Plant Factory Cornwall is harnessing developments in lighting technology to grow salad and medicinal crops in multi-tier, hydroponic systems under super-smart LED lights.
The research could herald a huge step forward in both multi-tier production (‘vertical farming’) and hydroponics, because one of the limiting factors has always been the cost of providing artificial light and a lack of understanding of how best to use it efficiently.
The research, led by Professor Mick Fuller of University of Plymouth School of Biological and Marine Sciences, is focusing on prototyping automated, programmable LED lights that could provide ‘light recipes’ to deliver the necessary requirements for plants during their differing growth stages, with pinpoint precision. It will develop, test and modify arrays of such lighting, potentially offering almost infinite control. By tailoring the light’s wavelength to the ‘action spectrum’ of the species at different points in its development, it will boost the plant’s photosynthetic processes, ensuring it absorbs and uses the maximum amount possible for physiological activity, rather than it going to waste.
Growing plants commercially in entirely artificially-lit environments hasn’t made ‘energetic’ sense up until now, but the recent use of high-energy LEDs has provided new insights into how specific light wavelengths can trigger the optimal expression of their growth and development. The work could result in extended growing seasons for crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers, and an increase in production of crops within the UK, with a decreasing reliance on imports.