New Technologies Boost Indoor Farming

There’s an interesting article today in the Guardian titled “Tech entrepreneurs set their sights on urban farming” by Martin LaMonica which looks at the current state of indoor farming which is turning out to be a growing business. New technologies such as LED lighting combined with automated production systems are helping bring down the costs of intensive farming in enclosed spaces.

Indoor farming allows crops to be grown year-round in any climate, and has many advantages over traditional farming in certain circumstances, including the ability to increase crop yields through precision control of growing conditions such as plant nutrition, lighting, heating, watering, etc. — and at the same time reducing the use of water, fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. Food grown in indoor farms can be grown closer to where it is consumed, reducing transportation costs which can make up 40 per cent of the cost of food products.

From the article:

“Proponents contend that indoor farming and urban farming are necessary to feed a growing global population. Urbanites could potentially purchase locally grown, pesticide-free food year-round, lowering emissions associated from tractors and shipping products. Producing food indoors also means that consumers are shielded from disruptions in the food supply caused by natural disasters and that farmland could be restored to ecosystems, such as forests, that could absorb greenhouse gases. Growing food indoors uses 98% less water and 70% less fertilizer than traditional methods, and has a higher yield, according to the Association for Vertical Farming.

“So far, indoor farms still contribute little to the global food system because production costs are higher than conventional growing methods. And they tend to use more electricity. But businesses are starting take advantage of new technologies, including energy-efficient LED lighting and automated systems, to bring down costs. As these technologies become standardized, indoor farming will make sense in more locations, says Chad Sykes, CEO of Indoor Harvest, which builds custom indoor farms for professional growers.”

I think that technologies like LENR will only serve to increase the adoption of indoor farming. I am sure that LENR powered heating could be very attractive for indoor farming operators in cooler climates if it can be significantly cheaper than current heat sources. There could be additional savings if cogeneration LENR plants could be used to provide both heat and electricity — maybe cooling too with trigeneration as often you will need refrigeration and air conditioning facilities where food is produced.

One limitation I see with indoor gardening at this point is that there are limited crops that can be grown economically in the current kinds of facilities. The article mentions that leafy greens are most suited indoor farms, but while these are tasty, nutritionally important and widely consumed, they are not staple crops that form the basis of human diet. LaMonica writes, “Food is a low-margin business and indoor growers have higher operating costs – after all, they’re paying for light to grow food rather than relying on the sun. That’s why many producers sell their goods as premium organic products to high-end restaurants and supermarkets, which is a small market in the global food system.”

Indoor farming is certainly not able to provide food for the masses at this point, and maybe it never will. Technological developments will certainly be employed in traditional agricultural settings to increase efficiencies — but indoor farming does seem to be a growing niche, and as technological developments continue as we expect (especially if energy becomes very cheap), there could be innovative ways to expand the use of indoor farming so that it becomes increasingly competitive with more traditional agricultural systems. Maybe indoor growing systems could be developed on a micro-level, too. I grow food in a vegetable garden, but that’s only possible during the summer months. I would like to see the day where I will be able to have an are inside my house devoted to year-round production of fruits and vegetables that we can enjoy and that can help us reduce our food costs.

  • Omega Z

    One of the reasons of GMO’s is quality control or consistency.
    Sadly, some of this QC & consistency is at the cost of flavor.
    However, Most of the GMO crops will/may be replaced by the old fashion selective breeding over the next 15 to 30 years.

    Selective breeding normally takes several decades to obtain a specific trait. GM Plants can accomplish this in 10 years.
    Due to technology advances, This can now be accomplished thru selective breeding in the same time interval. No slicing & dicing required. Actually, It does require slicing & dicing for analysis, but no longer splicing. Just improved selection of natural traits.

  • Omega Z

    The biggest issue in all the GMO, Organic arguments are disinformation by both sides. Each has advantages & disadvantages.
    Some organic foods are more toxic then non organic.
    Many GMO’s are safer then Non GMO’s.
    Those who try & point these issue’s out tend to be the Target of both sides. It’s the Enemy of my Enemy saga.

