An inventor at the University of Manchester is hoping to revolutionise the food production industry through a new graphene-enhanced system that will cut ‘food miles’ and improve sustainability in farming worldwide.
Dr Beenish Siddique hopes the ‘GelPonic’ system will be part of the answer to the worlds farming problems, by creating a new virtually maintenance-free ‘vertical farming system’.
Using an intelligent soil alternative that can sense and respond to a plant’s nutritional needs, GelPonic could drastically reduce the amount of energy and human interaction required to produce food – helping to address heightened global food security concerns and issues around farming and sustainability.
“We believe there is an opportunity to change the future of farming not just here in the UK but around the world”, Dr Siddque said.
“Globally, around 70% of the fresh water available to humans is used for agricultural and 60% of that is wasted; agriculture also contributes around 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our system helps control that waste and those emissions, shortens germination times and could enable an increase of 25% in crop yields.”
AEH Innovation Hydrogen Ltd, the graphene start-up behind the GelPonic system, operates from the University of Manchester at the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre (GEIC), and is currently carrying out research as part of a £1m Government fund through Innovate UK.
How does GelPonic work?
A graphene sensor uses minute electronic sensors to monitor the plant’s nutritional requirements, allowing the system to conserve water and filter out pathogens to protect the plants from disease.
GelPonic relies on a growth substrate – the surface or material from which an organism feeds – for indoor fruit-and-veg that improves performance in numerous ways. The hydrogel growth medium conserves water and filters out pathogens to protect plants from disease, while a graphene sensor allows remote monitoring, reducing labour costs.
The GelPonic system allows production to significantly reduce carbon emissions, and also conserves water – allowing the system to be used in areas with drought or infertile soil, offering a potential solution to global areas with food shortages.
GelPonic is among the latest innovations to emerge from the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre in Manchester. The GEIC is part of a £100m+ investment in infrastructure to support the development of applications made possible by the isolation of graphene by scientists at the University of Manchester in 2004.
Graphene technology is already supporting research into new methods of water filtration, advances in healthcare, aerospace and automotive super light-weighting, and battery power.