While costs are coming down for controlled environment agriculture, electricity remains one of the highest because it has to power the LEDs that provide the lighting formula for plant growth. But a materials science company called UbiQD wants to change that by replacing electricity with a more efficient means of lighting: quantum dots.
Quantum dots are semiconductor nanoparticles that can transport electrons. When exposed to UV lighting, these particles emit lights of various colors, and can be adjusted in size to emit a specific color. For example, larger particles emit redder wavelengths, while smaller ones shift to blue.
Via its UbiGro product, UbiQD uses a patented quantum dot technology to create a layer of lighting in greenhouses. Quantum dots are embedded into a film that is installed beneath a greenhouse cover. When illuminated by sunlight, the film converts shorter wavelengths (UV and blue) to longer ones (red/orange), the latter being the most photosynthetically efficient wavelengths.
Controlled environment farms require both red and blue lighting to enable plant growth, and standard LEDs installed in these farms emit one or the other in terms of color. Because UbiQD’s quantum dots can harness various wavelengths, growers can take better advantage of the full light spectrum, which recent studies suggest is advantageous for higher crop productivity and yield. For example, green light may also be necessary for better plant growth in the greenhouse, since it penetrates deeper into the plant canopy to promote photosynthesis.
In a recent interview with the company, AgFunder News noted that UbiQD’s tech “can achieve 10% to 20% higher yields than equivalent electrically powered systems with faster cycle times, reduced waste, and improved crop quality.”
Another big advantage to UbiQD’s product: it doesn’t require an external electricity source, which cuts down on the overall costs of running a controlled-environment greenhouse.
The company closed a $7 million Series A round earlier this month co-led by Scout Ventures and Keiretsu Forum. At the time of that announcement, UbiQD said it would use the new capital to continue scaling distribution of UbiGro, which is already used by “major international greenhouse operations” (company names were not disclosed). The funding will also go towards developing new products, including light recipes that could increase crop yield and productivity.
Since this technology requires actual sunlight, there are areas of controlled-environment agriculture, such as container farms, where it won’t be applicable. But for the greenhouse market, which is becoming increasingly essential to the indoor farming sector, the need for more energy efficient lighting sources offers a major opportunity for both UbiQD and quantum dot tech in the future of farming.