    The nearest you’ll get to backyard garden grown vegetables is a traditional greenhouse grown. The greenhouse crop still grown in the ground but enclosed. It’s all down hill after that.

    Using Aquaponic, Hydroponic, Agroponic systems, Growing Heirloom, Hybrid, GMO’s doesn’t matter. They are “ALL” of less nutritional value verses traditional soil grown food. However, if used in conjunction with or supplemented with traditional grown foods, this is not an issue.

    The Biggest complaint you hear about these products today is “Taste”. It’s due to GMO’s, Chemicals. Etc…
    I can Guarantee, Heirloom, Hybrid, GMO’s, Organic or not, I can grow these products in my garden & most will think they taste great. I say most because you can always find the connoisseur who would be able to make certain determinations. Specific flavors, textures, etc… Akin to wine tasters. Oh, And some people like the existing produce. Garden grown is disgusting to them. Tis because of what they are accustomed to.

    The Reason you have the taste issue is due to necessity. ALL these Growers would love to sell products with Heirloom garden grown flavor. The problem is fresh ripe produce doesn’t fare well transported long distances. It’s harvested prematurely & in many cases artificially ripened just prior to delivery. Though to a lesser degree, You will find these same taste issues with locally greenhouse grown produce.

    Greenhouse crops will use less water, less fertilizer and allow us to feed more people, but likely you’ll find some pesticides used tho to a lesser extent & fungicides. It will always cost more then traditional farm produce even if you had free energy. The infrastructure is expensive & in need of endless maintenance due to the harsh environment it’s used for.
    Basically your making trade offs. Pluses/minuses & cost wise, the minus is more prevalent.

    • US_Citizen71

      There is no reason you can’t have heirloom quality indoor gardening. With a home energy source be it super efficient solar or some form of cold fusion/LENR you could bring your soil and the sun indoors. Living in suburbs of the capital city of the great state of Colorado has exposed me to some very impressive indoor growing setups. Necessity being the mother of invention, progress on indoor growing technology has had it’s cold war boost in the form of cannabis prohibition. Commercialized versions of decades of illegal indoor growing know how is now hitting the market. The plasma light mentioned by Ophelia Rump comes very close to being an ideal light source for indoor growing. A few more years of development and R&D and a turnkey solution that allows anyone to grow plenty of vegetables indoor in 10ft x 10ft footprint will not be out of the question.

      • Omega Z

        I think you’ll find some doing this, But nothing to the extent one might think. But for a few, this will be more of a fad endeavor going by the way side. People give up their private swimming pools once they find out how much work it takes to maintain. Similar situations of people in the cities raising a few chickens for fresh eggs, soon find it’s messy, smelly & a lot of work & expense return to market bought. What to do when the chicken dies or quits laying. Or finding out that they have a rooster instead of a hen. Even experts make mistakes when sexing chickens. There are now Chicken Rescue refuges because of this fad.

        The same type of issues will evolve when people try growing their own vegetables. When they discover their dinner menu will be determined by the fates of their garden rather then preference. When today you have no tomatoes & tomorrow your throwing excess away or scampering to find someone to take them off your hands. Rotting plant waste isn’t pleasant.

        Lots of plant waste to dispose of, Likely sent to landfills or paying someone to dispose of it properly.
        Note: There’s people who will be glad to charge you for disposal, then compost it & sell it back to you latter. If you wish to continue growing food with your soil, you will buy it back. Soil has to be continuously replenished with nourishment or it becomes useless. Compost is excellent for this.

        I’ve known many people over the years who spent a lot of money to grow their own garden only to return to shopping the next year. And many who followed up spending lots of money for all the needs to can & freeze their own. 1 or 2 years & it ends.

        Adults are much like children. Get me a puppy, Please, Please, Please. I’ll clean up after it. I’ll feed it, I’ll walk it. I’ll play with it. I won’t neglect it. A month latter, Who’s it all fall back to.

        For some, Who do this fully aware of the pitfalls & that it will be a lot of work, but enjoy working with plants, This may work. If they think they’ll save money or it will be easy, they’ll be disappointed.

        The most likely scenario. You’ll find a factory style greenhouse near your city who will provide fresh produce to your local grocer. People will shop there as always. No muss, No fuss & cheaper then growing their own.

        • US_Citizen71

          I agree that not everyone will become enough of an urban farmer to take care of all of their fruit and vegetable needs. I think the biggest slice of the users of indoor farming technology will be to supplement their purchases like they do now with barrel gardens of tomatoes, beans, peppers, etc… during the summer. With the indoor tech they will be able to continue that style of growing year round. There will be some that grow all of their own staples and only purchase more exotic and rarely used produce as well.

          Local greenhouse or even warehouse style growing will expand enormously with cheaper energy from LENR or other means and better lighting technology that is just emerging. If power is able to be generated onsite in the sub $.01 kWhr range, the savings from shorter transportation distances and the need for pesticides and herbicides being reduced to next to none will make growing commercially in a warehouse viable.

  • Alan DeAngelis

    Maybe we could use the E-Cat to purify (by distillation) the water that’s being poisoned with aluminum oxide (by the powers that shouldn’t be) before we irrigate our indoor grown crops with it.

    Once again:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jf0khstYDLA

    and

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0fBcH0iuX0

    • Curbina

      My interest in exotic energy sources, which brought me all the way to E-cat, since 2004, was and still is for desalination. The only question I ever asked to Rossi in the JoNP was about this and his answer was “We are ready for desalination”, and that would be pretty much correct, as the 1 MW e-cat would be a very good thermal source for, as an example, a Multis Stage Flash Distillation (MSFD) unit.

      • Omega Z

        Flash Distillation isn’t what it appears.
        Even with cheap energy, it will still be expensive. And some microbes can still slip thru. Thus for certain uses such as medical or sterilized use, the process is repeated several times.
        Another issue is it removes everything. Even the beneficial stuff & this has to be replaced adding to the cost.
        Tho distilled/demineralized water is preferable to dying of thirst, it is not recommended for long term use. It’s also not good for crop production unless it’s used on land that is high in soluble minerals. Note, It’s great for car wash or other such uses. No Spots.

        The trend is toward reverse osmosis or other filter technology. Thanks to NANO Technology, big advances are being made. Systems that work with little or no energy requirements(passive) & advance filtering techniques that remove only specific elements leaving those we need eliminating the additive step all together.

        It is believed this technology will ultimately lead to much cheaper then existing fresh water treatment facilities, But the primary research at this time is for self-cleaning long life cycle desalinization filters used in reverse osmosis methods. With this process you can control the salinity of the return water to the ocean/sea eliminating the costs of salt disposal/remix & creating dead zones. Some in the research field envision it being cheap enough to replenish our natural aquifers while over decades cleaning the worlds water supply. Even Fukushima, Etc radiation contamination.

        Corporate entities are also eying the development of this technology. As a duel process, it could provide an economical means of extracting rare & not so rare minerals from sea water by cost sharing making the process cheaper for both. The Ultimate in recycling. Ready for your recycled 1 a day Multivitamin. :-)
        As to the E-cats, There power output will just make it that much cheaper. Electricity will still be of use for pumps, UV sterilization etc…

        • Curbina

          Well, you are mostly right, but I happen to live in a desertic and mostly saline area (Atacama Desert in Chile) where distillation for irrigation is what I had in mind. Even tho, Forward Osmosis would be far better suited for gaining advantage from LENR, and I am currently looking after Forward Osmosis technologies to include in my small bussines.

          • Omega Z

            Problem with all the new technologies today. 2 years work now takes 10. We can’t do anything within a reasonable time anymore. That & money/political interests delaying things.

