Vertical urban farms have become a popular topic for farmers and architects alike as they promise a way to feed a growing population sustainability. From fanciful sky-bound superscrapers that will never be built to huge rooftop gardens that have limited room to spread out, urban food production has some hurdles to mount. A Dutch based group called PlantLab just may have hit the sweet spot by packing productive plant production into a small foot print that can be done just about anywhere. They replaced the sun with LEDs and grow plants in completely controlled environments that increase productivity by precisely tuning the light, water, and soil to each plant’s needs. They claim they can feed a small city out of a space smaller than the average house in the US.
The heart of the high tech system is a LED array developed by Phillips that shines infrared light, which is the optimal wavelengths for plants to use. Automated trays are stacked high with vegetables, fruits, and decorative plants. The lab has experimented with a wide range of variables to produce high crop yields while using a minimum amount of resources. The system uses up to 90% less water for instance, and there is no need for toxic pesticides. Variables such as light intensity, light color, the relationship between colors, room temperature, crop temperature, root temperature, CO2 content and air humidity are all carefully controlled and automated.
The system also may need less energy input overall once everything in factored in — especially considering transportation. The food can be grown right at the source of sale, so a production facility could be located above or below a food vendor in a large city. The food crops are also less prone to spoilage and adverse weather conditions which are becoming alarmingly more frequent.
AP reports: “Meeuws says a building of 100 sq meters (1,075 sq. feet) and 14 layers of plants could provide a daily diet of 200 grams (7 ounces) of fresh fruit and vegetables to the entire population of Den Bosch, about 140,000 people.” Such a dramatically small footprint means that cities could easily become self-sufficient by retrofitting existing building stock. The PlantLab has already built a production facility that is commercializing the technology, and they plan to build a much larger production facility this year.