Sustainable glasshouse production innovations

Sustainable glasshouse production innovations

Two of the three winners at this year’s GreenTech Innovation Awards in Amsterdam offer major benefits for sustainable glasshouse production. Fred Searle speaks to the people behind the cutting-edge new systems

The aim is to make the Celine system commercially available at the end of 2021

Celine by CE-Line

This irrigation system gives greenhouse growers ultimate control over the nutrients going to their plants. The irrigation water can be adjusted as desired and all nutrients are measured continuously. This real-time data, combined with an individual nutrient-dosing system, makes it possible to create irrigation water that is both stable and controllable. 

According to GreenTech, this can lead to a five per cent increase in yield, improved crop quality and lower use of water and fertilisers. The GreenTech Innovation Awards jury called it “a great step forward in high precision fertilisation”, adding that “knowing what the plant uses at certain climate conditions will help reduce over-fertilisation and waste”.

Wilco Dijkstra, director, CE-Line

What is the product’s main purpose?

Top athletes perform best with the optimal nutrition. To ensure that plants which produce vegetables perform best, they also need optimal nutrition. Nutrition is brought to plants with irrigation water and with Celine, the grower is able to give his plants the optimal nutrition, every day. 
The Celine system measures all essential nutrients real-time, and this data is connected to individual nutrient-dosing instruments. Is there too little potassium in the irrigation water? The system can be directly adjusted to provide the optimal nutrition.

What type of crop production is the technology designed for?

The Celine system can create the irrigation water for all type of growing technologies, but we saw that with hydroponic growing, it has the most value. This is because of the higher refreshing of new water towards the plants.

What are Celine’s environmental benefits?

There is total control over the irrigation water and its composition. For horticulture, this means the excess water can be reused, with no discharge of unusable water into the local water bodies. Also, less nutrients and fertilisers need to be added to the irrigation water.
Control over the irrigation water means the plants can be given exactly what they need, at all times. This makes the plants strong and healthy and means less crop protection agents are needed. 
Finally, automated nutrient measurements and control over the irrigation water can be connected to the climate computers, allowing for the preparation of the irrigation water to be totally automated – a missing link in autonomous growing.

What makes the technology different from similar innovations?

The unique selling point of the Celine system is that it measures all essential nutrients in real time and automatically fully calibrates itself. This way the data is reliable and the results are on the same level as a laboratory. 
The essential nutrients Celine measures are: NH4, K, Na, Mg, Ca, Cl, NO3, SO4, HCO3 and PO4.

What were the main challenges you faced when developing it?

It is a big challenge coming from a proof of concept to an actual working prototype but proving that the measurement technology is on the same level as the laboratories was our biggest challenge. We are very happy with the results of a project with the University of Wageningen, which validated our measurements system.

When will CELINE be available to producers in the UK and Europe?

We aim to have it commercially available at the end of 2021 for Europe, the UK and the big horticulture countries.

The Nexus High Performance Reverse Osmosis by Van der Erde Groep

The Nexus HPRO is a water desalination system for glasshouse growers that uses less energy and gives a higher recovery rate than a conventional reverse osmosis (RO) system by using smart machine technology. It makes use of the water source in a more efficient and responsible way, resulting in lower consumption of raw water and less wastewater.

The GreenTech Innovation Awards jury said it was a “great idea” to use AI to increase the efficiency of RO and that they expected it to have a big impact on sustainability.  

Luuk Tetteroo, product manager water treatment, Moor Filtertechniek

What is the product’s main purpose?

The main purpose of this product is to desalinate water, to remove all dissolved salts. This can make a secondary water source suitable for irrigation. The HPRO does this in the most efficient way, being more efficient with water and energy. The HPRO enables growers to decrease their water footprint, or to increase production with the same amount of water.

What type of crop production is the technology designed for?

It is for any kind of crop that cannot handle too high concentrations of sodium.

What are HPRO’s environmental benefits?

Due to the higher water and energy efficiencies, it lowers the usage of natural resources, and means less additives have to be used to treat the water.

What makes the technology different from similar innovations?

It is a smart hydraulic design combined with advances in software including AI. This means the machine will make decisions for itself, adapt to changing water composition and temperature, and monitor the state of the membranes. This all has to be as efficient as possible.

What were the main challenges you faced when developing it?

With the HPRO we run on a maximum recovery rate but if we go too far scaling can occur. Scaling can happen inside the membranes and cannot be seen without destroying the reverse osmosis membrane. Operating ‘on the edge’ of scaling conditions and finding the right instruments to measure and monitor this was really challenging but also really rewarding.

When will HPRO be available to producers in the UK and Europe?

It is already available worldwide and the first HPRO is being delivered in the UK. I will personally go to this location in a few weeks to start it up – if it’s still possible with the current travel restrictions.

The product is market-ready and therefore being sold, but we don’t stop the R&D on this topic. We will continue the development of the HPRO, mainly to be able to handle more different types of challenging water on high recovery rates. 

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