IIT Kanpur develops solar energy-based Root Zone Heating system and Vermi-Bed method for plants in high altitude areas

G.P. Varma

Kanpur, June 27, 2022: A team of scientists and researchers from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur, has developed a solar energy-based Root Zone Heating system and Vermi-Bed method for plants in high altitude areas.

The novel technology has been developed keeping in view the scarcity of fresh vegetables or agricultural produce and the lack of effective organic waste management in high altitude areas like the Leh-Ladakh region.

A team comprising M.Tech student Anshul Rawat, and Prof. Mukesh Sharma, and Prof. Anubha Goel from the Department of Civil Engineering has been granted patent for this technology.

At the root of this development was the scarcity of fresh vegetables faced by our defence forces deployed in high altitude areas like the Leh-Ladakh region, especially during winters because of the extreme climatic conditions which make agriculture difficult. This issue is further compounded due to increased tourism in those areas as the demand for vegetables increases. The region faces a severe scarcity of fresh vegetables leading to increased food miles of fresh food supply, adverse impact on the environment and economic losses due to the perishable nature of vegetables.

Another major challenge faced in high altitude areas is organic waste management. Organic waste generation is a continuous process, and its disposal is a critical issue in the regions of subzero temperatures. If organic wastes like food waste is disposed of in a landfill, it rots and becomes a significant source of methane, a greenhouse gas. Poor waste management – ranging from non-existing collection system to ineffective disposal – cause air pollution, water and soil contamination. This waste can be extremely beneficial when converted into compost and can be used for growing healthier plants, but that is not feasible under extremely low temperature. It is to address these two issues that the IIT Kanpur team has come up with this unique technology.

Prof. Abhay Karandikar, Director, IIT Kanpur said, “The high altitude areas pose some crucial problems when it comes to availability of fresh produce and organic waste management, especially for our defence forces that require a good amount of fresh produce in their daily diet. Due to the climate and weather conditions, it is difficult to avail fresh produce year-long. Hence, this novel technology of Root Zone Heating system and Vermi-Bed method developed by the team at our institute is a significant step towards helping especially our defence forces deployed there with fresh vegetable supply and a solution to effectively mitigate organic waste. I congratulate the whole team for this innovative invention and for taking a step further in sustainable research and development practised at IIT Kanpur.”

The basic premise of the technology is a greenhouse (polyhouse) plantation of vegetables and a provision of the heating root zone of the plants. The root zone heating is scientifically studied and modelled by laying a network of GI (Galvanised Iron) pipes below the ground carrying solar-heated water and by integrating aluminium sheet fins with the buried GI pipes, to enhance the heat transfer.

A significant temperature increase (7oC to 18oC) in soil was achieved during the trial, depending upon the temperature of hot water being flown inside the GI pipes. This raised temperature helped plants grow in a faster and healthier way than the plants grown outside at relatively low temperatures. Such a system in high altitude areas can better the cropping cycle to produce fresh vegetables even in winter conditions. This technology was field-tested that provided efficient solution producing good quality of vegetables in a protected environment and results were projected for high altitude areas where the temperature goes to – 150C and below.

To resolve the issue of waste management, on-site treatment of organic waste by vermicomposting was also carried out inside the polyhouse in a pit, wherein additional heat was provided to the vermi-bed by running hot water through buried rubber pipes. Hence, this technology developed a symbiotic system that not only enhances the fresh food supply in high altitude areas during winters but also provides solutions for producing nearly zero waste.

This technology has unified organic waste management practice with agriculture. The technology can assist our troops deployed in high altitude areas by making them self-reliant to a large extent in terms of the fresh food supply by growing desired vegetables in a protected environment like a greenhouse with solar-operated root zone heating and at the same time, it will assist in managing the organic waste generated by maintaining high-temperature vermicomposting. Thus we have a system where vegetables can be grown, and waste generated can be converted into compost, and further utilized at the same green/polyhouse to grow vegetables. This signifies a symbiotic system with inbuilt circular economy.