The growth of plants and trees could be accelerated with a newly developed plastic sheet that is coated with a film that converts UV light to red light.
Developed by researchers from Hokkaido University in Japan, the technology can improve plant production speed and has the potential to help address global food supply issues.
During photosynthesis, plants convert visible light to energy. But in addition to visible light, sunlight also contains ultraviolet (UV) light. The team aimed to provide plants with additional visible light to use in photosynthesis by employing a wavelength-converting material (WCM) that can convert the UV light into red light.
Researchers developed a WCM based on a europium complex and made a thin-film coating that can be applied to commercially available plastic sheets.
Researchers not only showed that the film converts UV light to red light, but also that the film does not block any of the beneficial visible light from the sun.
The film was then tested by comparing plant growth using sheets with and without the WCM coating.
In winter, however, when days are shorter and sunlight is weaker, Swiss chard plants grown using the WCM films showed 1.2 times greater plant height and 1.4 times greater biomass after 63 days. Researchers attributed this accelerated growth to the increased supply of red light provided by the WCM films.
Trials involving Japanese larch trees also showed accelerated growth. Seedlings showed a higher relative growth rate in the initial four months of growth, resulting in a stem diameter 1.2-fold larger and total biomass 1.4-fold larger than trees grown without the WCM coating.
Critically, this enabled the seedlings to reach the standard size for planting in the forestry of Hokkaido within one year. Use of WCM films could shorten the growth period of seedlings from two years to one year, resulting in more cost-efficient plant production.
This technology also has the potential to help with food security issues in colder climates and is beneficial because it does not require any electricity to operate, the researchers said.
“By using a coating of wavelength-changing material, we were able to successfully create a transparent film and demonstrate its ability to accelerate plant growth,” said lead author Sunao Shoji.
“By rationally designing the light-emitting ion, we can freely control the colour of emitted light to be other colours like green or yellow, so we expect to be able to create wavelength- converting films that are optimised for different plant types. This opens a large avenue of future development for next generation agricultural and forestry engineering.”