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QU to develop Qatar’s first solar agriculture greenhouse in collaboration with Department of Agricultural Research at MME | Qatar University

QU to develop Qatar’s first solar agriculture greenhouse in collaboration with Department of Agricultural Research at MME

2020-09-20 00:00:00.0
د. سعود غاني

Qatar University’s (QU) Solar Greenhouse project is funded by Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF), National Priority Research Program (NPRP), in collaboration with Department of Agricultural Research, Ministry of Municipality and Environment (MME), Qatar.
During the past15 years, Qatar witnessed rapid economic and exponential population growth. Thus, the research and development projects of Protected Agriculture is essential for healthy population and are key to enhance food security.
Commenting on the solar Greenhouse project, Dr. Saud Ghani, lead researcher of Greenhouse project and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at College of Engineering said: “Qatar has set food security as a priority for the country and set out a commitment to sustain about 70% self-sufficiency on greenhouse vegetables. Achieving sustainable food security was further ascertained by the ongoing geopolitical tensions and the imposed blockade on the country. The blockade impeded food imports by land and led stakeholders, such as authorities, organizations and individuals to focus on enhancing local agricultural farming, proposing sustainable food security, various new systems, methods, practices and technologies.”
Greenhouses provide an optimized and controlled growth environment for plants to maximize yield. However, providing this environment is energy intensive. In subtropical, hot and arid regions, most of this energy is to cater for the required cooling. Sun light is necessary for healthy plant growth. However, the sun light utilization in the greenhouses is not optimized. The cooling demand is mainly attributed to the admittance of excess solar radiation and heat gain through the greenhouse walls.
This project developed a thermally insulated greenhouse that allows the entry of optimum solar radiation levels through negative linear Fresnel lenses located in its roof. The lenses distribute the solar radiation over the plant rows. The performance of the proposed greenhouse in terms of providing the required levels of solar radiation for plant growth and the reduction in cooling load were assessed using ray tracing simulations, cooling load calculations and field trials in Nabati farm.
In comparison to a conventional greenhouse, the monthly cooling load of the proposed greenhouse was about 80% less. Therefore, the proposed solar greenhouse can achieve the benefits of a closed greenhouse while overcoming the high cooling demand drawback, in subtropical and arid regions.
The design of the solar greenhouse aims to overcome two identified shortcomings of the conventional greenhouse during the hot season, its highly transparent and conductive structure. The highly transparent walls of a greenhouse are desired during the winter season where the amount of available solar radiation is relatively low. However, excessive amounts of solar radiation enter the greenhouse during the hot season due to its high transparency. While the conductive nature of the typical greenhouse walls causes undesired heat gain. To overcome the first shortcoming, the entry of sunlight to the greenhouse is only allowed through negative linear Fresnel lenses that are fitted in rows in its roof corresponding to the plants grow lines underneath. The lenses are placed directly above the plants grow rows. They act as a roof mounted lighting system, dispersing sunlight over the plants. The remaining walls of the greenhouse are covered with thermal insulation rolls, thus, overcoming the second shortcoming.
Dr. Saud added: “The greenhouse prototype is currently under field tests for yield assessments at the Nabati farm in Mekanees, south of Doha. For the last two summers 2018, 2019), the field tests proven very promising and the ministry is looking forward to develop Qatar’s first agriculture greenhouse standards using this prototype as a blue print.”
Dr. Ali Al-Kharboutli, consultant to the Agricultural Research Department, Ministry of Municipality and Environment, said: “The research depends on the use of a number of technologies that are based on the Fourth Industrial Revolution 4.0 and its transformation into an integral part of the agricultural community by developing the greenhouse design, manufacturing, cooling and lighting systems. The research extends to creating a sustainable growing medium suitable for the Qatari agricultural environment from local organic degradable wastes with special specifications for commercial production. It is expected that the new growing medium environment will provide a viable substitute for the imported environments currently used in agriculture.”
“The research plan is executed in various research work packages in parallel and / or intersecting according to the interactions between them. Where the MME research team is focused on the field testing of the greenhouse yield and performance, while the College of Engineering team carries out the fundamental engineering technologies and design calculations,” he added.
Hamad Saket Al-Shammari, Director of the Agricultural Research Department - indicated that in order to enhance sustainable food security, the Agricultural Research Department actively engaged with the College of Engineering at Qatar University to develop greenhouses suitable for the Qatari local weather conditions and market.
“The design of these agriculture greenhouses was carried using the latest technologies in the field of engineering and agriculture. Where the Agricultural Research Department, represented by the MME research team, carry the required field tests, in agricultural terms, to assess the technologies developed by the College of Engineering. The Ministry of Municipality and Environment is offering the required agriculture land needed for the construction of the developed greenhouse and provides other agricultural resources needed such as irrigation water, power, seeds, fertilizers and chemicals. The new greenhouse is considered a to be a quantum leap in the field of protected agriculture, in which it is expected that production will be increased in quantity and quality while reducing the operating costs of energy and water consumption,” he added.
Masoud Jarallah Al-Marri, Director of the Food Security Department at the Ministry of Municipality and Environment, highlighted the importance of this project and its effective role in supporting the Ministry's objectives towards achieving food security in Qatar, by achieving stable production of agricultural crops throughout the year. He also praised the innovative technologies demonstrated by this project specially in reducing the required cooling load, which in turn will improve energy efficiency and contribute to its sustainability.

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