"Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

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"Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Hooch » Tue Apr 12, 2011 3:57 pm UTC

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/eu_netherlan ... ss_farming

DEN BOSCH, Netherlands – Farming is moving indoors, where the sun never shines, where rainfall is irrelevant and where the climate is always right.

The perfect crop field could be inside a windowless building with meticulously controlled light, temperature, humidity, air quality and nutrition. It could be in a New York high-rise, a Siberian bunker, or a sprawling complex in the Saudi desert.

Advocates say this, or something like it, may be an answer to the world's food problems.


As with a lot of breakthroughs such as this, I'm skeptical as to how far we'll take it. Something always gets in the way.

- People forget about it, and the idea falls into relative obscurity.
- Businessmen dependent on "outdated" technology do everything in their power to delay the new school ideas to all Hell.
- Businessmen try to figure out how to make this idea "marketable," therefore preventing economically challenged individuals from getting their hands on the resources provided.

Then again, this skepticism is more from a loss of hope than actual research and subsequent speculation. Feel free to prove me wrong.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Telchar » Tue Apr 12, 2011 3:58 pm UTC

Wait, the breakthrough is that we can grow plants indoors?

Stop the presses!
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Dauric » Tue Apr 12, 2011 4:02 pm UTC

Telchar wrote:Wait, the breakthrough is that we can grow plants indoors?

Stop the presses!


There's a difference between growing some tomato plants in your garden greenhouse and producing production quantities of fruits, vegetables and herbs to rival/replace large acreage farms.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Telchar » Tue Apr 12, 2011 4:15 pm UTC

http://mobileemergencycity.com/?p=137

And that's just the first google link I clicked on.

I mean, the LED lights are cool, but the idea of using small spaces and layered plants in order to replace large scale agriculture has been kicking around for a long time. The resource savings seem better than any other, particularly the 90% less water, but why not use the sun? Instead, you use LED lights which need to be powered and increase your resource usage. It seems silly not to use the sun unless you are forced not to.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Hooch » Tue Apr 12, 2011 4:21 pm UTC

Telchar wrote:http://mobileemergencycity.com/?p=137

And that's just the first google link I clicked on.

I mean, the LED lights are cool, but the idea of using small spaces and layered plants in order to replace large scale agriculture has been kicking around for a long time. The resource savings seem better than any other, particularly the 90% less water, but why not use the sun? Instead, you use LED lights which need to be powered and increase your resource usage. It seems silly not to use the sun unless you are forced not to.


The lead scientist did mention that plants can become overexposed to the sun. The LED lights give off the minimal amount of light needed, preventing the plants from adapting to searing sunlight, making the plants more efficient.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby JBJ » Tue Apr 12, 2011 4:22 pm UTC

What's the cost though?

Even ignoring the initial costs for the building construction and LED lights, it still takes electricity to power those LEDs and run whatever other environmental controls they are managing (humidity, temperature). It may take less light and less water to produce the same yield, but sunlight is free and water is cheap (usually, for agricultural purposes anyway, but rain is still free). I just don't see it being a net economic gain.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby broken_escalator » Tue Apr 12, 2011 4:32 pm UTC

I think the point should be more of removing sun as a limitation. Now we can make use of indoor areas that don't receive sunlight, or possibly even vessels that can't reliably obtain sunlight.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Dauric » Tue Apr 12, 2011 4:33 pm UTC

Telchar wrote:http://mobileemergencycity.com/?p=137

And that's just the first google link I clicked on.

I mean, the LED lights are cool, but the idea of using small spaces and layered plants in order to replace large scale agriculture has been kicking around for a long time. The resource savings seem better than any other, particularly the 90% less water, but why not use the sun? Instead, you use LED lights which need to be powered and increase your resource usage. It seems silly not to use the sun unless you are forced not to.


Unless altering the day/night cycle produces better yields as was discussed (ever so briefly) in the article.

