Patent pending for Mexican portable plant growth chamber

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Patent pending for Mexican portable plant growth chamber

Mexican government agencies and U.S. investors have expressed interest in backing a portable, refrigerator-like plant production unit developed by researchers at the Universidad del Valle de México. CCV chamber panorama

The university's professor of engineering, Fidel Trejo Orozco, told the 'Cámara de Crecimiento Vegetal (CCV)' - or Plant Growth Chamber in English - can be moved either whole, or broken down in parts to be assembled anywhere in the world.

"It occurred to me to undertake this project working on an idea that could be applied in a clean and totally hygenic environment, that could ensure almost 100% of the harvest, or what is known as food security," Trejo said.

"I started doing some sketches and research relating to these types of chambers. In fact they already exist but are under investigation, they are not really for mass agricultural production."

After these studies, Trejo came up with the idea for CCV, defined as a "hexagonal prism that is 2.7 meters (8.86 feet) high, with a surface area of just under three square meters

De esta forma, Trejo ideó una cámara, la cual define como “un prisma hexagonal que tiene 2.7 metros de alto con una superficie poco menor a los 3 square meters (32.3 square feet)″.

"It looks like a big refrigerator, with a door and a controlled environment inside. But instead of putting the plants in the area of the extended surface, we are making the most of volume in a vertical way," Trejo said.

"This chamber becomes an element where we keep a part of the harvest isolated, or that is to say, the plants grow in a completely controlled environment in terms of light, water, nutrients. We use an aeroponic technique to nurture the harvest.

"Aparte from that, we have a control system that allows you to vary and control lighting, temperature and the levels of conductivity in the nutrients, as well as other factors like types of irrigation."

He says one of the main characteristics of the chamber was its use of LED lights in the interior, which Trejo included after reading a study from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

"NASA found that this lighting, specifically from red light and blue light, is what really serves the nutrition of plants, so that they can carry out their photosynthetic process. So, this is type of lighting we are applying and it is currently the best means to be able to light all harvcests that grow indoors."

Eyes on the Ukraine

He said initial plans for the project were to focus on strawberries, particularly in countries with very cold climates like the Ukraine.

"Two years ago we recognized the importance of the Ukraine as a contact between Europe and Asia - really Russia - and now the strategic importance of that country is already recognized," Trejo said.

"We had considered the possibility that this chamber could be of use for growing strawberries there, maintaining production year-round."

However, he added the CCV could be used for a wide variety of horticultural crops, including lettuce, cabbage, kale, broccoli, spinach, and many other leafy vegetables.

In terms of project financing, Trejo said a trip was made to the United Arab Emirates to seek support.

"Initially we were looking for investors - that was the intention of the trip to the [United] Arab Emirates, but after my trip I started to find interest even from government entities to pull this off. The Secretary of Economy and the State Council of Science and Economy from the state of Coahuila are already interested in getting this going.

"Considering the expectations that have started to rise for this project, we believe we will get more financing both from private and governmental [businesses].

"There are also American investors who are interested in supporting so that we can develop [the chamber] and make our first prototype. In fact, in the Universidad del Valle de México we are already working on the idea of developing a laboratory to be able to try this chamber, and afterwards take the next step which would be developing a vertical farm based on these types of chambers."

The professor added a very early prototype had been made on a digital level, just with images.

"We are redesigning it, also to adjust it for materials that could be found locally. In fact, we have found ourselves surprised that we could go cheaper than we thought, and therefore, obviously, there could be a lot of interest from producers."

In terms of forecasts, Trejo said he hoped to have the first chamber built and proven by June-July at the latest, to be presented in Mexico to trial some of the team's ideas, as well as in the Ukraine where "God willing, we will present it in a fruit and vegetable festival in November".

"We are thinking of promoting the chamber there, and there is also an invitation to return to the United Arab Emirates next year on Feb. 2-4, which is where we would be presenting a finished prototype."

Trejo also shared that some of the world's biggest technology companies were working on similar projects.

"Unwittingly, we were competing with people from the companies Sharp and Lenovo, which are electronics companies, and they are working on ideas that are very similar to ours. I have to say though, when I saw Sharp's prototype I noticed  they missed some situations that made our chamber more advantageous.

"We had to start taking much more care in showing it to avoid patent or registration situations. Now, the next step we have is the formal registration of the patent, which we could say is pending."

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