Growing willow with aeroponics

LettUs Grow and the University of Surrey are developing a novel aeroponic technology which can rapidly grow woody crops for a sustainable future.

Willow tree
Photo by Zhenya on Unsplash

The Net Zero Strategy aims to increase the proportion of biomass to 7.3% of energy supply, outstripping nuclear power and making it the largest share of primary energy consumption from low carbon sources. This target will be almost impossible to reach at current tree reproduction rates without importing internationally – a third of the biomass used for energy was imported, 72% of which was in the form of wood pellets.

The team at the University of Surrey has developed and demonstrated a proof of concept solution for fast and sustainable domestic production using aeroponic methods. Funded by the Department for Energy Security & Net Zero, the university is partnering with aeroponic specialist, LettUs Grow on the Taeda Tech Project, to provide the novel technology and help scale greenhouse propagation in-line with targets. 

The aeroponic system has been uniquely designed and fitted for the project, with the first stages of trials focusing on the operational side of the growing process. Aeroponics is an irrigation method which involves delivering water and nutrients to plant roots with water that is dispersed into a mist, maximising oxygen levels and as a result, boosts growth rates.

Just over a year into the project, the team has successfully propagated willow using aeroponics in their new polytunnel and greenhouse in Surrey. The next stages of the project will involve growing within a polytunnel as an alternative environment, to further explore the economic feasibility of growing willow in this way. The project team is aiming to have built another system by March of next year in order to plant in season, with a focus on plant physiology and different responses to the infrastructures.

“We’re very excited to be supporting the TAEDA Tech project to see aeroponics being used outside the scope of growing leafy greens or herbs, and within a greenhouse environment. Increasing the use of renewable energy in the UK is absolutely vital to the success and sustainability of the controlled environment agriculture industry, so being directly involved in its production is a full-circle opportunity for us,” said Lilly Manzoni, Head of Research & Development at LettUs Grow.