Intelligent Energy

Solar-powered bug killer

Solar-powered bug killer

Posting in Cancer

Grow crops by day. Kill critters by night. The sun is powering up AgriSolar's pest control systems in China. Now the company looks westward to cut costs and chemicals on the farm.

What do you get when you combine two light bulbs, a bucket of water, and a solar panel? According to AgriSolar, a lot of dead bugs.

The company is capturing the sun’s energy to kill nocturnal insects that feast on crops. By day, a solar panel charges a battery. By night, the battery (set on a timer) powers a pair of patented light bulbs that lure insects in with one attractive wavelength and disorient them with another. Within a foot of the bulb, the dizzy bugs drop, falling to their watery deaths inside a bucket. No zapping or chemicals required.

Research suggests solar panels themselves can beckon bugs to their doom, but AgriSolar relies on wavelengths between 361 and 368 nanometers.

The company, which is headquartered in Colorado but conducts most of its testing in China, says some farmers have reported insect reductions of up to 90 percent. Results no doubt depend on what crop you’re cultivating and what critter you’re trying to control. An organic blueberry farmer in New Jersey says it even works on caterpillars. I wouldn’t expect caterpillars to crawl into the bucket, but perhaps as moths they would fly toward the light. AgriSolar has installed 100,000 systems already (mostly in China), testing its efficacy on farms and orchards that grow rice, peaches, corn, strawberries, tomatoes, oranges, coffee and other produce.

Now they have their eyes on Europe. In response to the European Union’s regulations to boost more sustainable methods of pest control, the company is starting a big westward push of their product.

Liang Chao Wei, AgriSolar's Chief Executive Officer, in a statement:

Our state-of-the-art insect control systems have seen great success in the Chinese agricultural market, which has allowed us to grow our revenues very quickly. Additionally, we have recently added a meaningful amount of additional manufacturing capability that will allow us to produce in the volumes necessary to satisfy the additional strong demand we are expecting within the European market.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimated worldwide insecticide usage in 2007 at 892 million pounds, with the United States accounting for about 93 million pounds of it. If it works as reported, AgriSolar could lure in more U.S. organic farms in addition to their European targets.

But on these farms, a new device would be needed every 1.5 acres or so. At around $1,000 for a two-bulb unit, the systems could add up. Compared to organic pesticides prices, however, the company believes their product, which lasts between 7 and 10 years, to be competitive. Other chemical-free pest control methods include row covers, welcoming natural pest predators, hedgerows, and crop rotations to disrupt the pest's life cycle.

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Images: USDA, AgriSolar, Flickr_danmachold

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Melissa Mahony

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Melissa Mahony has written for Scientific American Mind, Audubon Magazine, Plenty Magazine and LiveScience. Formerly, she was an editor at Wildlife Conservation magazine. She holds degrees from Boston College and New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure