Light use efficiency of lettuce cultivation in vertical farms compared with greenhouse and field

Vertical farming is a relatively new fresh fruit and vegetable production system, where lamps (mostly light-emitting diodes [LED]) are the sole light source. A high light use efficiency (LUEinc), defined as shoot dry weight per incident photosynthetic photon flux density (PPFD; g mol−1) integral, is crucial for the economic viability of vertical farming. Very different values for LUEinc have been reported in the literature and it is not clear whether LUEinc is higher in vertical farming than in greenhouse or open-field cultivation. 

Values of LUEinc of lettuce grown in a vertical farm (53 studies), greenhouse (13 studies) and open field (8 studies) were collected from literature, as well as relevant cultivation aspects such as lettuce weight at harvest, cultivation period (plant age at harvest), daily light integral, cumulative daily light integral for the whole cultivation period, planting density and CO2 concentration. The average LUEinc for lettuce grown in a vertical farm was 0.55 g mol−1 which was higher than 0.39 g mol−1 for greenhouse-grown lettuce.

Both were substantially higher than for field-grown lettuce (0.23 g mol−1). The maximum measured LUEinc for lettuce grown in a vertical farm (1.63 g mol−1) is close to the published maximum theoretical value, which ranges from 1.26 to 1.81 g mol−1.

Since all environmental factors can be fully controlled, vertical farming has the capability to achieve the theoretical maximum LUEinc. Using the highest reported LUEinc based on shoot fresh weight (44 g mol−1 at 200 μmol m−2 s−1 PPFD and 16 h photoperiod), it is estimated that each layer of a vertical farm can potentially produce annually up to 700 kg of lettuce per m2 at 500 μmol m−2 s−1 of continuous light.

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