Login| Sign Up| Help| Contact|

Patent Searching and Data


Title:
AIR DISTRIBUTING DEVICE FOR PLANT CULTIVATION
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/162559
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
The invention relates to an apparatus for growing plants, comprising: - one or more cultivation units (1) in a cultivation facility for growing plants, wherein the presently cultivated plants are arranged in superimposed levels, - a fan system (3) for circulating the cultivation facility's indoor air in connection with the apparatus, - a lighting system for illuminating the presently cultivated plants, consisting of several electric light fixtures (4) which comprise one or more electrie components, such as LEDs or the like, providing a lighting function, and a cooling system (5) for removing heat energy and/or moisture from indoor air circulating in connection with the apparatus. The cultivation unit (1) is an integral entity, comprising a frame (la), which functions as an air intake duct and a load-bearing structure and to which are connected, as superimposed and/or side-by-side levels, light fixture carriers (lb) with the lighting system's light fixtures (4), it being by way of said light fixture carriers that the indoor air is adapted to be conducted between superimposed cultivation levels (x) included in one or more cultivation units (1).

Inventors:
KIVIOJA NIKO-MATTI (FI)
Application Number:
PCT/FI2018/050933
Publication Date:
August 29, 2019
Filing Date:
December 17, 2018
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
NETLED OY (FI)
International Classes:
A01G9/24; A01G9/14; A01G9/20
Domestic Patent References:
WO2004012497A12004-02-12
Foreign References:
KR101531385B12015-06-25
US20150107154A12015-04-23
GB922293A1963-03-27
US6708755B12004-03-23
US20130111812A12013-05-09
KR20150008791A2015-01-23
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
KANGASMÄKI, Reijo (FI)
Download PDF:
Claims:
Claims

1. An apparatus for growing plants, comprising:

- one or more cultivation units (1) in a cultivation facility for growing plants, wherein the presently cultivated plants are arranged in superimposed levels,

- a fan system (3) for circulating the cultivation facility's indoor air in connection with the apparatus,

- a lighting system for illuminating the presently cultivated plants, consisting of several electric light fixtures (4) which comprise one or more electric components, such as LEDs or the like, providing a lighting function, and

- a cooling system (5) for removing heat energy and/or moisture from indoor air circulating in connection with the apparatus, characterized in that the cultivation unit (1) is an integral entity, comprising a frame (la), which functions as an air intake duct and a load-bearing structure and to which are connected, as superimposed and/or side-by-side levels, light fixture carriers (lb) with the lighting system's light fixtures (4), it being by way of said light fixture carriers that the indoor air is adapted to be conducted between superimposed cultivation levels (x) included in one or more cultivation units (1) .

2. An apparatus according to claim 1, characterized in that the light fixture carriers (lb) are provided with distribution elements (lbl), such as apertures, nozzles or the like, for distributing the indoor air in a cultivation level-specific manner from points successive in a longitudinal direction (s) of the light fixture carriers.

3. An apparatus according to claim 1 or 2, characterized in that the light fixture carriers (lb) are provided with adjustment elements (lb2), such as control, throttle or the like valves, for the adjustment of a light fixture carrier-specific flow.

4. An apparatus according to any of the preced ing claims 1-3, characterized in that the fan system (3) comprises a fan operating on axial principle, such as a duct fan or the like, coupled in connection with the frame (la), for returning the indoor air sucked from a cultivation facility back into the cultivation facility by circulating the same through the frame (la) and the light fixture carrier (lb) .

5. An apparatus according to any of the preced¬ ing claims 1-4, characterized in that the cooling system (5) comprises a heat exchanger coupled in connection with the frame (la), such as a duct radiator or the like, operating on axial principle and cooled by liquid circulation, for cooling the indoor air produced by the fan system (3) prior to conducting the same into an interior of the frame.

6. An apparatus according to any of the preceding claims 1-5, characterized in that the light fixture carriers (lb) comprise profiles of hollow cross- section, fabricated from a heat conducting plastic, metallic and/or magnetic material, for cooling the light fixtures (4) coupled to the light fixture carriers and for preheating the indoor air to be returned into the cultivation facility.

