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An industrial design student come up with an advanced solution for harvesting fruit and vegetables and solar power at the same time.

© Fraunhofer ISE

The growing need to produce more food domestically coupled with increased use of renewable energy in Germany, is putting more and more pressure on land use. An industrial design student from Burg Giebichenstein University of Art and Design Halle has come up with a better solution that enables farmers to harvest fruit and vegetables and solar power at the same time.

Hélène Fontaine was awarded Best Newcomer at the German Ecodesign Awards 2022 for her organic photovoltaic (OPV) polytunnel system called 2harvest. The OPV electrodes are embedded into the flexible PET substrate as island patches, rather than being manufactured as a continuous foil which would be less easy to stretch over the greenhouse frame.

Fontaine’s invention solves a number of problems for farmers: the use of foil tunnels for protecting produce during harvest is increasingly common due to more extreme weather conditions. 2harvest not only protects the plants, but it enables farmers to produce electricity either for heating the greenhouse, or feeding back into the grid.

“The basic idea with 2harvest was to scale up and recombine existing technologies in order to provide a demonstration of a large-scale application possibility for solar panels that is not in competition with land for food production,” says Fontaine on the award website. Her biggest development challenge was finding a way to install the PET foil over large areas without damaging the solar cells. By dividing the foil into individually installable strips, she overcame this problem and solved a future one – a defective strip can be easily replaced.

Her project was praised along with 13 other innovations by a judging panel which included President of the German Environment Agency (UBA), Dirk Messner, and Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke. “For our future we need more of these types of bold ideas which challenge established infrastructures and thought patterns and offer intelligent solutions,” said Messner at the ceremony.