What if…You Could Farm Indoors Without Sunlight and 10% of the Water?

As discussed here, a Dutch company, PlantLab, is radically redesigning indoor farming. They have designed a highly-controlled environment that uses blue and red LED lights, 10% of the water normally used in indoor farming, and lots and lots of computer monitoring.

PlantLab is working to customize the growing conditions for each type of plant they grow. By monitoring many factors, they have improved photosynthesis efficiency by 33-66% compared to typical outdoors photosynthesis efficiency (and they are aiming for double the efficiency). This produces increased yield, or, as the article points out, equal yield using less energy.

And because the plants are grown in a contained system, water can be recycled and water loss minimized. As an added bonus, there are no pests and so no need for pesticides. Portions of the system can be closed off if an outbreak does occur, though.

So what is stopping them from ramping up production? The cost to buy and run those LED lights. But PlantLab expects those costs to drop fairly soon, at which point they could expand rapidly (but, the article notes, high start-up costs will remain).

What if you could grow vegetables in all environments? In the desert, the frozen tundra, isolated islands? What about under water or on a colony on another planet or asteroid? Assuming power supplies are available, what a morale booster this would provide.

What if you could grow food in all circumstances? What if low-lying arable land had been flooded? What if radiation or a giant volcano eruption made it difficult, if not impossible, to grow things outside? What if the genetic engineering of crops led to worldwide crop failures and food shortages?

What if you were in the midst of a zombie outbreak? One thing I always wonder about these super-secure homes that people claim are zombie-proof–where will you get your food? Wouldn’t you rather grow fresh vegetables instead of eating canned goods or MREs for the duration of your stay?

Many sci-fi stories have their characters eating mold- and algae-based food supplies (e.g., Battlestar Galactica and the novel LEVIATHAN WAKES by James S. A. Corey). I’ll take fresh veggies any time. And while I’d miss meat, there are always soy-based alternatives.

But what’s this I hear about lab-grown meat?

2 thoughts on “What if…You Could Farm Indoors Without Sunlight and 10% of the Water?”

  1. Very cool technology, I have wanted to get into hydroponics at some point. I always think it’s interesting from the perspective of long-term space missions.

    On the approach, my concern with food production optimization is that if you don’t analyze the nutritional content of the results you could get faster-growing plants with fewer nutrients and be optimizing on the wrong dependent variable. This is one of the main problems with current agribusiness production improvements.

    One other cool technology area is biochemical research on chlorophyll improvements, such as how to expand the range of light spectrum absorbed by plants. Found this article on “chlorophyll f” in cyanobacteria: http://pubs.acs.org/cen/news/88/i34/8834notw1.html

    AND you might be interested in this chart from Wikipedia on solar efficiency improvements over time: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PVeff%28rev110826%29.jpg

  2. Chris,

    The article claims the veggies they grew in the lab were better tasting, but 1) that sounds subjective, especially if it’s the lab’s own people reporting it, and 2) other than the brief mention, there is no other details.

    But yeah, I wondered if they taste like normally grown veggies, or greenhouse veggies.