7. An apparatus according to claim 6, characterized in that the light fixture carriers (lb) comprise pipes, conduits or the like continuous in the lengthwise direction (s) thereof and provided with discrete removable/replaceable light fixtures (4).

8. An apparatus according to claim 6 or 7, characterized in that the light fixture carriers (lb) consist of pipe, conduit or the like sections capable of being coupled to each other successively in the lengthwise direction (s) thereof and provided with light fixtures (4).

9. An apparatus according to any of the preceding claims 1-8, characterized in that the light fixture carriers (lb) are adapted to be fastened to the frame (la) in a removable manner, such as with a threaded, bayonet or the like joint.

10. An apparatus according to any of the preceding claims 1-9, characterized in that it includes a compartmentalization arrangement (6) for enabling simultaneous handling of one or more cultivation units (1) while separated from the rest of the cultivation facility.

11. An apparatus according to any of the preceding claims 1-10, characterized in that the cultiva tion unit (1) is adapted to operate on a docking principle by using one or more multilevel trolleys (2), such as CC roll containers or the like, capable of being transferred into contact therewith.

Description:
AIR DISTRIBUTING DEVICE FOR PLANT CULTIVATION

The invention relates to an apparatus for growing plants according to the preamble of an independent claim directed thereto.

Today, several gardens have at their disposal both CC roll containers (known also by the term: Danish trol ley) and cultivation equipment making use of the same on a so-called docking principle, whereby the LED lights used for the illumination of plants are presently suspended e.g. directly to CC roll containers or the relevant cultivation equipment, which are typically provided with a simple mechanical carrier for supporting the light fixtures. The plants being grown are present in CC roll containers on superimposed levels, thus enabling effective simultaneous growing of several plants by easily handling the same in CC roll containers. The foregoing type solutions are problematic particularly from the standpoint of energy use because, in this case, the growing of plants takes place usually in large-scale cultivation facilities in which the entire cultivation facility's indoor climate is controlled with massive air condi- tioning equipment in order to sustain optimal horti cultural conditions, such as humidity, temperature and lighting.

At present, the growing of plants carried out on a docking principle is not in practice at satisfactory level, particularly in view of energy efficiency and management of a cultivation facility's indoor climate conditions, as well as also because of high maintenance and upkeep required by light fixtures.

On the other hand, specifically in view of energy ef- ficiency, there is presented e.g. in patent publication EP1933602 a lighting system with water circulation for cultivating plants, comprising a lighting arrangement which is provided in connection with plants and consists of several flowing water-cooled LED light fixtures. With this solution, it is possible that the cooling water, heated conductively with light fixture cooling, be directly utilized for exam ple for the heating of plants or for some other greenhouse heat utilization demand, yet it does not provide a capability of comprehensively controlling the heat and moisture accumulating especially in indoor greenhouse air, nor can it be utilized as such in multilevel cultivation, such as cultivation taking place in roll containers. Generally speaking, another problem in relation to water cooling is its highly inconvenient adjustability, in addition to which, with the growing facility comprising a multitude of side-by-side water conduits and light fixtures, some being on and some off, the plants will be condensed and moistened by switched-off light fixtures. Hence, the risk of leaking and flooding is also increased substantially by the large number of water connections . An apparatus according to the present invention, intended for growing plants, has an objective of providing a decisive improvement regarding the foregoing problems and to thereby raise substantially the cur- rently available state of the art. In order to attain this objective, the apparatus according to the invention is principally characterized by what is presented in the characterizing clause of an independent claim directed thereto.

As most significant benefits of the apparatus intended for growing plants should be mentioned the simplicity and high performance of its operation and technology applicable thereto, by virtue of which the cultivation of plants can be performed e.g. by utilizing a per se functional docking principle considerably more effectively than at present, as well as by facilitating assembly and maintenance of each employed equipment stock, and also by optimizing condi ¬ tions in a plant growing facility.

