Options to optimize

Features - Erico Mattos

Erico Mattos is leading a charge to find more efficient environmental controls for greenhouse growers.

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November 21, 2019

Photo courtesy of Erico Mattos

Erico Mattos is looking for ways to reduce your energy consumption. As executive director of public-private consortium GLASE, he’s bringing together researchers, growers and suppliers with a goal of reducing lighting consumption by 70% for controlled environment agriculture operations.

By developing and testing new lighting and environmental control technology, the organization hopes to find the best way to combine lighting, shade and other environmental controls into the most efficient systems.

Their end goal is to take the research and put it in the hands of growers for practical implementation.

“So you’re talking now about going into two goals: how we can find these technologies and demonstrate how the technologies work and educate them to make better decisions and help them to reduce energy consumption, increase profitability in the field,” Mattos says.

A spectral acquisition system developed at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute installed at Cornell greenhouses
Photo courtesy of Erico Mattos

GLASE, which stands for Greenhouse Lighting and Systems Engineering, is made up of academic partners Cornell University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Rutgers University. There are also members in the greenhouse grower and lighting manufacturing sectors, as well as service providers and distributors. Founded in 2017, the consortium is trying to integrate diverse systems of environmental controls and lighting to optimize options for produce growers.

“The way we’re going to achieve that goal is by developing several new technologies and it’s a really comprehensive effort,” Mattos says, noting that it’s not just researchers involved in the process. “We’re developing technology all along the supply chain so for better LEDs, better general management in lighting, better lighting controls and CO2 and environmental sensing.”

The consortium is testing and finding ways to get the technology to growers who need it most. The research and development process includes modeling to test out the newest and hopefully best, ways to save energy.

“So we have this technology generation and we’re working with growers and manufacturers so we can serve all this managing technology to them,” Mattos says. From lighting combinations, integration and general knowledge, GLASE is working to get the word out.

A study of the effects of light and CO2 on strawberry cultivation at Cornell University
Photo courtesy of Erico Mattos

Now with 24 members and a $5-million grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to sponsor research at Cornell and RPI, the consortium is starting to get the word out about its latest research.

The Cornell-developed algorithm, LASSI (Light and Shae System Implementation) is one of the organization’s biggest projects. It is designed to help growers reduce the cost of supplemental lighting by moving it to the optimal time of day while providing plants the same light integral every day for better consistency.

“So they’ll have the same amount of light of day and they can use less energy,” Mattos says. “They will have the same DLI every day and the at lighting is giving consistent lighting to crops, especially produce crops.”

Mattos says GLASE has also developed new research on lighting fixtures that allows researchers at RPI and Cornell to develop research on plants’ physiological responses to light, as well as insights into how different wavelengths and timing of lighting can impact plant growth rates and nutritional quality, along with ways to monitor variations in the light spectrum.

“So the goal is to sense the plants, how the plants are using light, sense the environment — so the temperature and sun and so on — and then integrating those controls such as CO2 supplementation and make a smart decision on how to control the lights in real time,” Mattos says. “So the overall goal is to get this all up and running. We’re not there yet but the development of all this technology is underway.”

Spectral acquisition system
Photo courtesy of Erico Mattos

Right now, the organization is running trials on tomatoes, lettuce and strawberries in two greenhouses in New York, and Mattos is hoping to benchmark the information to show how much energy they’re saving, how much more predicable the crops are.

From here on out, Mattos says GLASE is going to work to expand its membership to include more growers. In order to achieve the goal of a 70% energy reduction, Mattos says more grower membership is crucial.

“We really have to engage with growers to get to see these new technologies implemented in the industry,” he says. “To do that, we’re going to keep developing milestones and research. We’re going to keep providing information and findings on those three model crops: lettuce, tomato and strawberries.”

Over the past two or three months, GLASE has been working hard to establish a national greenhouse database. They’re just now applying for a grant in New York.

To find out more about GLASE, including research, webinars and industry talks, click here.

“It is really hard in the industry to find benchmarks,” Mattos says. “If a grower wants to find how they are performing versus the industry, there is no way to find that. They normally have a good grasp on how they perform against themselves. They keep track of energy efficiency and new technology and they can always go back and forth but if there’s going to be a benchmark, it’s hard to find. And growers are very reluctant about sharing data. That’s the challenge.”

Mattos is hoping to establish baselines in several categories like how many watts greenhouses consume per square foot, while also breaking that number down into how much energy is being consumed by the lighting system and HVAC system.

“By creating all these baselines, we’re going to be able to provide them an idea of where they see into this, our rates compare to the teams, but also provide them an idea of where they fit into the average but also provide them indications and aspects where they could improve,” Mattos says.

For example, if a grower isn’t using the most efficient HVAC or lighting system, the benchmark system will show them how far behind they are and how they can find grants to rebate programs to improve their systems and get up to the standards.