LEDs feature in hi-tech research facility

Leafy vegetables, herbs and strawberries form initial focus of Philips' urban farming research and demonstration facility is on.

GrowWise Center: eight climate-controlled rooms contain mechanised planting racks lit by LED modules - image: Philips
GrowWise Center: eight climate-controlled rooms contain mechanised planting racks lit by LED modules - image: Philips

Philips has opened a hi-tech urban farming research and demonstration facility incorporating its LED lighting at Eindhoven's High Tech Campus in the Netherlands.

Housed in a sterile environment closed off from natural light, the GrowWise Center will focus on optimising growth "recipes", initially for leafy vegetables, herbs and strawberries, but moving on to wheat and potatoes.

Eight climate-controlled rooms contain four tiers of mechanised planting racks lit by around 7,000 blue, red and far-red LED modules. This gives a total growing surface of 234sq m on which plants are grown in Rockwool plugs or blocks.

Some control systems have been supplied by UK-based Cambridge HOK. Additional units allow propagation, crop drying and nutrient analysis. The company is not disclosing the overall cost of the facility, but Philips Horticultural Lighting director Udo van Slooten stressed: "There is no government money here - it's all Philips.

"Leafy vegetables and soft fruits are relatively easy to start with. Growing other crops indoors will take more time. But our longer-term aim is to grow more nutritious crops too."

Currently 39 per cent of the company's lighting revenue comes from LEDs, said head of emerging business areas Cees Bijl. He added that in sport and education as well as growing: "The LED revolution is transforming our market."

Philips Lighting global head of sustainability Nicola Kimm pointed out that low water and fertiliser use, the avoidance of pesticides and reduced food miles help to make these types of growing systems "a compelling value proposition".

Project manager Roel Janssen said of the GrowWise system: "Everything is controlled and recorded so you know, or you find out, why things happen. A big advantage of growing leafy crops in a controlled environment is that you can guarantee it's free of soil and insects. We are also researching substrates to see if there's a biodegradable alternative."

Jasper den Besten, senior lecturer at nearby HAS University of Applied Sciences, said the facility will contribute to research and learning in the area. "Blue light opens the stomata and is active in photosynthesis, while a little green light appears to be beneficial. But red light is the most important and fortunately they are relatively cheap to make. Far-red also influences aspects of the plant's growth, like shape and flowering induction.

"So you can control plant behaviour. Basil grown under LEDs can have 30 per cent higher levels of essential oils, for example, if that's what the customer wants. But there are many more things that we need to research and I hope my students will find out some of them here."

LED interlighting Hybrid format used by specialist tomato grower

Based near Eindhoven, specialist tomato grower Peters Nursery, which supplies the Roma and Tasty Tom (Campari) varieties, began using LED interlighting as part of a hybrid lighting format last year.

"It gives us constant quality throughout the year, and that helps our relationship with the customer," said Owner Wim Peters. "We can bring the crop to maturity in seven or eight weeks, we can spread our labour throughout the year and get a better price in winter."

The period of supplemental lighting varies from between midnight and early evening in winter to four or five hours a day in summer, he added.

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