Therefore, by virtue of the invention, the need of providing e.g. separate suspension systems for light fixtures is eliminated by making use of light fixtures fixedly supported on light fixture carriers mounted on the frame of a cultivation unit. Light fixtures are capable of being fixed to light fixture carriers preferably in a removable manner by placing as many of the same as required at a particular time successively in a longitudinal direction of each light fixture carrier, whereby it is also possible to employ e.g. LED light bars or the like connectable to light fixture carriers on a quick coupling principle or by sliding. On the other hand, it is also possible to utilize lengthwise successively connectable light fixtures or sets of light fixtures, such as more or less integrated tube-LED light fixture combinations, etc., the tubes therein also constituting light fixture carriers at the same time. Likewise, the invention further enables integration of e.g. commercially available inexpensive water cooling systems with LED lighting. Production of cold water is possible e.g. with conventional "industrial chillers" or other com monly employed water cooling methods, such as on a geothermal cooling or district cooling principle, etc. Respectively, it is also possible to make use of removable heat energy e.g. by using heat recovery systems .

By virtue of the invention it is further possible to simplify e.g. the fabrication of a lighting system's LED light fixtures as these need not be provided with separate cooling systems, such as a light fixture- specific cooling fluid circulation, a heat sink or cooling fin principle or the like. The light fixture used in a lighting system may, in a preferred embodiment, comprise in its simplest form a mechanical light fixture carrier, which is connected integrally therewith and whereby the light fixture is capable of being attached to a cooling pipe system in a removable manner for example by means of a mechanical and/or magnetic coupling system included integrally in the light fixture carrier or for example by means of separate coupling springs, etc.

Accordingly, the invention enables a solution for the "docking cultivation" of plants, which, with respect to the available prior art, is remarkably more cost effective in terms of its acquisition, installation and operating costs, and by which it is possible to conduct, in connection with lighting for plants to be grown, simultaneously also the management of physical conditions in a plant growing facility e.g. by ena bling temperature and humidity optimal from the standpoint of each time cultivated plants by providing the cultivation facility with control automation and an appropriate compartmentalization of cultiva tion units. It is by virtue of equipment solutions integrated with cultivation units that the cultivation facility-specific large-scale growing processes can be replaced with growing processes preferably controlled in a manner involving a cultivation unit or a set of cultivation units.

Other preferred embodiments for an apparatus of the invention, intended for growing plants, are presented in dependent claims directed thereto.

A detailed description of the invention will be pre sented in the subsequent specification with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which fig. 1 shows one preferred apparatus of the invention in a side view, fig. 2 shows an apparatus of the invention in one preferred side view for two or more CC roll contain ers, and fig. 3 shows a general operating principle for an apparatus of the invention in a block diagram. The invention relates to an apparatus for growing plants, comprising:

- one or more cultivation units 1 in a cultivation facility for growing plants, wherein the presently cultivated plants are arranged in superimposed levels,

- a fan system 3 for circulating the cultivation fa cility's indoor air in connection with the apparatus,

- a lighting system for illuminating the presently cultivated plants, consisting of several electric light fixtures 4 which comprise one or more electric components, such as LEDs or the like, providing a lighting function, and

- a cooling system 5 for removing heat energy and/or moisture from indoor air circulating in connection with the apparatus.

Referring specifically to figs. 1 and 2, the cultiva tion unit 1 is an integral entity, comprising a frame la, which functions at least as an air intake duct and a load-bearing structure and to which are connected, as superimposed and/or side-by-side levels, light fixture carriers lb with the lighting system's light fixtures 4, it being by way of said light fix- ture carriers that the indoor air is adapted to be conducted between superimposed cultivation levels x included in one or more cultivation units 1.

In an apparatus of the invention, it is possible to utilize, as the cooling system 5, a medium circulation, i.e. so-called fluid circulation cooling (en ¬ compassing all gaseous and liquid mediums), solid state cooler elements (such as Peltier), and/or cooling based on heat pump cycle.

In a preferred embodiment for an apparatus of the invention, the light fixture carriers lb mounted on its frame la is provided, as shown in fig. 2, with distribution elements lbl, such as apertures, nozzles or the like, for distributing the indoor air in a cultivation level-specific manner from points successive in a longitudinal direction s of the light fixture carriers .

