By Daphnée Malboeuf
Imagine fruits and vegetables bursting with flavour, texture and colour, as if they had spent the summer ripening under the warm sun in the fields. This is what Sollum Technologies is proposing: produce so close to Mother Nature’s work that you can’t tell the difference.
For many years now, climate change has brought its share of headaches for farmers, sometimes forcing them to grow their crops in greenhouses in order to maintain their yields.
The concern is that using regular light bulbs won’t make the produce as tasty as if it had grown freely in the fields, at the whim of the changing sun.
That's why Sollum has developed a technology that can reproduce different types of sunlight to boost production.
“Sollum is an artificial lighting solution that optimizes conditions for agriculture, and by agriculture, we mean both plant and livestock farming,” explains Louis Brun, co-founder of the Montréal startup that grew out of Gabriel Dupas and François Roy-Moisan’s university project when they were students at the École de technologie supérieure (ETS).
Having to finish their project by the end of their Bachelor’s degree, François and Gabriel chose to recreate the sun in order to be able to carry out their work on solar panels after the sun had set. It was then that the idea of using this technology for other purposes began to take shape.
“We created a light source that perfectly reproduces sunlight in all its complexity and variations, because the sun’s intensity, spectrum and cycle vary throughout the day. This happens every day, even on an hourly basis and throughout the seasons,” explains Mr. Brun, a serial entrepreneur who joined the two ETS students as a co-founding partner.
Unlike simple LED light technology, recognized as an energy-efficient system that delivers unparalleled lumen efficiency, Sollum offers a programmable spectrum that can reproduce all the sun’s angles in a day, from sunrise to sunset, with simulated cloudy passages to boot.
The biggest challenge for the founders now is to successfully develop “recipes” that will enable growers to grow different produce in the same facilities, using their smartphones to manage the lamps and access a solar recipe library.
“Really, it’s the idea that one type of facility can ultimately allow growers to practice precision farming on all aspects," says Louis. “Today, growers have very sophisticated irrigation systems they use to manage water levels, nutrients and temperature with great precision, but light remains a component that can only be turned on and off. With Sollum, we are bringing light to precision agriculture.”
Tests conducted with independent agronomists have shown productivity gains of 45%, and food quality, or a better concentration of nutrients and better taste, made an impressive 200% jump.
"With a few tests, our agronomist even showed that with varied spectra, he was able to modify the taste and colour of rosemary," says the entrepreneur.
The technology used by Sollum could not only change the game in today's agricultural world, it could also be a sustainable solution to the food problems many people face.
“Today, we are offering the sun to plants and animals, because the issue surrounding food security, which is to feed the population with quality food in urban areas, is very real," adds Louis. “Our vision truly is: sun for all. After providing it to plants and animals, we want to bring the sun to our schools, hospitals, offices and homes.”