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Black Magic Goes Green

Author: Barbara Lee
October, 2013 Issue
In the early 1970s, when Jim Lee, founder and president of Zenion Industries, Inc., became interested in plasma physics, it was considered the “black magic” of the sciences. Back then, the existence of plasma energy was known but not regarded as being capable of offering much in the form of tangible products. Now, of course, we have plasma televisions, air cleaners, sensors and knowledge that the universe is literally filled with plasma energy.
Jim was first introduced to plasma physics when he witnessed a demonstration of a technology which charged particles and collected them in a controlled environment using ionization. Ionization is the process of giving an atom or group of atoms a positive or negative charge by adding or removing one or more electrons, thereby creating cations (added electrons) or anions (subtracted electrons). Jim had a young daughter who suffered from inhalant allergies, and he began to explore the possibility of removing allergens from the air using ionization.

Practical applications

Zenion Industries, Inc., was incorporated in California in 1979 and, for 34 years, it’s developed its own proprietary technologies while also assisting major client companies and government agencies (including NASA) with the design and development of their innovations. The work has resulted in a wide range of electronic products developed in the fields of medicine, industrial controls and consumer products. The most widely recognized of these is the Ionic Breeze, a wildly successful product that generated sales of approximately $1 billion after The Sharper Image purchased license to the technology. (Although The Sharper Image is no longer in business, the ionic air cleaner is still available in the marketplace. You may have noticed them on cruise ships or other confined spaces where large numbers of people congregate.)

The Carneros experiment

Zenion’s first agriscience venture came in 1981, when Jim conducted an experiment on Pinot Noir vines in the Carneros appellation. Vines afflicted with red leaf, also known as leafroll virus, were treated with anions for a period of eight weeks. In weeks one and two there was an increase in foliage and tendril growth; by weeks three and four, the virus’ spread had been arrested, vines exhibited new growth of up to two feet, and had 20 percent more berries than untreated vines. Sugar levels changed dramatically in the fifth and sixth weeks. By week eight, the once-sick plants averaged sugar content of 21.8—1.5 degrees above the average for the rest of the vineyard. By the time the grapes were harvested, their sugar content reached 22.5 with virtually no change in acid content.
For more than 100 years, it has been demonstrated that electricity—anions, in particular—positively impacts plant cultivation by enhancing photosynthesis and reducing pest infestation. The Carneros experiment proved ionization could cure sick plants, but the cost of infrastructure prohibited widespread general use. 
Between 2004 and 2010, Zenion recreated and expanded upon the Carneros experiment, planting 200 new organic Merlot vines in a state-of-the-art experimental vineyard in Penngrove. One hundred vines were used as control vines and 100 adjacent vines had Zenion’s prototype ion generators, dubbed the “i-Grow,” suspended above each one. Over a six-year period, the treated vines consistently outperformed the control vines by more than 30 percent in growth and berry production. There was also a significant reduction in infestation by herbivores, such as ants and aphids, thus reducing need for toxic pesticide chemicals.

Finding solutions

Concurrent with the Penngrove vineyard, Zenion conducted similar experiments in environmentally controlled greenhouses. The configurations ranged from natural to hydroponic and aeroponic. Many different plants were subjected to comparative testing including beans, tomatoes, flowers and melons. The test results demonstrated overwhelmingly that the i-Grow-treated crops yielded at least 30 percent more fruit or flora with a coincident reduction in plant disease or herbivore infestation.
Having again proven the promise of the agriscience application, Zenion turned next to the prohibitive cost element. Each i-Grow is now an independent, solar-powered unit without need for expensive infrastructure. A built-in solar panel converts the photons, through sophisticated electronic circuitry, to ions for the plant during daylight hours. The resulting atmospheric ions are then available to complement the photosynthesis process as well as plant respiration and absorption of water and minerals from the soil. The mild electrical charge placed on the plant by the high voltage ion source also helps to mitigate infestation by unwanted herbivores.
At this time, i-Grow is primarily available for the backyard gardener, but Zenion is currently developing units adaptable to commercial greenhouse and vineyard applications. For now, and with an assist from i-Grow, Jim enjoys a lush backyard garden, producing an abundance of vegetables. If you asked him how his garden grows, he’d likely wink and say, “Black magic!”
Barbara Lee has lived in Sonoma County for more than 30 years and is on the board of directors at Zenion Industries, Inc. For further information about Zenion, please contact Jim Aise at (707) 584-3663.


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