Lambda Agri

Passive light management for greenhouse horticulture.


Abstract

Lambda Agri are a ‘spin in’ at the University of Cambridge where they co-developed the IP for Lambda UV-R. They are currently designing and making their chemical in collaboration with the University of Cambridge. 

Our programme manager, Emily Vipond from the RSC, caught up with Lambda Agri’s Monica Saavedra (CTO & Co-Founder) and Boris Breiner (Chief Scientist) to find out what they have been up to since winning the 2023 Emerging Technologies Competition in the Energy category.

Who is Lambda Agri?
Lambda Agri is the trading name of Lambda Energy, which was founded about six years ago as a solar company, looking into improving solar cells using spectral converters – films that can better convert sunlight and improve cell efficiency. However, in 2021 the team’s research highlighted an alternative market for their emerging technology, a pivot that had them rebrand to Lambda Agri.  

Their product is an active material that can be coated directly on to glass used in greenhouses. This converts UV light to red light, encouraging better growth in plants.  With millions of square metres of greenhouses all over the world, the market potential for their product in agritech was clear. Monica says, [on pivoting the company’s focus] '‘it also touched upon a particular drive: of working towards the UN goal of zero hunger.’'

What have you been up to since winning the competition?
Literally a few days before the competition final, Lambda Energy received exciting results from their MVP product testing in eight greenhouses at Cranfield University. Their product demonstrated a 9.3% increase in basil leaf yields and a 5% increase in strawberry sweetness. These results were independently verified by plant scientists at the University of Cranfield. The results for the strawberries have generated a lot of interest from growers who are targeting high-quality or high-value berries.
Monica says, ‘this early demonstration really brought home that this is a useful technology.’'
 
With regards to the commercial part of the company, Monica and the team currently have several ongoing conversations with paint companies. Their current business model is ‘'to sell their active material to the paint companies who will mix this into the paint that is then sold to growers to spray onto their greenhouses’. Monica goes on to say, ‘we will very likely subcontract the manufacture of the chemical to scale it up in the first instance and licence the technology after that.’'

Since winning the competition, Lambda Agri have gained a lot of momentum. They have been successful with grant applications, shortlisted for other competitions, and had a lot of interest from investors.

Monica concludes with the company’s plans for the future. ‘'On the technical side, via one of these grants we’ve been awarded, we are planning to coat  over 1500m² of greenhouses for a total A/B test size of 300m2. Growers won't be convinced unless we show them at least one growth trial with a minimum 600 m² of greenhouse covered with our material. We will be investigating different crops as well, such as various berries and herbs.’'

What made you apply to the Emerging Technologies Competition?
Boris says '‘it was [our colleague] Niall who bought it to our attention, being a member of the RSC, and it looked like a good opportunity. At the time we were seeking funding and getting the recognition in the agritech sector.’'

What did you like best about taking part in the Emerging Technologies Competition?
Boris says ‘'the impressive part to me was being in the final and listening to all the other presentations. It was an impressive line-up of companies and ideas you had there. I was blown away just looking at the list of finalists and being able to network with the other finalists during the breaks.’'

What advice would you give to anyone looking to apply to the 2024 Emerging Technologies Competition?
Boris and Monica both agree on ‘'give it a try – you never know.''
 

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