            You say Desert, as in sand or other. That’s some tough turf to irrigate. Can I assume your working with trickle or drip irrigation.

            Some advice, Cut a huge hole in that mountain range to your back & maybe you’ll get some rain. I’ve offered the same advice to California with a duel purpose in their case. It would also alleviate some of L.A.’s smog problems.
            Anyway, I wish you luck with your endeavor.

            • Curbina

              Yes, indeed new technologies take more to develop due to systemic restraints more than the technlogy itself, but Forward Osmosis is not that new, just is not too widespread in the market due to commercial interests, but China has been deploying it like crazy. ABout the irrigation system, drip irrigation is the only thing we can use here for efficiency. The desertic condition in the Atacama desert is more aggravated by the cold Humboldt current than anything. In fact, the high Andes is the only thing that catches some rain to support the valleys we have, where the brackish waters run through. If we could get rid of the Humboldt current, this would be a very rainy place.

              • bachcole

                I have no great love of deserts, Curbina, so I am wondering why anyone would choose to live in the worst desert on Planet Earth. Could you explain that to me? (:->)

                • Curbina

                  Like most cities in deserts, there are many reasons for their existence, and it has plenty of upsides, too. Weather is subtropical, the quality of life is not bad at all. Just we could use a lot more of water for agriculture, with a subtropical weather, the productivity is high.

    • Fortyniner

      This page is also worth following (barium contamination plus further links):

      http://www.bariumblues.com/

      • Alan DeAngelis

        In this video you can see nozzles that the spray is coming
        out of.
        It’s not coming from the engines.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pySfDjfEhHI

        • US_Citizen71

          All I see is water droplets(vapor) produce by the turbulence of the wing, enhanced by the antennas and under wing hard points. KC-130’s carry air to air missiles for protection which is the reason for the hard points. The same physics effect is responsible for these stunning images.

          http://twistedsifter.com/2012/06/pictures-of-airplanes-breaking-the-sound-barrier/

          • Alan DeAngelis

            Thank you US_Citizen71. Would this happen at subsonic speeds too?
            Is the on-off appearance due to it flying through clouds?

            I just thought it was interesting that the pilots (I assume they’re pilots) who were filming it found it to be unusual.

            • US_Citizen71

              Yes it can happen at subsonic speeds. It is caused by low pressure zones around the wing and fuselage in the video. These zones cause air to expand and cool. When the air mixes with high pressure caused by other areas of the plane the effect is magnified. The telling part of what they were seeing comes when they describe it appearing to be spraying from the front edge of the wing. In the supersonic images of the rockets and the planes breaking the sound barrier the vapor is formed in the low pressure area that forms right behind the shock wave of the sonic boom.

              As to the appearance of it being turned on and off the atmosphere is not homogeneous. There are thermals and other areas that have different mixtures of temperatures and humidity. The effect requires the air temperature and humidity to be in a certain range depending on altitude and plane speed to occur. When one of the variables changes the effect starts and stops. If you watch the video again you will notice that during the time when the vapor is not streaming behind the plane there is still a halo of vapor above the wing. A short lived triangular shaped area of vapor also appears next to the fuselage right behind the wing.

              • Alan DeAngelis

                Yeah, maybe not but I do find it disconcerting that when I go into Google Patents and search “aluminum tolerant crops” I get lots of hits. This leads me to believe that there must be some sort of spraying going on
                (even though this may not be an example of it).

  • builditnow

    Heat pumps powered by LENR, in winter, they extract moisture from the outside air while heating the “green house”, in summer, extract moisture from the inside air while cooling. The system could be close to sealed, carefully controlled air intake and exhaust to bring in CO2 and let oxygen out, most of the water could remain in the system, recycled. These green houses could work in very dry climates. Temperature cycling could help control insects, near freezing at night, nice and warm during the day.
    I’m of the opinion that correctly cultured soil is key to very healthy plants and very healthy animals that eat these plants (i.e. you and me).
    Further into the future we could engineer our foods starting from hydrogen and make perfect foods tailored to each or our genetically modified selves.
    That is of course if, before then, intelligent life does not develop in our computer systems, leaving us old humans behaving like sheep looking at people, not able to comprehend quite what the computers are up to, wondering where to run to next. Hopefully these computers will be nicer to us than we are to nature, wild life, farm animals, trees etc. and will prefer it avoid the gravity hole of earth, for the less corrosive and more expansive area of space and we won’t need Arnold to rescue us. (now take a moment for a little prayer to The Great Unknown).

