The greenhouse horticulture division of Wageningen University Research Centre is involved in setting up research centres in the field of water conservation in the Middle East. Their goal is to test water conservation technology under local circumstances. Technology that enables plants to be grown without any soil, possibly based on the recirculation of drain water, is a key topic.

Most of the water used in greenhouse horticulture under Middle Eastern conditions is not used to grow plants, but to cool greenhouses using the pad & fan principle of evaporative cooling. This cooling method is quite effective on account of the low humidity outside, but it uses a lot of water. The amount of water needed could be compensated for by leaving less heat in greenhouses. However, as this is primarily heat generated by the sun, this could only be limited slightly without any concessions to production.  A possible solution would be to apply specially developed covering materials with spectral properties to reflect part of the solar radiation not used for the photosynthesis process. Additionally, greenhouses could also be cooled mechanically through air conditioning. Obviously, this would require more energy, but it would also result in higher production of a better quality.

Technical and economic feasibility

The research conducted at the centres will focus primarily on the technical and economic feasibility of these innovations in the Middle East. The application of these innovations in practice will also be investigated, in which the necessary expertise will closely examined. ‘The application of high-quality technology without the accompanying expertise would be like selling a Ferrari to someone who has never driven a car,’ explains Jouke Campen, researcher for Greenhouse Climate and Energy at Wageningen UR.