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Pilkington Botanical Glass (NSG Group)

Our plant science expert, Dr Sven Batke, has been working with Pilkington UK (NSG Group) to test the impact of their newly developed botanical glass on crop performance.

The specialist glass is intended for use in applications such as commercial greenhouses, used to grow fresh fruit and vegetables year-round for the UK food supply chain, including large supermarket chains. With consumers keen to buy a range of high-quality fruits and vegetables even when they’re out of season, greenhouse growers are under increasing pressures to increase their yield and the nutritional value of their produce. Within the UK, sunlight is one of the key resource limitations for crop growth and production, particularly during autumn and winter, meaning that integration of supplemental lighting is necessary to maintain crop health. However, most commercial greenhouses are not equipped with supplementary lighting, and where additional lighting is used, growers are burdened by soaring energy costs. To help alleviate these challenges, Pilkington UK developed a new range of botanical glass focused specifically on the horticultural market. The new glass range aims to boost crop growth by preserving or even boosting the light quantity and spectral quality entering the greenhouse. Though you might expect traditional glass to enable optimal light transmission, due to the composition of the glass and its reflective, absorbing, and scattering properties this is rarely the case, further hampering growers’ attempts to increase yield.

To gain a better understanding of the effect different glass properties have on crop performance, Pilkington UK approached Sven to undertake some proof-of-concept research that would test the effect of their different glass products on crops. Sven and his team ran several initial outdoor trials using tomato plants, measuring the different light conditions created by three of Pilkington UK’s glass products during the growing cycle. Importantly, the study evaluated the impact on a range of plant growth and environmental indicators relevant to growers, the manufacturing industry and plant scientists. The team found changes when grown under different glass products, providing first data to inform greenhouse glass technologies for Pilkington UK. The plan now is to conduct a larger scale study within a commercial production system. This will allow the team to gather additional evidence to help Pilkington UK, and the wider NSG Group, fully understand their products’ performance in-situ. It will also enable growers to make informed decisions when looking for ways to increase production and optimise resource use.   

The initial data produced by Sven and his team at Edge Hill has given us a real insight into the complicated way in which plants interact with their surroundings, and the effect that light has on many different aspects of plant development. As a glass company we can conduct many measurements on glass performance but one thing we cannot measure is how real plants react under different products, so the results are incredibly valuable for us. We are really looking forward to expanding the study to look at a wider range of products over a full growing season, scaling up further and continuing to develop our relationship with Edge Hill.” 

Anna Colley, Lead Technologist, NSG Group, parent company to Pilkington UK