Paper examining the impact of light spectra on vertical farming

Following the publication of a paper, further research will seek to optimize growing conditions, cutting power use and increasing productivity 

Vertical Future announces the publication of a study investigating the impact of light spectra on vertical farming in the horticulture journal HortScience, co-authored by Dr. Jim Stevens, a Senior Plant Scientist (LED Lighting) at Vertical Future, as part of a University of Essex research project.

The study, entitled, ‘LED Lighting: A Grower’s Guide to Light Spectra’, published in HortScience on the 16th of January, breaks down the roles of different colors (spectra) of light and their impact on plant growth, yield, crop quality, and cost-benefit. The research is part of the Hy4Dense project, which aims to improve the efficiency of crop cultivation, funded by the Interreg 2 Seas Programme.

In researching the new paper, the authors, led by Dr. John D. Stamford, with Dr. Jim Stevens (Vertical Future), Professor Philip M. Mullineaux, and Professor Tracy Lawson, identified that no systematic survey yet exists that takes advantage of the inherent dynamism offered by LED lighting to enhance yield.  

While growing in popularity, little research exists to guide growers on the best choice of LED light for vertical farms. Despite higher installation costs, LED offers significant benefits over High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) lighting thanks to reduced energy consumption and a greater range of light spectra delivered. Surveys suggest that only 2% to 5% of greenhouse farmers in the UK have switched to LED fixtures for supplemental lighting despite such fixtures achieving as much as 40% more energy efficient than the HPS equivalents.1 

The publication of the paper opens the door to further research into the light spectra’s impact on vertical farming. A project is underway at Vertical Future’s research and development farm in Deptford, London, that will identify the optimal combination to grow a variety of important horticultural crops. Funded by a grant from Innovate UK, the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP), again in partnership with the University of Essex, will allow for LED lighting to be carefully adjusted to maximize the growth, yield, and quality of crops grown in Vertical Future farms. This additional research to close the knowledge gap identified in the paper, will further build on Vertical Future’s market-leading, proprietary, British-designed and made software and hardware.

Dr James Stevens, Senior Plant Scientist (LED Lighting) at Vertical Future, a co-author of the paper, said: 'While working on the economics of LED lighting at the University of Essex, it became clear that there was a lack of structured information that a grower could access when trying to choose light spectra (colors) for their glasshouses and vertical farms. In this paper, we set out to describe as simply as possible the interventions growers could use to increase the yield of their crops cost-effectively. In addition, we show how light can be used to alter plant shape, structure, flavor and color to meet buyer specifications. I have worked with my co-authors on a number of publications over the years and it has been a fruitful relationship. Since working at Vertical Future, our collaboration has continued. Through our joint KTP which started in November 2022, we are now doing detailed experimental work to flesh out some of the ideas in this paper. This is a great example of applying science directly into commercial practice which Innovate UK fosters in the UK.”

Professor Tracy Lawson, Professor of Plant Physiology in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Essex, co-author of the paper, said: “I am delighted that this review is now published and it is fantastic to see many years of fundamental research from Essex and many others in the field translate into potential industrial impact. The work within this review was supported and forms part of the EU-funded Hy4dense project, an Interreg 2 Seas program 2014-2020, co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund awarded to Essex.  I am excited to continue research in this area with Dr. Stevens and colleagues at Vertical Future as part of our joint Innovate UK KTP program. It is this interaction between academia and industry that allows the impact of academic research to be fully realized.” 

Jamie Burrows, founder and CEO of Vertical Future, said: “The work undertaken by the team underscores the importance of businesses such as ours working with respected institutions such as the University of Essex. Vertical Future is proud of our record of working with the education sector, and the learnings from this project will be applied in our farms straight away, ensuring Vertical Farmers always get the pick of the crop systems.”  

To read the full paper click here, or to learn more about the project visit: https://www.essex.ac.uk/research-projects/hy4dense 

 


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