Researchers say they’ve identified a way to make agricultural cells – the process of growing crops under solar panels is more efficient, and they’ve found that red wavelengths are more efficient in growing plants, while the blue part of the spectrum is better for producing solar energy, reports engadget.
Solar panels that only allow red wavelengths of light to pass through could enable farmers to grow food more productively while generating energy at the same time.
Previous studies have found that agricultural cells can reduce the amount of water required for crops, because they are shaded from direct sunlight, and researchers at Michigan Technological University said in 2015 that shading can reduce water use by up to 29 percent.
The crops can get the same amount of carbon dioxide with less water while protecting them from the heat, said Magdy Abou Negm, an associate professor at the University of California.
The researchers put the idea to the test by growing tomatoes under blue and red filters, as well as a control crop without any mulches.
Although the yield of the mulched plots was about a third lower than that of the control group, the latter had about twice the amount of rotten tomatoes, and Abu Najm noted that the filters helped reduce heat stress and crop wastage.
For this approach to work in practice, manufacturers would need to develop transparent solar panels that capture blue light and allow red light to pass through.
Matteo Camporis, assistant professor at the University of Padua in Italy, suggested that semi-transparent carbon-based organic solar cells could work, and these cells could be applied to surfaces such as glass.
Other issues, including the fact that the wavelength of selective agricultural energy systems may need to account for different types of crops, and harvesting those crops efficiently may require some outside-the-box thinking, too.
However, the research looks promising and as the world’s population grows, it is important to consider different approaches to using our resources more productively.