want to be able to see what’s going on in every part of the operation - something that can be quite difficult when you work with numbers of racks and floors.” Focussing on upscaling as well is why the CoolGrow VF plates are 1.20 by 75 cm. “We’ve decided not to follow the standard size of a Danish trolley, but to use the size of a Euro pallet. In the end you want to build warehouses, and the price of the complete installation is what counts.”
Research & development
When talking to Koen about the new research tool, it’s clear he’s proud of the equipment - but the technique isn’t his goal. “These research lights are a tool into enabling growers and breeders to work with LEDs. The possibilities with LEDs are endless. The first step would be creating the optimum growing recipe – what works best for the plant. The next step would be a dynamic model, where the various plant phases are taken into account. The results can be further optimized when steered dynamically. We’ve seen this with strawberries for example: waking them up slowly in the morning and not adding 10% far red light all day but adjusting it to the plant’s response gives better results.”
Also in his research goals, there’s the combination of IPM with grow lights. “We now know there’s a relationship between IPM and grow lights - but there’s more to discover. Could we also remove plagues with the use of light? Optimize the use of IPM? And in this, it’s about finding the balance between combating and avoiding plagues while not disturbing the plant’s growth. For example with UV lights or blue light, we might be able to avoid harmful insects, but adding too much might damage the crop growth cycle. The same goes for mildew: it can be combated with UV-C, but what will the plants’ response be? Finding out how we can use this information in the cultivation – that’s our next dream. With affordable and dynamic research solutions, we make it easier to get there.”
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