A coating that is transparent in cold weather and automatically converts to opaque in hot weather to provide on-demand shade. With that idea, the university spin-off Albotherm was erected. Now the startup has been awarded a significant grant from Innovate UK to spearhead a groundbreaking project in collaboration with supplier Pilkington and growers Flavourfresh and Vitacress.
Albotherm has developed a Smart shade coating that is transparent in cold weather but automatically converts to opaque in hot weather to provide on-demand shade, optimizing crop growing conditions and reducing solar overheating.
"As our product is responsive to changing temperature, it ensures that the greenhouse environment remains optimized for growth, maximizing crop production and securing the global food supply in a changing climate," says Molly Allington, CEO of Albotherm. "In commercial greenhouses, our technology allows crops to benefit from the early morning and evening light while being protected from the heat of the midday sun, boosting overall light levels by 18% and demonstrating a 34% increase in crop yield compared to standard shading approaches."
This ambitious project, which commenced in May 2023, has received £500k grant funding from the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) as part of the Farming Innovation Pathways Grant, administered by Innovate UK. The aim is to address the pressing need for sustainable solutions in the horticulture sector by maximizing energy efficiency and reducing environmental impact. The company also secured £1.1m equity finance earlier this year.
The project aims to develop and test Albotherm's innovative smart coatings, with a focus on the optimization and scale-up of their retrofit temperature-responsive shade coating for commercial greenhouses. Initial testing is scheduled to commence in Spring 2024 in partnership with Flavourfresh and Vitacress, two of the UK's leading soft fruit and culinary herb growers, with commercial-scale crop trials.
Andy Roe, Production Manager at Flavourfresh, says: "This Albotherm project is exactly why British horticulture is number one in the world. Flavourfresh is so excited to be partnering with Albotherm on such an incredible and innovative concept. The outcome of this work will be so beneficial to all growers across the sector. It's projects like this that make our jobs so stimulating and exciting for future challenges."
Partnering with Pilkington
Albotherm is also partnering with world-leading glass manufacturer Pilkington to develop a glass coating for new greenhouse construction that can be produced using Pilkington's large-area manufacturing processes. This new product will have a longer lifetime, maximizing the environmental benefit of Albotherm's technology and allowing access to a wider market opportunity in industrial glazing.
Molly adds: "We are excited to receive the Innovate UK grant and to collaborate with leaders in the UK horticulture industry. We are honored to have the support of Flavourfresh, Vitacress, and Pilkington on this groundbreaking project, and we look forward to contributing to a more sustainable future for the horticultural industry."
Anna Colley, Lead Technologist at Pilkington Technology Management Limited (PTML): "We are continually developing the next generation of glass products and have recently launched our Pilkington Botanical glass range focused on optimizing greenhouse farming. We are very much looking forward to working with Albotherm and exploring the potential of combining their smart shade coating with our glass technology as a potential step towards more dynamic systems for combating temperature variations in Greenhouses."
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Molly Allington, CEO