In a preferred embodiment of the invention, referring to fig. 2, the light fixture carriers lb are provided with adjustment elements lb2, such as control, throttle or the like valves, for the adjustment of a light fixture carrier-specific flow, which is possible to carry out e.g. with automatically controlled actuation valves capable restricting as necessary the airflow taking place in the light fixture carriers. In this context, it is also possible to further increase the adjustability by making use of a bypass valve system, whereby the flow of indoor air is enabled not into the light fixture carriers but, instead, directly into the cultivation space.

In a preferred embodiment of the invention, the fan system 3 comprises a fan operating on axial princi ple, such as a duct fan or the like, coupled in con ¬ nection with the frame la, for returning the indoor air sucked from a cultivation facility back into the cultivation facility by circulating the same through the frame la and the light fixture carrier lb. In what in this context is a further preferred embodiment the cooling system 5 comprises a heat exchanger coupled in connection with the frame la, such as a duct radiator or the like, operating on axial principle and cooled by liquid circulation, for cooling the indoor air produced by the fan system 3 prior to conducting the same into an interior of the frame. LC cooling based on a circulating medium, carried out e.g. on a principle illustrated in fig. 2, is pref erably capable of being implemented with a cooling water circulation.

As shown in figs. 1 and 2, the fan system 3 and the cooling system 5, as mentioned above, are included in an integral entity established by a cultivation unit, which for its part provides a considerably simplified utilization of the invention without a need for extra duct laying operations. Hence, it is also possible to enable the apparatus to operate in an automated manner so as to maintain correct air temperature and humidity in such a way that the cultivation unit does not start condensing, yet produces desirably heated and dry air into the growing facility. The cultiva- tion unit's compartmentalization can be carried out as necessary by using a more or less insulated sheet material, such as e.g. polyurethane or cellular plastic-insulated sheet metal, which enables the use of even higher drying/cooling capacities without the condensation problem. In a further preferred embodiment of the invention, the light fixture carriers lb comprise profiles of hollow cross-section, fabricated from a heat conducting plastic, metallic and/or magnetic material, for cooling the light fixtures 4 coupled to the light fixture carriers and for preheating the indoor air to be returned into the cultivation facility.

In what in this context is a preferred embodiment, the light fixture carriers lb comprise pipes, conduits or the like continuous in the lengthwise direction s thereof and provided with discrete removable/replaceable light fixtures 4. In an alternative solution, it is possible that the light fixture carriers lb be also assembled from pipe, conduit or the like sections, which are capable of being coupled to each other successively in the lengthwise direction s thereof and provided with light fixtures 4, and by way of which the indoor air flow delivered through the frame la is capable of being conducted between cultivation levels x.

Furthermore, specifically in view of maintenance and upkeep, the light fixture carriers lb are adapted to be fastened to the frame la preferably in a removable manner, such as with a threaded, bayonet or the like joint. In this context, it is further possible to im plement, as shown in fig. 2, the light fixture carri ers present on opposite sides of the frame by only using a single continuous light fixture carrier extending through the frame and having necessary perforation in the section retained within the frame. In a further preferred embodiment of the invention, the apparatus includes a compartmentalization arrangement 6 for enabling simultaneous handling of one or more cultivation units 1 while separated from the rest of the cultivation facility, thus enabling optimal management of the cultivation facility' s indoor climate by making use of automation.

In a further preferred embodiment of the invention, the cultivation unit 1 is adapted to operate on a docking principle by using one or more multilevel trolleys 2, such as CC roll containers or the like, capable of being transferred into contact therewith.

As shown in fig. 1, a CC roll container "loaded" with plants is movable into and out of a cultivation unit 1 by pushing the roll container in a lengthwise direction s or by using automation to move the same in an auxiliary powered manner. It is naturally possible to also carry out the docking principle e.g. in such a way that a first cultivation unit is provided with conditions for seedling phase, a second one for pregrowth phase, and a third one for final growth phase, whereby the multilevel trolleys are respectively maneuvered in stages.

It is possible that the components included in an apparatus of the invention be manufactured e.g. from sheet iron or aluminum or, if more drying capacity is desired, also from non-condensing materials, such as e.g. plastics or insulated aluminum sheet, etc. In the cultivation of plants enabled by the invention there are several possible approaches to carry out the irrigation of plants. First / the overhead irrigation of plants can be implemented by using e.g. low pressure mists or sprinklers. However, this is not a highly favorable option as the water spray easily soils the light fixtures and surroundings, "drenches" the plants and additionally causes algae growth in the structures.

