How the fourth state of matter can make a greenhouse greener - and boost plant growth. Physicist Stephan Reuter of Polytechnique Montréal spends most days using his expertise in energy and matter to improve medical technologies. Recently though, he stood in a sea of green to consider how a shower of charged particles might affect lettuce. He had been invited to one of the largest commercial greenhouses in Quebec to help the growers rethink the energy of agriculture. Inside the building, encased by glass walls and covering more ground than four soccer fields, thousands upon thousands of lettuce plants floated on polystyrene mats in a hydroponic, or no-soil, growing system.
"Ideally, we want a fertilizer that's renewable," Reuter says. And to make it truly green, it should be created at the farm, making transport, another carbon emitter, unnecessary. Reuter and a growing number of chemists, physicists and engineers think they can see how to make that happen. These researchers are working toward future farms that are truly sustainable, where the energy from renewable sources like wind or solar is harnessed to make an efficient fertilizer on-site. They hope to realize this vision by exploiting plasma. by Stephen Ornes