Arnon is a researcher and founder of Solarfoil, a company working with the University of Amsterdam to develop technology to make more efficient use of sunlight in horticulture.
What is Solarfoil trying to achieve?
’Plants do not use all sunlight equally efficiently. We are developing a product that converts sunlight into a spectrum that allows them to grow more efficiently, so the gardener can work more effectively. The spectrum you need depends on the plant. For example, you might want a tomato to produce more fruit, or more nutritious or tastier fruit. Or to make lettuce grow harder. Ornamentals and potted plants, on the other hand, need to look good, so they need to be more compact or have more leaves. You can control that with light, but it’s not happening yet.’
Why did you decide to do this research?
’I did a PhD at the UvA in experimental physics. There I studied the fundamental properties of nanomaterials and how they interact with light. I ended up working with biologists to modify light so that algae could grow. If you extend that concept, it also works with plants. Glass and horticulture are where you can make the biggest impact. I like developing a direct application with my research, rather than going straight into data science. Above all, I really like it and want to see how far I can get with it.’
Which prop did you bring?
’This piece of film contains perovskite nanoparticles. These are particles that can interact with light and you can control their properties quite well. The biggest problem with perovskite solar cells is that they work in visible light, not infrared. That gives us the freedom to develop something for the plant in that range. One plant wants more blue light, another more red. Also, food should not be too expensive, and perovskites are easy and cheap to make. At the end of the day, it has to be cost effective and deliver for the grower.’