On the other hand, the plants can be sub-irrigated with a so-called ebb & flow method, which is a common practice in tabletop growing. In this method, the plants are growing in pots in a gutter, which is sup plied with water by way of a supply pipe for elevat ing the water level, followed by discharging the water along the same pipe. In this case, the supply pipe is attached tightly to the gutter's floor, which is therefore permanently in engagement with the pots, thus necessitating manual labor and high automation, especially in the case of manually movable substrates .

Moreover, a third optional irrigation method for plants is overhead irrigation, which is a variation of the above-mentioned method. In this case, water is allowed to flow freely from an overhead irrigation pipe directly into a gutter, wherein the plants are generally contained in cells. The gutter has its floor provided with such a small outlet port that the water level has time to rise in the gutter prior to discharging from the outlet port e.g. into a sewer pipe. In order to avoid overflow, the gutter is gen- erally also provided with an overflow port at higher level. This method has replaced the two former ones because of the problems existing therein. By virtue of the invention, the irrigation pipe of the latter method is possible to integrate with a cultivation unit or a dock and to schedule operation of the dock with its own automation by using e.g. a solenoid valve, thus enabling irrigations to be con- trolled in a roll container-specific manner, which brings about a significant improvement with respect to the centralized irrigation of all roll containers.

It is obvious that the invention is not limited to the above-presented or -described embodiments, but is subject to a wide variety of modification within the scope the basic inventive concept, depending e.g. the lighting conditions and special demands of plants being grown at a particular time, whereby cooling can be possibly provided by using e.g. a condensation dryer arrangement or a heat pump, etc. or any air drying technique most appropriate for each purpose.

It is possible that the apparatus according to the invention be automated or it can be operated e.g. with manually working switches, such that the light fixtures are switched on as the CC roll container is pushed into a cultivation unit. Hence, it is also possible to automate a simultaneous actuation of the fan system as necessary. Furthermore, preferably when using compartmentalization, it is possible to achieve a highly controlled local indoor climate for each cultivation unit in such a way that the waste heat of light fixtures can be effectively exploited in the drying of indoor air by pre-heating the latter as it proceeds through the light fixture carriers, the performance of which has traditionally required the use of electric resistances or so-called hybrid heat pumps .

In this context, it is further possible to make use of automation e.g. by monitoring the growth time of each CC roll container and by informing about the harvest readiness of a CC roll container's growth e.g. by blinking the lighting system's light fixtures in a specific manner. The apparatus according to the invention can be assembled to be quite lightweight, especially for manual operation, or it can be automated to quite a great extent e.g. by integrating therewith an irrigation system and by adding thereto e.g. temperature, C0 2 , and/or humidity sensors, as well as by creating a centralized user interface, providing an ability to monitor, e.g. from a control room, the utilization rates, temperatures, conditions or the like diagnostics of various CC roll containers. It is further possible to place the electrical engineering components of e.g. LED light fixtures in- side a separate closable cabinet, which cools effectively and functions as an enclosure for electrical engineering components.

In addition to or instead of LED lamps, it is naturally possible that the invention be implemented by utilizing a most diverse variety of light producing techniques, a few notable examples thereof including: laser, OLED, LEC lamps, quantum dots, plasma, halogen and induction lamps.

Plasma lamps, for example, are based on an argon or sulphur core, which is incandescent with microwaves and which, upon heating, shines light resembling the sun.

Furthermore, especially incandescent lamps, induction lamps and halogen lamps are based on the same phenomenon and all these are even currently employed also in plant lighting.

In LEC (Light Emitting Capacitor) technique, a fluo- rescent insulating material begins to glow in an electric field, which technique is used e.g. in the backlighting of display screens. OLED, LEC, LED and quantum dot techniques are all based on the electroluminescence phenomenon. Other relevant light sources worth mentioning include discharge lamps, such as xenon, HPS, MH, as well as fluorescent tubes.