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Mobile Concentrated Solar Soil Solarization


Control of plant adversaries such as nematodes, disease causing bacteria, fungi, weeds, and soil-borne pests is required for healthy plants and high yields in agriculture. Pre-plant treatment of soil by fumigants such as methyl bromide (MB) is effective and has been used since 1920s. However, MB is a toxic gas that is harmful to people, animals, and environment. It can contaminate water supplies and has been classified as a Class I stratospheric ozone-depleting gas. These factors have led to international regulations restricting the import, production, or use of MB. In the United States, MB fumigation is permitted only through critical use exemptions, which are exceedingly difficult to obtain due to ongoing phase-out of MB. Alternative chemicals like metam-sodium and chloropicrin are not as effective and are also regulated by EPA. These pesticides cannot be used in geographical areas that are close to schools and houses. Organic farmers avoid these issues by not using any pesticides, but pay penalty by decreased crop yield, and higher production costs due to increased labor in activities such as manual weed removal.

Suntomics' key insight to provide a sustainable soil treatment method is that sunlight can be concentrated togenerate heat in the soil remotely by focusing sunlight from an electronically steered mirror array, mounted on a truck that can be driven to the farm as shown in the above Figure. The truck mirror scanners, or Mobile Concentrated Solarization Platform (MCSP), can concentrate equivalent of 30-50 suns to spot sizes of 1 m2. Suntomics will use its patented (through CCTEC) technology on modular, wirelessly-controlled, planar, sun-tracking reflectors, Solar-Tiles, to transform traditional soil solarization used for decades into a widely applicable, waste-free, soil treatment method using concentrated solar power. We will offer Helio-Tiles-installed trucks and trailers, which can go to any farmland and perform remote solarization service as illustrated above. This technology, Mobile Concentrated Solar Soil Solarization (MCS3), allows soil in the vicinity of the truck, Helio-Mobile Unit, to be scanned automatically with 30-50X concentrated solar light using sun-tracking, steerable mirrors compactly packed within Helio-Tiles. This allows fast and high-quality disinfection of soil, eliminating the need for any chemicals.

In the figure below:

  1. Picture of the first generation prototype developed by Suntomics. This mobile solarization platform is installed on a cart and houses 4x3 array of 30cmx30 cm mirrors, each of which can be steered in two dimensions based by computer controlled pan-tilt stages.
  2. Snapshot from an experiment where a potting soil sample is heated using the prototype and a secondary reflector.
  3. Picture of the second generation prototype
  4. An early version of the Graphical User Interface used to control the mirrors.

Recent News

  • December 2014
    Started setting up a test facility in Los Angeles, CA.
  • November 2014
    Demonstration of pathogen reduction in soil using MCSP prototype.