In the last century, due to the use of fossil fuels, economic costs have increased as well as environmental problems all over the world. Countries dependent on foreign energy may have to allocate more funds to meet their energy needs. From time to time, the problem in energy supply caused by political and extreme situations can also affect the agricultural sector. As a result, disruptions may have occurred in agricultural production. Therefore, renewable energy sources are important to produce enough products for the growing population and protect agricultural yield without polluting the environment.
The increasing energy crisis in recent years and the slowing of energy flow by countries with the covid-19 pandemic have increased the use of renewable energy in agriculture. So, which renewable energies are used in agriculture, what are the benefits and how are they used?
Which Renewable Energy Sources Are Used in Agricultural Production?
The use of renewable energy is vital in agricultural production to reduce costs and ensure the continuity of local production. Although the use of renewable energies in the agricultural sector dates to ancient times, its extensive use with technological infrastructure took place in the last century. Renewable energies can be used directly and indirectly in agriculture. In direct use, they are used in the plant growth and fertilization stages. In indirect uses, they provide benefits in operating agricultural vehicles, packaging, and transportation. Today, especially solar energy, wind energy, geothermal, and bioenergy are the renewable energy sources used in agriculture.
The Use of Solar Energy
In agricultural production, producers spend a lot of electricity, especially for irrigation and heating methods. When electrical energy is not obtained from renewable energy sources, it causes extra costs to farmers. Producers who cannot meet the costs either reduce production or increase the prices of agricultural products. At this point, the use of solar energy becomes important to operate irrigation systems and heat greenhouses.
Solar panels, transmission pipes, and batteries will be sufficient for the use of solar energy in irrigation. In agricultural irrigation, producers aimed to irrigate large areas by transmitting water under pressure. Solar energy is easily used in drip irrigation, micro-irrigation, sprinkler, and surface irrigation. Irrigation takes place by distributing the energy collected in the solar panel to other parts with the help of the battery.
Besides irrigation, solar energy is also used to heat greenhouses. Producers use solar energy by wiring method instead of coal, wood, and gas. The energy collected during the day is transmitted to the greenhouses at night with the help of wires to provide a constant temperature. In this way, the products are protected against agricultural frost, and an increase in yield is ensured.
Another benefit of solar energy is that it meets the energy need in agricultural packaging. Factories working with solar panels can easily use the machines that will convert the solar energy into electricity and make the packaging process. Thus, packaging costs are reduced. Moreover, the storage of electrical energy with the reservoir system in regions without mains electricity contributes to the sustainability of agricultural production.
As one of the countries in the Mediterranean region, Turkey is a country with high solar energy potential. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry provides a certain amount of grant support to manufacturers who want to install solar panels.
The use of wind to generate mechanical power and electricity has been known for thousands of years. Thanks to wind turbines, kinetic energy in the wind is converted into mechanical energy. The converted energy is used for grinding grain, pumping water, and electricity. So, how is electricity obtained from wind turbines?
A wind turbine is a system that converts the mechanical energy of a rotating propeller into electrical energy with the effect of the thrust of the wind. The process here is explained by the relationship between electricity and magnetism. When an electrical conductor moves in a magnetic field, an electric current occurs in the wire. A magnet added to the rotating shaft creates an electric current here. The current, which is converted into electrical energy with the help of the generator, is transmitted to the required areas at the desired level with the help of the transformer.
Moreover, wind energy, which is at the forefront of sustainable energies, is generally installed outside of city centers and in windy areas. Wind energy, which is also frequently used in agricultural production, is especially used in grain grinding and water pumping. Wind power plants are used in Turkey, especially in the Aegean and Marmara regions.
Geothermal energy is defined as water, steam, and gas, which are formed by heat. It accumulated in certain depths of the earth’s crust and contains various minerals. In geothermal energy, the temperature varies between 20 degrees and 150 degrees. Geothermal energy is generally used for greenhouse heating. Geothermal energy is used in the livestock and fisheries sector at a rate of 12% and to heat greenhouses at the rate of 14% in the world. So, how to increase the ambient temperature with geothermal energy?
Geothermal energy aims at increasing heat in the lower part of the soil or on the ground in the greenhouses with plastic transmission pipes. It is important in terms of heat conduction that the pipes placed for heating are placed close to the floor. The heat transmitted by the heat exchanger and fan systems must be delivered to all parts of the greenhouse. There is no need to use such heat exchangers and fan systems in single-story glass greenhouses in the Mediterranean region.
Geothermal energy is used on an average of 4000 decares in Turkey. Considering that every 10-degree increase in the temperature inside the greenhouse increases plant growth by approximately 2 times, the importance of using geothermal energy can be understood. In greenhouses heated using geothermal energy, the efficiency increases, and the use of fossil fuels decreases.
The Use of Bioenergy
Biofuels obtained from plant and animal wastes are used in agriculture as a renewable energy source. In general, the pulp and stems of plants and organic waste are used as biofuels. Different plants are used to produce biofuels around the world. Sugarcane is used in Brazil, soybean, and corn in the USA, safflower in Turkey, and palm trees in Asia. Biofuels are preferred because they are obtained from economically recyclable materials, reduce environmental pollution, and provide energy supply security. The Energy Agriculture Research Center, which was established within the body of the Black Sea Agricultural Research Institute in Turkey in 2011, is working on this issue.
As a result of the studies, biodiesel oils produced using vegetables can be used as an alternative to diesel oil. Bioethanol, which is used as an alternative to gasoline, is alcohol obtained from sugar and starch. It is generally produced from corn and wheat in Turkey. According to the data from the Journal of Agriculture and Forestry published by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, over 70 thousand tons of bioethanol was produced in Turkey in 2020.
Plant wastes, which are used as biomass energy, are used especially in electricity production. Annually 60 million tons of waste is generated from the plants left over from agricultural production and 40-45 tons of this is used for biomass. The amount of ash and gas emissions of plant wastes burned for biomass energy is also very low. Biogas obtained from animal feces is used in fertilizer production. The use of animal manure as fertilizer can also be beneficial to prevent acid rain.
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