Zero-impact innovative technology in forest plant production

Place: Varese, italy, Europe
Quantitative & qualitative enhancement of crop products Quantitative & qualitative enhancement of crop products
Total Budget: € 4.284.275,00 | Period: From October 2012 To


This project has received founding from European Union's Seventh Framework Program. A movable growth chamber unit for the sustainable production of crops for reforestation or agricolture. The mobile growth chamber is powered by solar energy, includes a robotized revolving for the simultaneous production of thousands seedlings. A number of wireless sensors have been developed which follow the seedlings growth and call for a robotic arm able to make nursery operations. All the data collected by the sensors are send to a remote working station for control and all the events taking place in the growth chamber  are recorded. The LED lights used in the growth chamber contribute to reduce energy costs. The growth chamber can be moved and used in every type of environmental and geological conditions enabling its use all year round. Beneficiaries are public and private companies involved in crop productions.


University of Tuscia - Italy

Lead applicant

ACREO AB. - Sweden

Initiative partner


Initiative partner

Demokritus University of Thrace - Greece

Initiative partner

EXERGY LTD - United Kingdom

Initiative partner


Initiative partner

Advantic Sistemas y Servicios s.l. - Spain

Initiative partner


Initiative partner

Dalarna University - Sweden

Initiative partner

Fraunhofer IFAM - Germany

Initiative partner

Torsanlorenzo Gruppo Florovivaistico - Italy

Initiative partner

robosoft - France

Initiative partner

Valoya - Finland

Initiative partner

University of Insubria - Italy

Initiative partner

L'Insubria Center on International Security (ICIS) promuove iniziative di analisi, ricerca e alta formazione nell’ambito della sicurezza internazionale con particolare riferimento alla non-proliferazione nucleare-biologica-chimica-radiologica (NBCR) a livello globale. Scopo dell’ICIS è inoltre quello di promuovere la cooperazione scientifica e tecnologica internazionale, in risposta alle sfide globali poste dallo sviluppo sostenibile e dalla geopolitica delle risorse energetiche e primarie. Le attività dell’ICIS comprendono l’ideazione e la realizzazione di progetti di cooperazione scientifica e tecnologica in settori specifici quali la non-proliferazione NBCR e la sicurezza idrica ed energetica, nonché l’organizzazione di tavole rotonde, seminari e conferenze internazionali sui temi della sicurezza internazionale.

The ZEPHYR objectives are: To introduce an innovative LED-based technology in regeneration of plants; To develop wireless sensors for reducing the energy consumption and for monitoring the cultivation process; To improve the sustainable management in the production of forest crops and at the same time contributes to the environmental protection through: • Energy saving, by adopting solar panels and the LED technology with reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; The energy for trays movement ,sensors and devices will be provided by solar panels • Water optimization through recycling and data feedback from the soil and plant sensors with fertilizers reduction and avoiding the use of pesticides • Increasing biodiversity levels through a certified production of reforestation materials • Cost efficiency (less energy consumption, minimum seedling losses, year round function of the unit, reduced cost for transport, handling and planting of seedlings due to their small size)

Plant growth chambers on the market come in a variety of standard type and size with control of light, temperature, umidity and CO2. Those to be used for research have additional features such as nutrient injection sampling, photosynthesi measurement, transpiration rate measurement, etc, etc. However growth chambers for pre-cultivation of crop material  do not exist. In the Zephyr project a very successful prototype based upon multiple floor production unit has been developed. This unit will have LED lights and solar panels for low energy consumption, reduced heat emission, extended lifetime. LED lights for large scale crop production in mobile growth chamber has never been produced. The use of miniplugs trays will enable the preparation of thousands seedlings contemporaneously. The growth cycle of seedlings will be monitored by wireless sensors able to measure plant and soil parameters. In this way water, nutrient and light will be sustainably used.

Example of rotating trays The figure shows the rotating unit which will be used in the mobile growth chamber.
LED lights Example of light to be used in the mobile growth chamber
Rotating system The figure show the final aspect of the rotating system
Sensors The figure shows an example of small sensor
Rotating system The video shows the rotating growth chamber

Forests represent an important global natural resource on which human population depends for wood, air quality, recreation and manu other uses. Forests hep prevent climate change by acting as "sinks" that absorb CO2. Therefore forests serve multiple interelated social, economic and environmental functions, play a major role in storage, purification and release of water bodies and subsurface aquifers. Their role include also absorption of air pollution. For all these reasons a new research and development approach based on innovative technology built on pre-cultivation of forest crop material with zero-impact and cost-friendly growth chamber is needed. Important is also to devise a growth chamber which is important for biodiversity protection and for representing a competitive advantage to businesses and SMEs in particular. The Zephyr project objective introduce an innovative technology in the first step of forestry production chain with high quality plant stocks.

