‘Shifting spectrum of sunlight’ to boost plant growth

The story of LLEAF, which stands for luminescent light emitting agricultural film, began at the University of NSW when Dr Alex Falber invented novel light shifting dyes, according to chief operating officer Chris Wilkins.

“Dr Falber was joined by our now [chief executive] Dr Alex Soeriyadi, and a new business was born. Over the next five years they conducted a huge amount of testing and trialling, refining their product and building the business,” Mr Wilkins said.

“I was introduced to them by Cicada Innovations and as a trio we’re now actively selling our product and are backed by some great investors.”

The company, which has been named as a finalist in the 2022 InnovationAus Awards for Excellence in the Food and AgriTech category, specialises in the development of light spectrum shifting dyes. It develops, patents and commercialises light emitting plastics for horticultural applications. The Award winners will be announced at a Black Tie event at Barangaroo in Sydney on November 17.

LLEAF chief operating officer Chris Wilkins

The LLEAF mission? To increase food abundance sustainably by improving the efficiency of global horticultural systems through the use of passive sunlight manipulation.

“We see a world where food security and environmental sustainability are becoming increasingly important,” Mr Wilkins said. “As a global community we have been borrowing cheap energy from the future for too long. Every aspect of our society will need to transition to clean alternatives, and we have made it our mission to enable growers to do the same”

So, how does the technology work? Powered by sunlight, LLEAF dyes passively shift the spectrum of sunlight to better meet the needs of specific plants and the goals of growers, Mr Wilkins said.

“Dispersed in the film are molecules of dye which become charged up by green light and then emit red light, which is what fuels the plants’ additional growth.”

Specifically, LLEAF’s plastic films optimise the solar spectrum to increase photosynthesis or to activate phytochromes.

“Using LLEAF 620 Film, growers typically achieve an increase in yield between 10 per cent to 30 per cent, and by using LLEAF 660 Film growers can control seasonality allowing crops to be grown out of season or in new locations.”

Designed to be installed inside greenhouse structures, LLEAF Film is a thin layer of high quality polycarbonate that transmits an improved light spectrum – performing like a shade screen and an LED plant light, but powered sustainably by the sun, he explained.

“LLEAF Films contain an internationally patented light shifting luminescent dye with a long working lifespan equal to or greater than the polycarbonate carrier plastic (10+ years) and does not contain any metals, making the plastic easily recyclable at the end of the working life.”

It’s a technology that aims to change the face of agriculture by harnessing the power of sunlight. Conventional technology requires solar panels, batteries and LED lights to perform the same task, he explained.

“LLEAF’s light shifting dye simply converts the sunlight without requiring the production of electrical energy. Fluorescence is a more elegant solution that is both more economical and environmentally friendly”

Market action growing

Asked what’s next, Mr Wilkins said the company is fielding an increased demand for product, prompting the company to scale up production, recruit as quickly as possible, and work to bring new products to market.

“The next few years will be really interesting as the industry learns more about light spectrum and we move to serving the early majority.”

Already, the company has sold its product to growers in over eight countries with demand increasing and outpacing supply.

“LLEAF is a commercial business with a vision to scale profitably, but as a company it’s very much driven by the potential to improve food security in a sustainable way – making crops more available via improved protected cropping systems.

“Increasing the productive efficiency of existing greenhouses by 20 per cent without the need for any additional input of energy is a massive sustainability improvement and provides a vast amount of additional food. Growing food out of season or in new locations has the potential to remove international food miles and reduce domestic ones.”

The company is a Cicada Innovations portfolio company, part of the Future Food Systems CRC, and is supported by the NSW Government via the Physical Sciences Fund, MVP Grant, and Investment NSW.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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