Growing Plants on Thin Films
Mebiol has developed Imec, a technology for growing plants on special films just tens of microns thick, called hydro-membranes.
Hydro-membranes make it possible for plants to take up only water and nutrients, without letting harmful bacteria, nematodes, or viruses through.
"As you can see here, roots grow directly on the film surface, and they absorb the water and fertilizer in the film, so they grow large. No soil is needed, as the film plays the role of soil. The only problem is, it's hard for plants to take up the water in the film, so they don't grow very big. The plants are subjected to stress, so they have very high quality, but they don't become large. If you give them some liquid nutrients from above the film, then they do grow very large. So with this technology, plants are grown by applying liquid fertilizer from above and below the film."
Hydro-membranes are made from water-absorbent hydro-gel, which is used in diapers. They prevent water leaking to the outside. This characteristic is also used in research by NASA on plant cultivation in space.
Currently, Mebiol has succeeded in cultivating tomatoes, musk melons, and cucumbers using Imec. In the future, the company wants to make the film stronger, so the film can be used to grow plants with stronger roots, such as trees.
"Right now, it's essential to increase food production, to cope with population growth and global warming, but water shortages and poor soils make it impossible for production to keep up with population growth. So in agriculture, we must grow plants more efficiently, using fewer resources and less energy. In industry, such technologies are becoming very advanced. So if we apply technologies from industry to agriculture, we may obtain advantages from industrial production. For about a decade, we've been working to utilize advanced technology from Japan, to increase plant production and obtain high-quality plants efficiently. And this product arose from that work."
An Imec model plant will be installed at Miyagi JA in mid-August. Mebiol is planning further R&D, with a view to enabling this technology to be used in areas suffering from soil contamination and water shortages.
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