Measuring CO2 in a Greenhouse

CO2 in Greenhouses in General

CO2 is one of the key ingredients of photosynthesis, meaning it is essential for plants to grow. Monitoring CO2 in a greenhouse allows optimisation of plant growth conditions, resulting in more efficient plant growth and higher crop yield. Different plants need different levels of CO2 in the air to maximise development.

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Facts & Figures

One of the largest greenhouses in the world is in Almeria, Spain where greenhouses cover almost 50000 acres (200km2)

In the Netherlands, greenhouses occupy 0.25% of the total land area.

The Netherlands has around 9000 greenhouse enterprises that operate over 10000 hectares of greenhouses and employ some 150000 workers: 80% of the manufactured produce is exported.

Why The Need to Measure CO2

It is essential to monitor CO2 levels at all times because different plants have different needs regarding CO2. Before photosynthesis, CO2 is collected by the enzyme RuBisCO. However, RuBisCO is just as happy to collect O2 as it is CO2. In C3 plants, RuBisCO collects CO2 from the air as soon as it comes through the stomata on the leaf. This means that if levels of CO2 in the air are low compared to levels of O2, the RuBisCO will just collect more O2 and the plant growth will be less efficient. In a C4 plant, there is an extra step during which CO2 is ‘filtered’ from the air and passed on to the RuBisCO. During this extra step, CO2 can be stored, meaning the stomata do not need to be open all of the time, helping to prevent water loss. In the C3 plant, the stomata need to be open more as there is not such storage of CO2. A third kind of plant, a CAM plant, can only collect CO2 at night, as its stomata are closed during the day.

Tomato_leaf_stomate_1-colorStomata on a tomato leaf

It is important to have close control of the ventilation of a greenhouse to utilise CO2 to maximum effect without risk
of damaging plants. Generally, the best practice is to provide increased CO2 to young plants and parent plants regularly, and to all other plants for a short period during spring. If the plant is sensitive it is extremely important to have pure CO2, to prevent damage. Up to 1 000 ppm CO2 is estimated as a good level.

If the levels of CO2 are too high in the greenhouse, plants can be damaged. If CO2 levels rise too high, plants will close their stomata to protect themselves, resulting in less transpiration, and therefore less nutrition is drawn through the plant, slowing down growth. CO2 levels vary considerably over a 24 hour period. This is because during the night, plants can stop photosynthesis (in the absence of light) and begin respiring. this means plants will switch from using CO2 to producing CO2.

plantsWhen there is plenty of light, a plant will photosynthesize, but when light levels are too low plants will begin to respire instead

What is the Result?

If all plants of a crop are grown in the same conditions (including CO2 levels), the chance that all plants will be ready for harvest at the same time is increased. The annual consumption of CO2 in a greenhouse is generally about 5-10 kg/m2, only in exceptional cases does would it be higher. The effect, of using CO2, on profit varies considderably. For example, tomatoes and cucumbers can give 8-10% higher return when growin in optimal CO2 levels. Plants grown in a CO2 enriched environment generally produce greater biomass than other plants, particularly in the roots, allowing faster growth and resulting in stronger plants with an increased reproductive rate.

Philip Robinson                                                                                                       Rotronic UK

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