See-Through Solar Panels Could Generate Electricity While Helping Plants Grow [Study]

A study shows that plants like lettuce can be easily grown in greenhouses that filter wavelengths of light to use clear solar panels to generate solar power for electricity.

Heike Sederoff, co-author and professor of plant biology at North Carolina State University, said the team was surprised that plant growth and health were not compromised by the unconventional clear solar panels that are proving their effectiveness in the field.

Plant growth and see-through solar panels

During the photosynthetic process, in which plants emit oxygen and feed themselves, plants cannot use all wavelengths of light.

Therefore, the researchers toyed with the idea of ​​designing semi-transparent organic solar cells that absorb wavelengths of light that plants do not use, and installing the transparent panels in greenhouses.

The results were published in the journal Cell Reports, entitled “Balance between plant production and energy generation in solar-powered organic greenhouses”.

Previous work has mainly focused on the amount of energy solar powered greenhouses could produce depending on the design, location and solar cells used. These could generate enough energy to make greenhouses energy-neutral or even generate more electricity than is consumed.

On the other hand, the effects on plants have not yet been analyzed.

To understand the effects of semi-transparent solar panels on the greenhouse, plant researchers grew red leaf lettuce in greenhouse chambers for a month – from seed to full maturity.

All other factors and growth conditions such as water level, fertilizer, CO2 concentration and temperature were kept constant with the exception of the light level.

The researchers placed a control group of salads under full exposure to white light, while the rest were divided into three groups, each exposed to different types of filters that absorbed wavelengths of light.

Harald Ade, co-author of the study and respected professor of physics at NC State, says the amount of light on the filters was the same. However, the color composition was different for each test group.

Sederoff explains that the team manipulated the rations of blue and red light in all three filters to see how this would affect plant growth.

(Photo: Photo by from Pexels)

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Analysis of the effects of different wavelengths

To help researchers determine the effects of removing wavelengths of light, the team assessed various plant traits, particularly visual traits that are critical to growers and consumers, such as leaf number, size, and weight.

In addition, the researchers assess key plant health and nutritional quality markets such as CO2 levels absorbed and the presence of antioxidants.

Brendan O’Connor, co-author of the study, explains that the team could not find any significant difference between the control group and the experimental group of salads, nor were there any differences in terms of filters.

Researchers are confident that the study will pave new avenues in solar-powered greenhouses that will help maintain energy-neutral production while also being an enticing option for growers.

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