The EU-wide phase-out of incandescent light bulbs has created new business opportunities, and the lighting industry is going through rapid change. Progressive companies are embracing the new technologies developed in lighting, which both reduce energy consumption and allow for new attractive lighting installations. Light emitting diodes (LED) are especially well suited to create the spectral distribution and light dynamics users are seeking.
”We are developing methods in the laboratory to grow plants with LED lighting, which will contribute to the development of future agriculture”, says Karl Roos, CEO of Neco Norden AB, a Swedish pioneering company in indoor farming.
The light preferred by plants
In photosynthesis , luminous energy is transformed to chemical energy and stored in the form of carbohydrates, through the capture of carbon dioxide from the air. This process is the basis of almost all life on Earth. Plants, algae and cyanobacteria are capable of performing photosynthesis, by absorbing light with a wavelength of between 350 and 750 nm. The chlorophyll molecule is where the transformation is taking place.
In outdoor farming and greenhouse cultivation, sunlight is the energy source of photosynthesis. Sweden and other parts of the world at similar latitudes have short farming seasons; the scarcity of sunlight and the cold winters limit plant growth. Ever since the 17th century, greenhouses have made it possible to extend the farming season and grow sensitive plants like figs and citruses – but greenhouses were not commercially significant until artificial lighting was added. It was soon found out that lamp-light had different dynamics than sunlight – the intensity and quality did not match the plants’ needs very well.
Greenhouse cultivation of vegetables is often illuminated with high pressure sodium lights (HPS). The intensity is good, but there is a mismatch between the spectral distribution and the absorption range of the chlorophyll molecules. HPS mainly emits yellow light, inefficient for photosynthesis. Another drawback is the high energy cost.
”Indoor farming is not the same thing as greenhouse cultivation. The difference is that indoor farming achieves photosynthesis completely without sunlight”, Karl Roos says. “We use LED lighting to recreate the outdoor quality of light. LEDs with different wavelengths are combined to create a light promoting growth. The farming concept includes a tool we have developed to control the amount of light, moisture and heat. To make the farming efficient, many processes are automated.”.
Local urban agriculture
”LED technology provides much more energy-efficient lighting than traditional light bulbs. US studies have indicated that growing lettuce indoors in Boston requires less energy than growing it in California and transporting it to Boston”, Karl says.
”Our vision is to contribute to a more sustainable food chain. We want to make year-round production possible where the farming season is short. There are a lot of buildings suited for indoor farming – abandoned warehouses, industrial buildings, department stores and the like. Farming can take place in urban environments, increasing the supply of locally produced foods. For example, Neco is operating from Weibull’s old Ryehouse in the outskirts of Landskrona.
”All crops have their own needs, and we have grown the ones we believe have the best commersial possibilites. A frequent question is whether the taste is different from outdoor crops. In a blind study, customers were offered both kinds and didn’t notice any difference in taste. Things are looking positive and the company is currently in the process of raising capital. Our ambition is to expand in the coming year”, says Karl Roos.
The article was published in October 2015