    • Ophelia Rump

      The energy could be used to scrub CO2 from outside air to enrich the growth.
      Every element of the plant environment could be carefully controlled.

  • Charles

    Indoor (vertical) farming, 3D printing, e-Cat, and away we go. Oh yeah, we need some alchemy.
    In simple terms, a non-language cow can eat grass, drink water, and produce either milk or meat. That is nothing but a chemical process and our greatest organic chemists can’t figure that out. Are they actually even trying.
    Bye bye world, hello home.

  • Daniel Maris

    I’m an enthusiast for the development of indoor farming – the gains in terms of reduced pesticide and fertiliser use and protection of the remaining wild environment, would be huge.

    Obviously it is in its infancy but there is enormous potential. Other developments will undoubtedly bring down the cost e.g. robotic construction of buildings and robotic or automated tending. The relative cost will also fall as the cost of external soil-grown food rises under pressure of population growth and economic development (people getting richer and changing their diet).

  • Barbierir

    Indoor farming was one of the first applications that came to my mind when I first started following the Ecat in 2011

  • Ophelia Rump

    Sodium Plasma lamps are the new standard for indoor growing, the article is behind the technology curve. Sodium Plasma lamps are more efficient than LED lamps, and produce full spectrum sunlight. They are more cost effective than LED lamps, and have fantastic output levels.

    Here is a link to a premiere Dutch manufacturer.
    http://www.luxim.com/

    • US_Citizen71

      Hey I think you might have found a use for BLP’s tech! ; )

      • Ophelia Rump

        If they really have an underlying technology, yes. I have been saying that for weeks. I am glad someone finally caught on to what I was suggesting.

        I do not really believe they have an underlying technology, but if they can produce Plasma, they could sell Agro Lamps, and own that industry. Without some really horrendous interface being required to tap the power.

        Their solar power panels would burst into flames from the waste heat as described.

        • US_Citizen71

          I believe that Mills has claimed in the past the spectra was almost identical to the solar spectra. This would make the PAR rating very high for the plasma.

    • Alain Samoun

      “Dutch manufacturer”?

      They seem to be headquartered in Santa Clara, California

      • Ophelia Rump

        Maybe I confused them with someone else. I need to find the Dutch for you.

        Their site was best, ah my apologies, it was Gavita. I think they are closer to the source for the technology.

        http://www.gavita.nl/products/plasma-fixtures

        • Alain Samoun

          Wrong again! ;=)
          Their products are based on the LUXIM technology…

          • Ophelia Rump

            Ah I am a failure!

            Shot down in my prime.

  • clovis ray

    Hi, guys, coming from a farm/ranching environment, understand some about the subject, and i think this is a great idea and this is the thing that needs to be public funded. -smile

  • Private Citizen

    Distributed farming is the way to go. Cheap power and lighting could bring indoor farming into every home.

    • Barbierir

      With very cheap energy, in a distant future, I can envision a grow-room in every home as a standard feature as today’s bathroom. People will grow vegetables and meat at home.

  • Billy Jackson

    A similar article appeared on nextbigfuture that i responded to. my response is still the same. this will be an important sector of farming in our future. As of right now its expensive but as economy of scale kicks in the prices will lower. add in the ability of the e-cat to provide energy and it suddenly becomes viable. the energy costs and over head will drop to something more reasonable.

    it will take some time before this is prevalent enough to make a noticeable impact but it will slowly gain traction for small crops.