Energy levels halved for greenhouses
European scientists have achieved a 50% reduction in the amount of energy used in the production of plants grown in a greenhouse. The EU funded project, known as EUPHOROS, has also reduced the use of water and fertilisers by 30% and pesticides by 10% while keeping the production standards and financial return for the growers high. This low-tech intervention will help reduce economic and environmental pressures that many growers have to face.
Products grown in a greenhouse environment have become essential to our daily lives, whether for our food or for our gardens. Although the productivity of the soil is typically higher than for those plants grown in a field, the environmental impact of greenhouse production is in many cases unacceptably high.
EUPHOROS has improved the efficiency of greenhouse plant production in three important ways: firstly, by reducing the amount of resources used, mainly through improved greenhouse design; secondly, by reducing the amount of waste products, by changing the way production processes are managed; and, thirdly, by improving productivity and the growing environment by using a monitoring system for the crops.
Glass panel coatings have been developed that find a balance between light transmission, diffusion and thermal insulation, and newly developed plastic covers have been used which may protect crops against pest infestation and improve the inner climate of the greenhouse. Furthermore, an important prototype has been designed which can store excess heat during the summertime, and then releases it throughout the greenhouse in the winter. In addition, a process has been developed that can recycle the used substrate (“soil”) that the plants have been grown in into a usable building material.
The scientists involved in the project investigated the production of tomatoes and roses at a number of greenhouses across Europe to identify areas where improvements can be made to reduce the amount of fossil fuels, pesticides, water and waste produced as a result of growing these plants.
Cecilia Stanghellini, the scientific project leader for EUPHOROS said, “The environmental footprint of greenhouse production can be reduced to nearly nothing, and the running costs for growers can be decreased. For instance, it was a surprise to find out that growers would earn more money by better management of the irrigation system, which also helps to save the environment, of course.”
The team of scientists are working as part of a four-year project funded by the European Union, at five leading research centres and five commercial firms in six EU countries. The project has cost about €4.5 million, of which €3 million has come from the EU, and has been able to develop a number of systems that work together to reduce the environmental impact of greenhouse plant production.
One of the key objectives for the EUPHOROS project is to make an impact on a continental scale. By creating systems that work for a range of crops grown at different climatic and economic zones of the European Union, the full potential of this project can be achieved. Research is being carried out with stakeholder involvement in the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Hungary and The Netherlands, to test the installation, equipment, covering materials and greenhouse design used in these different countries.
Notes to editors: Notes to editors: The project website can be found at : http://www.euphoros.wur.nl/UK/