Everybody is talking about moving out of Earth and inhabiting a brand new planet. Of course, it is easier said than done. Not only we have to find ways to transport ourselves over there, but we also need to make sure we have sufficient food supply to sustain life until we adapt to the new environment.
While engineers at NASA and other space agencies are working hard to find the solution to transport, others might have already taken care of the food security problem. Philips, in collaboration with the University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center (CEAC), developed a special model of LED lighting, which is able to stimulate the growth of edible lettuce in a lunar greenhouse.
The good news came after a nine-week experiment, conducted by the team. In a prototype of a greenhouse, they tested the new LEDs, and compared them to the currently known water-cooled high-pressure sodium system. They measured the energy that is needed to grow lettuce and established that using Philips LEDs results in the incredible 56% energy savings. More specifically, Philips LEDs assured the production of 54 grams/kWh of fresh edible lettuce, while the plant grown in the same environment under a high pressure sodium system, managed to give only 24 grams/kWh.
The key to these modules, also known as Philips GreenPower LED toplighting is a specially programmed “light recipe”, developed by plant experts at Philips. These recipes consider factors such as light spectrum, light intensity and uniformity, as well as position of the lamp in relation to the canopy. In addition, plant-specific properties like development and leaf-colour, are also taken into account.
All of these allow the LED lights to be placed much closer to the plant, without producing residual heat that can damage the leaves. The cooling system is independent, and does not require any special water resources.
The developers are convinced that this technology could not only be used in space, but also in areas where food security is a major issue here on Earth. In fact, they believe that even if it never materializes in space, this technology can make a huge difference in areas with water shortages and increasing population.
In any way, I wonder what makes a better story- the one for growing crops in space, or that of providing food here on Earth? Is the reason for focusing on finding alternative planets, and inventing means to grow our food there, just a way to run away? Surely, it is easier to stop damaging our own planet, reduce emissions, save energy, use and not abuse resources, and try to save the “sinking ship” rather than abandon it. But, hey, what do I know – the project was funded because of the possibility to grow plants in space, not in harsh environments on Earth.
Image (c) Philips