Tuesday, February 1, 2011

PlantLab: Netherlands Engineers have Developed a High-Tech LED Light System to Grow Plants Indoors Efficiently

Did you know that there is a company in the Netherlands growing beans, corn, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes and strawberries by using indoor automated farming methods utilizing single spectrum red and blue LED lights?

PlantLab out of the Netherlands which I am featuring today is quite a visionary marvel. Four engineers, John van Gemert, Leon van Duijn, Marcel Kers, and Gertjan Meeuws are quite optimistic about the future of growing plants indoors by using LED lights at just the light spectrum that the plants need, with the perfect combination of nutrients needed, and about 10% of the water normally required. They believe that while expensive now, the future will provide lower priced LED light and electricity inputs and that their model can double the photosynthesis potential of a chloroplast from 9% to perhaps 18%.

As related to agriculture, they feel they can help solve the problems the planet faces with feeding the world:
Our greatest drive is the need to do something about the worldwide and fundamental problem of malnutrition. We want to and can make a contribution with our products and services. The World Health Organisation and all kinds of other organisations indicate how the change will have to take place (via technology).

The engineers base their hopeful project upon these four principles:
  1. To start with we are seeing new forms of indoor farming and layers (vertical farming).
  2. The second development is the availability of special LED lighting. With LED lighting we only provide wavelengths which are useful for growth and development of the crop.
  3. The application of mathematical models for plant cultivation forms the third development. Our growth models are the result of years of research into the cultivation of cut flowers, pot plants, vegetables and fruit. We have processed crop measurements from hundreds of measuring fields at home and abroad since 1994.
  4. The fourth development and true breakthrough is in the amalgamation of these developments supplemented by new technologies in the field of climate control, sensors, vision technology and automation.

Their theory:
Plants mainly need blue and red light for photosynthesis and far-red, a colour not even visible to the human eye but visible to the plant.....

The limits of what is feasible in a greenhouse have pretty much been reached: there is always something that is wrong: light, moisture, temperature, CO2, etc. In our Plant Production Units we will score better by better managing the logistical processes around a chloroplast: by optimum supply of water and nutrients and with optimum output of water and dry matter – in combination with the right colours of light – we achieve more than 9% utilisation of the chlorophyll potential; maybe 12% or 15% or even 18%; the latter means doubling production. This means we are able to produce ‘just-in-time’ exactly what the market is asking for...

"We can rightly refer to our work as one great balancing act, as if we were in the circus Or behind a large pot of soup that had never been made before. Sometimes we also feel a bit like magicians. The system receives 163830 reports about these variables per second and acts accordingly."

Additional pluses of using this method:
  1. Units can be incorporated in cellars, in containers, on board a ship or on an industrial estate for plant production.
  2. Production uses minimum energy consumption, extremely low water consumption, low CO2 emissions per unit product, no use of crop protection products, no light emission for assimilation lighting and a minimal environmental burden because there is less transport needed in the ‘local for local’ concept.
  3. Production is possible at places and times where previously not possible because of the climate zone, the season or lack of raw materials.
  4. The financial yield of commercial greenhouses is continually more under pressure because of the high investments and sky-high energy prices. In our closed Plant Production Units production of plants and food is possible under completely manageable growth circumstances - anywhere.

Though I have been called a Luddite before (by Jim Rogers, no less) I do actually love the science and technological advancement subjects in agriculture. And since I also love art and design, I think you'll agree with me that this story, their website, and the surrealistic feeling photographs combine science, art, and design quite wonderfully. May their model help solve our goals of meeting local food production needs. Please spend some time reviewing PlantLab's system at their company website: PlantLab.