Eco-greenhouse concept with own water supply could boost food production

13 May 2020

Still from ‘C Minus Zero Emissions Challenge’. Image: YouTube/UniversityofLimerick

Researchers at UL and NUI Galway have described the development of a greenhouse that produces its own water as a major breakthrough.

A new greenhouse concept could one day allow communities to produce food anywhere in the world in any conditions, without the need for electricity, water or even sunlight. This is part of a new project, unveiled by a team from the University of Limerick (UL) and NUI Galway, called C-Minus.

The researchers have developed a self-contained greenhouse that provides its own supplies of water and CO2 using stored solar electricity. The project recently progressed to the seed phase of the SFI Future Innovator Prizes as part of the Zero Emissions Challenge.

It is a collaboration between Prof Michael Zaworotko, Dr David Styles and Prof Len Barbour. Speaking of the project, Zaworotko said: “[The greenhouse concept] would be highly disruptive in a positive way were it to succeed and takes advantage of advanced porous materials that have been developed partly through the Molecule water project, and also partly through more basic research that was funded by the SFI.”

‘Far-reaching consequences for food security’

This is one of a number of low-energy carbon capture devices that the C-Minus team is looking to produce with its goal of creating net-negative carbon technologies.

Styles said: “Ultimately, this technology could have far-reaching consequences for food security whilst sparing land to deliver biodiversity and net zero carbon targets.”

Prof Charles Spillane, chair of plant science and director of the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, said that we should consider carbon neutral technologies as the eventual goal on the journey to being carbon negative.

“It is a destination point that we should be trying to push greenhouse-based horticultural systems towards. If we can achieve that tipping point, from carbon neutral to carbon negative, then we will have done humanity a great service.”

Last week, Dr Alison Liddy and her team at NUI Galway were awarded a €1m SFI Innovator Prize for their Hydrobloc project, which is a treatment for people suffering from chronic pain. The nanogel developed by Liddy’s team aims to provide drug-free pain relief to chronic neuropathic pain patients without the severe side effects of prescription medications.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic