HELIOAGRO – Solar Thermal Energy for Agriculture

Solar energy, used in many areas of activity, is taking its first steps in greenhouses warming. In Vagos, is currently ongoing the initial phase of a pioneering project that aims to convert a greenhouse into a thermally autonomous one, using an innovative solar thermal system.

In late 2007, a happy coincidence brought together two engineers linked to the area of ​​solar thermal with the EPADRV leaders and an agricultural industrial EPADRV (Planalto das Agras, Lda.), in Vagos region. This industrial produces flowers for nearly 20 years, but in recent years the bill for heating the greenhouses could hamper their profitability. Hence was born the idea of ​​cooperation in designing an innovative project – HelioAgro – based on solar energy as the main power source to control the internal environment of greenhouses. In this context and by meeting the Lisbon strategy – where public-private partnerships should be encouraged as a mean of increasing investment and consequent productivity – this project was developed and submitted to ProDer’s appreciation, framed by the support measure of cooperation for innovation, and its funding was approved in late 2010 with a rating that put him at pole position on the entries list.

Briefly, the aim of this project is to verify the energy level and hence the economic viability of constructing greenhouses, with a high degree of thermal efficiency, using solar thermal collectors for low temperature water heating, which will serve as the accumulator and heat transport medium for the heat energy into the greenhouse and thereby cut the percentage of fossil energy needed to maintain the atmosphere of the gases within the parameters required by the type of culture. To meet these goals in the most effective and sustainable way possible, promoters involved the following institutions: the Escola Superior Agrária de Coimbra, contributing with technical support to production, together with EPADRV; the University of Oslo, Norway, to engage in design, installation and energy analysis to optimize the applied solar system; and the University of Aveiro, in supporting and monitoring instrumentation.

The technology of energy capturing, transporting and accumulation is a national invention already registered as a Utility Model in Portugal. In the first phase of this project, will be implemented in EPADRV a prototype that will allow studying all the variables associated with this process in order to maximize energy efficiency. This structure is also aimed at human capital education, involving students of professional courses of EPADRV and adapting education and training systems to the company directly concerned in this study as well as promote lifelong learning for all. In the second phase, and based on the knowledge gained in the first phase, it will be implemented in Planalto das Agras, a greenhouse pilot with the main purpose to analyze the economic viability of this type of structure in the context of commercial production, compared to a glass structured greenhouse of equal dimension, with diesel heating boilers, where the promoting company now cultivates flowers. On a national level, the main goals of this project are to help promote the traditional agriculture conversion – heavily dependent on climate and characterized by extremely harsh working conditions – into a more technical one, under a more controlled environment and, therefore, more valued, with certainly a huge impact in reducing the risk and increasing of crops productivity, providing undoubtedly more attractive working conditions.