Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Western Australian company ClearVue Technologies is getting into the all-important food game, partnering with an Israeli agtech company to build a self-sustaining greenhouse in Israel.

The collaboration with Roots Sustainable Agricultural Technologies will leverage the Australian company’s solar power-generating clear glass that’s effectiveness has recently been validated by an Edith Cowan University scientific paper.

Roots will install its next generation irrigation and soil temperature control technologies in the prototype greenhouse project. Critically, this technology keeps the roots at an optimal temperature, rather than the surrounding air, which is crucial for the growth of the plant.

The plan is for the power generating glass to satisfy all the greenhouse’s operational needs, including lighting and the three different types of pumps for heating, cooling and irrigation.

Intended to be off-grid, it will help that the glass is also highly insulating and can save up to 40 per cent on energy compared to conventional glass – all before its energy production abilities are considered.

ClearVue executive chairman Victor Rosenberg told The Fifth Estate that the product’s insulating properties will be critical in the hot Israeli climate.

“It will stop the heat going into the greenhouse and temperatures should be kept reasonably cool.”

He says that the potential for this greenhouse model is significant.

“The potential there is huge – they are talking of getting a better yield than normal, and any yield above normal is a lot of money so the payback will be short.

“And food security is a huge concern in the future – that’s why we want to be in the food game.”

It’s almost time to scale up

At the moment, the windows are still made by hand but all the foundations are in place to scale up and automate the assembly of the product.

Due to the labour-intensive production, the glass is currently $400 a square metre for triple glazed PV glass, but Rosenberg expects the price to drop to around $300 once it can be assembled at volume. He expects this to start sometime next year.

Made out of common materials, the PV glass and can be constructed in existing glass manufacturing facilities.

“The basic construction of the window is the same as today.”

This means there’s no capital investment needed – just an education piece to teach manufacturers how to fix the solar strips onto the glass.

The company has two factories in China set up and ready to start producing the product at volume.

Rosenberg says glass will “last forever”, although the capacity of the solar generation is expected to curtail by about 10 per cent after about 25 years.

Victor Rosenberg, ClearVue

Global ambitions from the get-go

The company went public around 18 months ago, raising around $5 million. There’s now a fulltime team of six with plans to hire a chief executive officer and a production engineer to take the product to the manufacturing stage.

As what Rosenberg claims is the world’s first transparent material with photovoltaic properties, the company is pitching straight to the global market. There’s already an office in Singapore, with Germany and the US in its immediate sights.

The glass is performing as expected

The clear photovoltaic solar glass collects infra-red light and deflects it to the frame where it’s converted to electricity.

The effectiveness of the material used on Warwick Grove shopping centre in Western Australia was recently supported by an Edith Cowan University peer reviewed paper that made the top 10 per cent of all research publications ever tracked.

The paper tracked the performance of the glass, which was inserted into a new structure where the existing glass atrium used to be in the shopping centre, and found it aligned closely with the predicted power performance.

It found that a dome-type installation with a diameter around 35 metres is predicted to generate at least 140 kWh of electric energy per average sunny day, enough to power around 10 three-bedroom Australian households for a day.

The paper identified airport roofs, skylights and large shopping centre domes as good potential applications for the glass.

Clearvue solar bus stop

Architects will love its multifunctionality

Rosenberg says that the product is appealing to architects who are increasingly recognising that “dumb” materials with only one function will no longer cut it and multifunctional materials are the future.

The long game for the company involves the development of a “real IoT window” that uses the power it creates within the glass to power integrated management systems, such as sensors for lighting and indoor air quality.

The windows will be able to respond to warm indoor temperature by opening themselves, Rosenberg offers as an example.

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