Smart shade coating optimises growing conditions and reduces overheating, allowing a 34 per cent yield boost, according to Albotherm

A spin-out company from the University of Bristol has secured £500,000 to develop technology to help boost food production in commercial greenhouses.

Agritech firm Albotherm has been awarded the grant from Innovate UK to spearhead a ground-breaking project in collaboration with glass manufacturer Pilkington, and two of the UK’s leading soft fruit and culinary herb growers, Flavourfresh and Vitacress.

The business has developed a smart shade coating that is transparent in cold weather but automatically converts to opaque in hot weather to provide on-demand shade, optimising growing conditions and reducing solar overheating.

The company says its technology will help meet the planet’s requirement to produce 50 per cent more food by 2050 to feed a global population reaching nearly 10 billion. The world’s changing climate also brings more unpredictable weather conditions, which can cause stress to the crop, resulting in a 25 per cent decrease in yield.

As Albotherm’s product is responsive to changing temperature, the firm says it ensures the greenhouse environment remains optimised for growth, allowing crops to benefit from the early morning and evening light, while being protected from the heat of the midday sun.

According to Albotherm, this boosts overall light levels by 18 per cent, allowing a 34 per cent increase in crop yield compared to standard shading approaches.

Andy Roe of Flavourfresh said: “This Albotherm project is exactly why British horticulture is number one in the world. Flavourfresh are so excited to be partnering with Albotherm on such an incredible and innovative concept.

“The outcome of this work will be so beneficial to all growers across the sector. It’s projects like this that make our jobs so stimulating and exciting for future challenges.”

The project, which began in May 2023, has received funding from Defra as part of the Farming Innovation Pathways Grant, administered by Innovate UK. The goal is to address the pressing need for sustainable solutions in the horticulture sector by maximising energy efficiency and reducing environmental impact.

Initial testing is scheduled to commence in spring 2024, in partnership with Flavourfresh and Vitacress, which will carry out commercial-scale crop trials. The focus will be on optimising and scaling up of Albotherm’s retrofit temperature-responsive shade coating for commercial greenhouses.

Albotherm is also partnering with world-leading glass manufacturer Pilkington to develop a glass coating for new greenhouse construction. This new product will have a longer lifetime, maximising the environmental benefit of Albotherm’s technology and allowing access to a wider market in industrial glazing.

Anna Colley, lead technologist at Pilkington, said: “We are continually developing the next generation of glass products and have recently launched our Pilkington Botanical glass range focused on optimising greenhouse farming.

“We are very much looking forward to working with Albotherm and exploring the potential of combining their smart shade coating with our glass technology as a potential step towards more dynamic systems for combating temperature variations in greenhouses.”