‘Too good to be true’
The crystal-like layer, thinner than a piece of hair, could prevent farmers from losing large amounts of crops to cold conditions at night – and reduce pollution and plastic waste in the process.
As detailed in Anthropocene, researchers in China have mixed germanium (a silicon-like material) and zinc sulfide (a natural salt) to produce a heat-trapping material that also creates “passive warming” of the air underneath using specific wavelengths of light. .
“This may sound too good to be true, but it’s actually the latest discovery,” Emma Price wrote to the outlet, noting that the ultra-thin film could raise Earth’s temperatures by nearly nine degrees Fahrenheit without electricity.
The results were published online in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.
The need to adapt to weather conditions is nothing new in the agricultural industry, which has traditionally used a variety of methods to keep crops safe, including protective plastic covers, heaters, and insulating blankets.
Since approximately 5 to 15% of crops worldwide are destroyed by frost each year, according to an article in ScienceDaily, keeping them warm is vital to prevent loss of income and food supplies.
However, as the Anthropocene points out, the above solutions are inefficient and can require a lot of energy.
One UK study found that heating was responsible for 37% of total energy in agriculture, with 86% of this demand fueled by dirty energy, including coal, oil and gas, HRS Heat Exchangers reported.
The warming of our planet – mostly caused by the use of dirty energy – has further complicated matters for farmers, as it has been linked to extreme weather events, including drought and heavy snowfall.
According to a farmer survey published by Bayer, 71% of farmers said that changing global temperatures had affected their farms, while 73% faced more pressures from diseases and pests, some of which had increased their ranges and numbers. This led to a decrease in average income by an estimated 15.7%.
The researchers have already tested their ultra-thin film in the field, and although there is no information on when it might be made widely available, they believe that experimentation with other light wavelengths could help them adapt the technology to support crops in other conditions, including desert climates.
“Ultimately, the innovative photovoltaic strategy for night-time warming holds a promising approach to energy conservation in diverse scenarios, paving the way for a new paradigm in the pursuit of carbon neutrality,” the researchers concluded in the study.
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