Communication Unit The figure shows how the communication unit is attached to the sensor
Scheme of sensors The figure shows how water and nutrient to be used in the growth chamber will be used

During the first phase of the project there has been a selection of the best morphometric and physiological parameters able to indicate correctly the seedling growth kinetics. These parameters have been used to develop a number of sensors able to make their measurement. The new sensors have been miniaturized and made wireless in order to be place in very small pots. A work station and specific software programmes have been tested to collect and calculate all data received from the sensors. New LED lamps have been built and tested to achieve the minor power consumption and the maximum seedling growth efficiency. A robotic arm has been developed to be placed in the rotating growth chamber which moves a series of trays  containing the growing seedlings. A power system with solar panels has been developed which feeds the unit. An optical system has been devised to record all the events occurring in the unit when the growth chamber is used. No human presence is needed.

../file-system/small/pdf ../file-system/small/pdf PROTOTYPE The document shows the summary of the project

The new growth chamber for massive production of crops with sustainable costs and zero impact represents a good opportunity for nurseries to broaden the range of species used for re-forestation purposes and crop production. This new technology will be used in all kind of seedlings production such as horticulture and ornamentals as well as in future space mission application. The sustainable production of thousands seedlings in few weeks and with low costs open the possibility to be used in developing countries. Certainly overseas this new growth chamber could be used in China where a Green Great Wall program establish that 2.800-mile network of forest belts are needed to stop soil degradation and desertification. An advantage for SMEs involved in crop production results evident.
Forest owners, Universities and research institutions dealing with plants growing are also beneficiaries. SMEs involved in edibles, industrial and medicinal compunds could be interested.

The human resources involved in this project make a total of 347 person-months. The people belong to 14 different private and public institution, research association, SMEs. The competences span from deep knowledge of plant physiology to robotics passing through mechanics, informatics electronics. Several european institutions being leader in their specific competence such as producing new sensors and/or producing new materials have been involved. Each partner involved in the project has been the manager of a specific task but at the same time all the partners have been informed in regard of the overall project advancement. The consortium composition is visible at:


The project was provided with a risk analyis and contingency plan which was active and able to monitoring all the phases. The main problems derived from the methodology to be used for seedling growth estimation which required that the parametrs (both morphological and physiological) coulld be used with all plant species characterized by broad- or needle-leaves. In the end an efficient optical system was developed which is based upon the possibility to use a simple dual-optical camera which was able to measure seedling height and transform that parameter in a growth indicator. Other small problems derived from the requirement for energy consumption and those problems were eliminated by adopting a minor number of trays in the rotating units.

The Zephyr project impacts are:

1) Reduction of pressure on primary raw materials and help in preserving environment and reducing pollution with more than 50% reduction of energy cnsumption by using solar panels, reducing fertilizers, avoinding of pesticides, water recycling. Furthermore LED lights will reduce 36% of energy costs.

2) Biodiversity will be protected by producing plant species characterized by deep dormancy and difficulties in germination or endangered bu climate changes.

3) Inducing a more sustainable crop production pattern with a 10% reduction of costs for nursery operations. Further cost reduction will derive from reduction of transportation, handling, planting, and use of small pots.

4) Increase of the role of SMEs in green technologies and opening new opportunities for start-ups and market options

The results achieved by the Zephyr project such as the production of wireless sensors able to estimate correctly the growth parameters of seedlings during the first period of post-germination, are at the basis of a new project aimed to produce small robots which move autonomously in forests and crop field to measure the advancement of seasonal growth. The data collected by the small robots which move contemporaneously arounds with a swarming action which make the control of crops completely free from human presence with a considerable reduction of costs and pollution. Also the nursery operations made by the robotic arm present in the growth chamber which has been experimentally tested in Zephyr project will be further investigated to be used to design an operative robot which will be called in operation when needed to operate on plants for pruning, watering, moving, etc, etc.

The Zephyr project dissemination activities include: the production of of a web site; the partecipation to a number of workshop where personnel of nurseries, forestry and agriculture institutions are present. There has been also the publication of printed informative material. Several partners have mentioned the project during their lectures in national and international conferences and meetings. The growth chamber will be presented in fairs in Europe and when possible the working prototype will be showed in activity. At the end of the project a video will be done and made available on the website.