Infrascreen: Filters for Greener Greenhouses
“With our filters, growers can increase profitability by up to 40%, which is a very compelling value proposition — especially because they’re buying something that they would already be buying.”
We all want the fruits and vegetables we eat to be healthy for us and healthy for the planet. But even organic growers use pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides, plus a huge amount of water to sustain their crops. While greenhouse growers are working to reduce water waste, the use of chemicals, and CO2 emissions, they still have a ways to go to improve energy efficiency.
Henri de Lalande, CEO of Switzerland-based Infrascreen, describes how his company designed the next generation of greenhouse screens that enable productivity gains and drastic improvements in climate control.
What trends are you seeing that inspired the idea for your technology?
[HD] There’s a segment in agriculture that’s been developing called high-tech greenhouses, or protected agriculture, focused on the idea of protecting crops. Because crops are like kids — when it’s very hot out, they’re going to consume a lot of water, get sunburns, and experience stress. You need to protect them.
We believe protected agriculture is the future of farming. It’s expanding quickly, and it’s really taking off in the U.S. That said, high-tech greenhouses still have issues in terms of sustainability. That’s where we come in.
How does your solution work, and what results can growers expect?
[HD] Growers are looking for precise climate control. They want to be able to dynamically select the radiation that goes in and out of their greenhouses. We’ve developed a filter using nanotechnologies that’s transparent to the light waves useful for photosynthesis, while able to reflect infrared rays that are harmful to crops. This approach has been used in glass for buildings and cars, but it’s extremely complex to integrate in the special screens used in greenhouses. We’re printing layers of materials at atomic scale for application over a transparent sheet of plastic.
With our filters, growers can increase profitability by up to 40%, which is a very compelling value proposition — especially because they’re buying something that they would already be buying. They need screens, and our product will drastically lower their operating costs and improve their environmental performance.
How did the Infrascreen team form?
[HD] I began my career in finance. I then started my own business, which mostly consisted of helping startups raise money. In 2013, I helped Benoît de Combaud (now Infrascreen’s CTO) raise for his own company in the greenhouse technology field. A few years passed, we went on, and we lived our lives. In 2018, I sold my business and Benoît approached me to talk about the need for selective filtering in greenhouses. While it was not his field of study, he started digging and thought we could build a filter to address the need.
In 2019, we connected with Professor Christophe Baillif from EPFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, a research institute and university in Lausanne, Switzerland). With the help of EPFL and CSEM (The Swiss Center for Electronics and Microtechnology), we developed a prototype and released it to Wageningen University, the experts in greenhouse technology. Now we’re in the last steps of finalizing our product.
What has helped your business continue to move forward?
[HD] There are a few factors that have contributed to our success so far. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the help of grants and awards, including Innosuisse and the BCN Innovation 2020 Prize. We also have the benefit of an experienced team that can cover the technology and commercialization aspects simultaneously.
Any advice for startups or entrepreneurs?
[HD] When your business partner says something that you don’t agree with, try to take the time to understand where they’re coming from. Even if you still don’t agree with the end answer, talking it through may help you to realize that your thinking is not so different and there’s something to be gained. That’s true of any partnership, business or otherwise.
It’s also helpful to talk to as many people as possible all the time. Doing so allows you to find your “seven-league boots,” a tool to be able to take many strides in one step. The Luminate accelerator has been like that for our team.