The Future of Food, Sprouting Under LED Lights

LED Lights, sensors, and mathematical models could spell the future of sustainable agriculture.

A warehouse full of LED lights and Dutch dudes may sound like the setting for a 1990s rave, but it may well be a prototype of the future of horticulture. The Netherlands-based company PlantLab is pushing the "vertical agriculture" movement to new heights by rethinking the fundamental ways that plants interact with essential ingredients like sunlight and using data to optimize growing conditions. Their results could help keep the world's surging population fed despite dwindling natural resources.

Usually, plants soak up light from the sun (or grow lights if they're hydroponic). But they only need a small percent of the full light spectrum, and getting too much can accelerate dehydration. PlantLab cuts out the excess by using red and blue LED lights, which speed growth and thus could increase crop yields dramatically. And since the facility is climate-controlled, production of particular types of produce isn't limited by the season. Using sensors and a highly controlled environment, the PlantLab team constantly gathers data on their plants to make informed decisions about light levels as well as temperature, carbon dioxide, humidity, and myriad other factors that affect plant growth.

The PlantLab project is still in the early stages—the team is looking for the right space to develop a commercial growing center and trying to figure out how to make the venture commercially viable (it turns out those LED lights cost a pretty penny). One thing that won't hold PlantLab back is the taste of their produce. "They're great," PlantLab co-founder Gertjan Meeuws told Southern California Public Radio. "They're better than we're used to."


photo via PlantLab