Wide shot of Plant Factory with LED lights on
Title: Towards the development of Plant Factories
Funding: Seale-Hayne Educational Trust
Duration: 2016–2018
University of Plymouth staff: Professor Mick Fuller (PI)
Partners: GroGlo Ltd
This pilot project aims to implement the LED lighting and control systems needed to facilitate the development of multi-tier, environmentally controlled 'Plant Factory' units for growing high value crops in urban and rural settings.
It focuses specifically on prototyping lights delivering a colour spectrum matched to the photosynthetic needs of several varieties of plant, as well as the control systems and software that manage the lights throughout the growing cycle.
New generation LED lighting uses less energy than traditional sodium vapour lamps. It offers an efficient approach to increased production in glasshouses, and a reduction in food miles through facilitating urban Plant Factories.
Working with LED manufacturer GroGlo Ltd, our project team brought together expertise in growing, photobiology, LED light production, digital software and hardware, and facilities development.
Close up of a plant in the Plant Factory with LEDs

Objectives of the project

  • Develop, test and modify the lights in a purpose built prototype facility to produce the right LED lighting solution that meets the technical and commercial needs of growers and propagators. 
  • Produce a standardised controlled LED light system that can be readily and easily adapted for the growing of high-value crops, including salads, herbs and medicinal plants.
  • Facilitate the development of a major new horticulture supply model, providing high-quality, close-to-market, low-carbon supply options for the sector. 

Novel technology

While the use of supplementary lighting in glasshouses and plant growing rooms is not original in itself, the emergence of new generation LED modules is an exciting, and more economically sustainable, method for intensive protected crop production.
The combination of LED modules within Plant Factory units is a novel approach, that continues to support development in the sector as it transitions towards this new technology.

Impacts of our research

*Updated following project completion.
This project allowed us to establish LED research for controlled environment growing at the University of Plymouth, and created opportunities for new enterprise in intensive controlled environment crop production in the South West region.

Controlled Environment Agriculture Research Group

Our Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) team includes researchers and technical staff from both the Faculty of Science and Engineering and the Faculty of Health, working together on transdisciplinary projects advancing the use of dynamic lighting technology to grow food and medical crops.
Much of our research is carried out on-site in our bespoke Plant Factory unit. Projects focus on the development of sensors, LED lighting, control systems and precision horticulture techniques to optimise the energy efficiency of indoor growing and improve the yield and quality of target pharmaceutical compounds.
A plant in the Plant Factory