GelPonics aims to decarbonise hydroponics

GelPonics aims to decarbonise hydroponics


CHAP is delighted to announce the launch of a new project to develop an autonomous, hydroponic system centered around a novel hydrogel growing media.

The GelPonics project in collaboration between start-up AEH Innovative Hydrogel, robotics experts Labman Automation and CHAP, supported by the Graphene Engineering and Innovation Centre (GEIC) of Manchester University, Grobotic Systems and Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC).

The project is funded by Innovate UK’s Transforming Food Production challenge: ‘Science and Technology into Practice’ and will run for 26 months from 1st September 2020.

Hydroponic systems generally use a substrate, such as rock wool, coir or peat, to support plant roots and facilitate water and nutrient uptake. As all these substrate options are unsustainable, they tend to be the largest contributor to the carbon footprint of vertical farming or glasshouse production. With global controlled environment production expanding significantly, alternatives need to be sought that can decarbonise agriculture while meeting grower specifications and, crucially, competing on price.

GelPonics technology can improve the sustainability of production and, by optimising inputs and crop resilience, cut operational expenditure. As well as being recyclable, the hydrogel product can be reused locally as a soil amendment to help sequester carbon. It also has substantial export potential in dry form to countries with water scarcity.

The project will be delivered in three principal phases. Phase 1 will optimise the hydrogel formulation and shift-changer nutrient delivery system, encompassing a state-of-the-art graphene membrane, alongside comprehensive industry analysis.

Phase 2 will focus on prototyping trials in CHAP’s Vertical Farming Development Centre, and STC’s LED Tomato Glasshouse, to optimise plant growth within the GelPonics system. System development will combine sensors with automation to create a fully automated rig for the hydrogel substrate, integrated with renewable energy.

Phase 3 will deliver a full, semi-commercial trial of the GelPonics system for both leafy green and tomato production, as well as demonstrating the technology and its potential for low-carbon horticulture.

CHAP Innovation Network Lead Dr Harry Langford said: “There is a significant market demand for more sustainable hydroponic substrates. This project is an exciting opportunity to optimise and scale-up a novel hydrogel product and demonstrate this product directly to the end-user, within a state-of-the-art, automated production system”.

AEH Innovative Hydrogel Founder Dr Beenish Siddique said: “The two unique selling points of the GelPonics system are the hydrogel itself, which has a significant water-holding capacity and is both recyclable and reusable, and the ‘shift-changer’ system, that uses graphene technology for precision nutrient delivery to the plant roots”

Labman Automation Chief Engineer Dr Richard Fields said “We will create an automated farm, purpose built for housing the GelPonics system. Through this we can optimise growth conditions for foods: improving yield, minimising energy consumption and reducing CO2 emissions. The unique combination of automation and sensor driven farming will allow us to intelligently manage plant growth and rapidly adjust to changes in supply and demand for different food types.”

About Crop Health and Protection (CHAP)

Crop Health and Protection (CHAP), funded by Innovate UK, is one of four UK Agri-Tech Centres. CHAP’s vision is for the UK to be a global leader in the development of applied Agri-Technologies, to help secure our future by nourishing a growing population sustainably while delivering economic, environmental and health benefits to society.

CHAP acts as a unique, independent nexus between UK government, researchers and industry, building innovation networks to identify and accelerate the development of cutting-edge solutions to drive incremental, transformative and disruptive changes in sustainable crop productivity.


For further information about the project contact:
Dr Harry Langford: [email protected]
Tel: +44 (0) 7732 092 775

Twitter: @CHAP_Enquiries

About AEH Innovative Hydrogel:

AEH Innovation Hydrogel Ltd was founded in October 2018 by Dr Beenish Siddique to develop innovative hydrogels, which will help shape the future of agriculture and industry. The company has been shortlisted and finalists for numerous awards. To date, it has won three prestigious awards Venture Further Manchester 2019, Eli and Brit Harari Graphene Enterprise award, and Shell Live future award. It has also been selected for the [email protected] competition.


For further information contact: Dr Beenish Siddique: [email protected]

Tel: 07867 502 247

Twitter: @AEH_Hydrogel

About Labman Automation:

Labman manufactures custom software and robotic solutions for a wide range of industrial, laboratory and medical applications. Working with customers across the globe, it produces world-class systems tailored to the requirements of their clients.

Labman has provided numerous systems in the field of agricultural science (e.g. biomass grinding, dispensing and plant material manipulation). It also has extensive experience in general liquid and solid handling system alongside environmental control (e.g. lighting, heating, ventilation and air conditioning). Labman’s customer network will provide opportunities for results exposure and commercialisation.


For further information contact:

Dr Richard Fields: [email protected]

Tel: +44 (0)1642-710-580

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