Indoor vertical farms are on the rise, thanks partly to new high efficiency LED growing lights that cut electricity costs to the bone. LED farming translates into new opportunities for siting year-round hyperlocal, organic farm-to-table operations, especially if you throw in an assist from wind or solar energy.
Global lighting powerhouse Philips has just partnered up with the indoor vertical farmer and LED fan Green Sense Farms in a new R&D venture that could accelerate the LED farming trend, so let’s take a look and see what they’ve got cooking.
Green Sense Farms LED Farming
Indiana based Green Sense Farms bills itself as the largest indoor, commercial, vertical farm in the US. Located in the Chicago area, the company has a local market potential of 20,000,000, given its calculation of an average 75 food-miles from farm to table. The company also has a farm-to-table deadline goal of 24 hours.
The cost of energy for lighting has been holding the indoor farming market in check, but Green Sense illustrates what the bottom line potentials are once that factor is mitigated. The company’s operation already uses 1/10 the resources of outdoor farming in terms of water, land, and fertilizer.
For those of you to whom organic means chemical-free, the controlled indoor environment also enables Green Sense to grow its crops without harmful pesticides or herbicides. Serving a local market means no preservatives, either. The potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions related to transportation is another plus.
A couple of other advantages of a closed system are the elimination of nutrient-loaded runoff, and the potential for recycling water and nutrients.
Green Sense illustrates another key advantage of indoor LED farming, which is its adaptability to a wide range of landscapes and conditions. LED farms could also be viable in environments that are just too weird for conventional outdoor or greenhouse farming. That includes underground farming and space based LED farming.
Philips And Green Sense
That market was recently kick-started by new federal efficiency standard that were passed under the Bush Administration and were phased in under the Obama Administration. The new regulations effectively phased out the 100-year-old technology behind conventional incandescent bulbs.
Republican legislators (even the smart ones) and pundits tried to whip public opinion against the light bulb “ban” when the phase-in began in 2011. However, they never had a chance of rolling back the new standards. In the face of broad public acceptance and industry support for new lighting tech, the opposition eventually gave up the ghost (not for nothing, but something very similar is happening with the Affordable Care Act).
In the commercial lighting market, that industry support for new technology has been rippling out across multiple sectors such as car manufacturing (check out GM’s massive LED retrofit, for example) as well as agriculture.
The new partnership (here’s that link again) pairs Philips’s experience in horticultural lighting (apparently all the way back to 1936) and LED technology with Green Sense’s vertical hydroponic indoor farming model in an R&D venture that is expected to use 85 percent less energy than conventional indoor grow lights.
The energy savings is just for starters. Aside from using less energy, the partners aim to increase yield by using fine-tuned, tailor made “light recipes” that are specific to Green Sense’s produce. The idea is to achieve from 20 to 25 harvests per year.
As a test bed, the project is already off to a commercial scale start. Green Sense’s newly renovated growing area of 1 million cubic feet has a total of fourteen growing towers that are each 25 feet tall.
The project also pulls in academic partners and research institutes including the company Hort Americas.
Hyper-Efficient LED Farming For Hyper-Locavores
Green Sense also expects the project to lead to the kind of hyper-efficiencies that would make on site vertical farms a cost effective way for large institutions to procure fresh produce year ’round. That would include academic institutions, health care centers, and military installations for starters.
That brings up something we mentioned at the top, which is the potential for powering LED farming with renewable energy.
Notwithstanding its potential for high energy efficiency, indoor farming is highly exposed to interruptions in energy supply. Until recently, that would have precluded a reliance on wind or solar power.
However, as the wind and solar markets have been surging, so has the development of fuel cells, flow batteries, and other large scale on site energy storage technologies that provide security against grid disruptions and are ideal for storing intermittent energy sources, namely wind and solar.
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