Nanophotonics towards a carbon neutral food production and supply chain

Background

With the strong push towards the implementation of renewable energies at the local/regional point, we are moving ever forward closer to sustainable and carbon neutral houses. The next level in this evolution is the move towards local food production at the end user/distributor point.

Food production and distribution is vital to any society and its economy but it is also responsible for over a quarter of greenhouse gases (Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, 360(6392), 987-992) as well as a considerable amount of wastes and plastics in packaging.

A solution to this is local production of food, either at the point of sale or directly at the consumer point, either in individuals houses or in the bars and restaurants. Our CASE partners, Natufia and its subcontractor Kapp Studio, propose a product that focusses on growing food at the end users’ location, therefore having a direct impact on the environment by:

  • reducing the amount of waste from packaging from the consumption and distribution
  • reducing carbon emissions due to large scale production and distribution
  • reducing energy demands linked to large-scale storage issue.

The Natufia product takes the form of a custom-built cabinet with a glass door to access the food, inside which the plant-growing environment is optimised, including lighting, irrigation, and ventilation, and therefore allows for continuous production of food at the consumption point.

One of the major obstacles to the environmental impact of this approach is the necessity to have a large portion of the public, local distributor and restoration businesses to adopt such product in order to reach its full potential. As Natufia’s product integrates itself directly inside the consumer’s house/kitchen, as a custom-built furniture, the design must therefore be attractive to the customer in order to maximise the number of users. Unfortunately, the optimum light spectrum needed to grow plants in this fashion appears pink to the human eye, making the product unappealing to a large portion of the consumers, as the pink light emanates from the system.

PhD Work:

In this PhD work, we will use the nanophotonics expertise at the University of Hull to improve the product appearance and customisability in order to provide a range of optical designs with the aim to further changing the customer’s lifestyle towards this type of carbon neutral solution, be it individuals or businesses. The PhD student will design micro and nanostructures to obtain control over the amount of light and/or colours that pass through the glass window of the Natufia product, allowing for the creation of vibrant and custom designed images on the glass using only the internal light source necessary for the plant growth. This will therefore allow for the production of a catalogue of optical display customisabilities that not only do not hinder the optimum spectrum of the light for plant growth but also increase the product outside appearance attractiveness to the end user, without the need for an additional light source.

Additionally, by reflecting unappealing light back into the Natufia unit our approach reduces the necessary internal light intensity for plant growth, therefore reducing the overall energy consumption of the system. 

The nanosctructures will be developped using FDTD simulations and characterised using the state of the art nanospectroscopy suite at the University of Hull. Such micro nanostructures can be mass-produced using current techniques including roll-to-toll nano-imprinting, and as part of the PhD work, we will explore nano-imprint lithography prototypes towards that goal.

The outcome of the project is threefold:

  • Reduced cost/energy consumption on the industrial level, resulting in lowered emissions to support the move towards carbon neutrality).
  • Reduced food waste and improved consumer choice on the retail level.
  • Improved nutrition and measurable health benefits for consumers at the point of consumption.

On a wider scale, we seek disruption in the food system by introducing novel innovations to the in the horticulture and foodtech market:

  • A cost efficient energy harvesting glass surface film for the indoor horticulture industry.
  • A retail solution for growing/extending the life of plants at the point of sale.
  • An indoor/at-home solution for growing/extending the life of plants at the point of consumption (Natufia technology).

With this project, we are aiming to change the consumer habits, thereby moving closer to self-sustained carbon neutral houses and practices for safeguarding the environment while preserving economic and social growth.

Contact:

For any informal query, please contact Dr. Jean-Sebastien Bouillard (j.bouillard@hull.ac.uk) or Dr Ali Adawi (a.adawi@hull.ac.uk)