Environmental and economic sustainability is a key goal for the global agricultural sector, and is a major objective in agricultural research. In this article, we explore the use of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) in the agricultural and horticultural industries, and identify how accessible simulation tools are helping farmers and growers to increase production outputs, quality and profitability.
Introduction to CFD
Despite some reluctance from 'traditionalists', high-end technological advances have made considerable global contributions over recent years, constructing a stress-free and more cost-effective agricultural existence for farmers. Advances in agri-tech not only impacts an individual farmer or grower but also mankind as a whole, particularly where energy and environmental factors play a role. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) allows users to simulate fluid flows (air, liquids and gases) within agricultural buildings in order to analyze and solve problems that involve heating, ventilation, and air flow. This is used to effectively assess the performance and optimize the position of HVAC systems.
Key Reasons to Use CFD
- Maintain Health & Production Levels: Research has shown fresh, clean air can have a direct impact on the environmental welfare of cows, encouraging the cow to lie down more and for longer bouts. Fans working below optimal levels are not only less effective, but could have a detrimental effect on milk yields and cow health. Fans also directly impact the quality and yield of crops and control contamination. Don't forget, your ventilation systems are an investment in your bottom line - why wouldn't you want them working to their maximum potential?
- Maximize Performance: Many farmers are using guess work to run their fans and HVAC systems in agricultural buildings. In numerous cases, they are running fans at higher speeds and in locations that may not be creating the optimal environment for crops or livestock. Using CFD to understand airflow within a building enables you to efficiently utilize your fans and ventilation systems in the most effective areas.
- Prolong Equipment Life: By using HVAC systems more efficiently and only as necessary, you could potentially prolong their lifespan and prevent premature failure and replacement.
- Reduce Costs: A direct advantage of a well functioning HVAC system is an increase in energy efficiency and a potential reduction in costs. Fans will be operating at levels suitable for the environment in which they are working, preventing inflated power costs and allowing production levels to be at their best.
Increasing Quality & Productivity Through CFD
The quality and quantity of a product, its development, and the potential for disease is closely related to the local temperature and humidity within a greenhouse or grow facility. These buildings are often difficult to control due to their large expanse, the position of doors or windows, and the placement of HVAC systems. Vertical farming facilities can be particularly challenging, due to their very nature and rising heat, and we recently explored the demands of the medicinal cannabis industry. Such considerations should not be taken lightly. A uniform climate leads to simultaneous growing and development of plants, as well as uniform product quality - allowing for better organization of the harvest and a higher customer satisfaction rate. A uniform climate in the greenhouse could also significantly reduce the use of pesticides by avoiding local conditions that prove favourable for diseases or pests. This is essential in today's environmentally-conscious world, where consumers increasingly look to organic and pesticide-free options.
Refined control of climatic variables also offers the potential to manipulate crop growth through controlling the local environment, encouraging photosynthesis out of season, or creating the environment of another country to facilitate the growing of non-native species.
Fig. 1 - An example of an indoor CFD simulation within an indoor grow facility.
Where livestock must be confined i.e. cattle sheds, indoor stabling facilities, challenges are raised around the environmental conditions and air quality for both humans and animals occupying the space. Air flow direction and intensity in the animal-occupied zone directly impact the effective room temperature in addition to the wellbeing of occupants. Dust and other contaminants strongly affect animal health and production (potentially limiting meat or milk outputs), and the concentration of such particles are directly correlated with environmental factors such as ventilation parameters and air velocity (Mistriotis et al., 1996).
Being able to simulate agricultural buildings and their HVAC systems more effectively and efficiently will not only increase thermal comfort for occupants, but also reduce dust and even pathogenic contamination. The ability to manage and manipulate indoor climates can also play a key role in milk production, breeding programs and overall wellbeing of livestock, resulting in a higher quality output and potentially increased profits.
The Advantages of Accessible CFD Tools
Over recent years, software vendors have worked to make CFD more affordable and accessible to those who could benefit, utilizing HPC trends such as the cloud to deliver such tools. Training users to be proficient with CFD software has been a key talking point in the industry, but more intuitive platforms with extensive vendor support surely paints a positive future for its wider adoption. Accessing simulation software means farmers and growers can create the most desirable environment, and continue to monitor and optimize their buildings accordingly. Vendors have introduced engineering services such as the Envenio Onboarding Program to get those new to CFD up and running.
With so much to offer the indoor agricultural and horticultural industries, it is vital that work to increase accessibility, understanding, and usability of simulation software is done to maximize its potential. After all, advances in agricultural technology benefit us all.
WATCH: Using HVAC Simulations for Indoor Agriculture
Our recent webinar explored the use of engineering simulations in this area, utilizing our CFD software - EXN/Aero. Watch a recording below:
Find out more about CFD & see what it can do for you...
- Whether you're brand new to CFD or have been considering simulation for some time, why not get in touch to find out how it can help you today. Whether you're looking for better environmental conditions in a grow facility, want to work with more energy efficient buildings, or are trying to create optimal conditions for livestock, CFD simulation has something to offer. It could even save money and time in the long run. Our general purpose, cost-effective CFD tool EXN/Aero reduces simulation times by up to 20x, and is perfect for working with in the indoor farming sector. Our Discovery Project is a great way to see the benefits of CFD even without prior experience, with our engineers running the simulations for you and explaining the results. Find out more by clicking the link below:
Mistriotis. A 1996. Analysis of the efficiency of greenhouse ventilation using computational fluid dynamics.