Also not every location may have optimal access to sunlight, even if you set up a Light Tube, you will need a tall enough mast to clear all other structures that might be between your tube and the sun, which can be problematic in an urban environment (assuming you can get reasonable energy transfer down the Light Tube). Also some parts of the world, namely anything north of the Tropic of Cancer, or south of the Tropic of Capricorn, don't have reliable year-round sunlight. Get close to either arctic circle and you go for days, weeks, or months without sunlight in winter, while summer will come with times of no night that can be damaging to crops as well.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby TheKrikkitWars » Tue Apr 12, 2011 6:08 pm UTC

Hooch wrote:As with a lot of breakthroughs such as this, I'm skeptical as to how far we'll take it. Something always gets in the way.

- People forget about it, and the idea falls into relative obscurity.
- Businessmen dependent on "outdated" technology do everything in their power to delay the new school ideas to all Hell.
- Businessmen try to figure out how to make this idea "marketable," therefore preventing economically challenged individuals from getting their hands on the resources provided.

Then again, this skepticism is more from a loss of hope than actual research and subsequent speculation. Feel free to prove me wrong.


Erm, you're realise that Hydroponic growing is already done on a massive [aircraft hanger] scale (most notably illicitly for the vast majority of marajuana in the EU & Netherlands; but also for Norwegian Bananas or most of the UK's indigenous tomato growing operations)... The underlying technology for indoor growing is already coming to fruition on dinner plates (and in brownies if you're that way inclined).
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Heisenberg » Tue Apr 12, 2011 6:17 pm UTC

But if you paint your greenhouses black and put a bunch of lights in there, you get to say "FUCK YOU NATURE, I MAKE MY OWN!" And that's what the Dutch do best.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Zamfir » Tue Apr 12, 2011 6:35 pm UTC

Edit:ninjaed

Cannabis farms look a lot like this, except they tend to use cheaper light sources. It's a real plague. People rent an apartment, tape the windows shut, set up a farm inside. They hope to get a harvest before anyone notices, and before they have to pay their power bill. It leaves the apartment completely damaged by water and the lights are real fire risk. But the concept clearly works.

For more regular crops the interesting market is for out of season vegetables. You can only push greenhouses so far, in the middle of winter you still get a gap. Everything outside of light is already under artificial control: water, heat, soil, nutrients, air quality, CO2 supply. Light, both as summer/winter cycle and as day/night cycle is now a bottleneck.

More control also leads to better looking, more standardized produce. I used to work during holidays in a company that shipped our standard not-so-great tasting hydroponic, greenhouse-grown bell peppers and eggplants to the US and Japan by air freight, on nothing but looks. Even to California, where they can surely grow their own. If control over lighting leads to even smoother looking produce, they would switch.

And of course, land is expensive, at least around here. Especially in the popular greenhouse zones, where there is a large infrastructure surrounding the business. Transport, suppliers and tech support, the nat gas and CO2 pipes, trading centres, it's all concentrated in a few areas, so stacking more production there would be worth real money.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby ++$_ » Tue Apr 12, 2011 8:31 pm UTC

This is all a great idea until you realize that you have to pay for the electricity. It takes a lot of light to grow plants. One kilogram of starch or sugar has about 20 MJ, or 6 kWh, of energy. The plants are not 100% efficient at transforming light into biomass, and your lights are not 100% efficient at transforming electricity into light. You probably end up paying for at least 60 kWh of electricity for each kilogram of dry weight, and that's on top of the other expenses you have (like water, fertilizer, etc). And energy prices are only going up.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby stevey_frac » Tue Apr 12, 2011 8:45 pm UTC

Food prices aren't going down either.

At some point, demand for food will rise to a point where the skyscraper farm makes sense, especially for high value crops like strawberries, or whatever.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Dauric » Tue Apr 12, 2011 8:47 pm UTC

++$_ wrote:This is all a great idea until you realize that you have to pay for the electricity. It takes a lot of light to grow plants. One kilogram of starch or sugar has about 20 MJ, or 6 kWh, of energy. The plants are not 100% efficient at transforming light into biomass, and your lights are not 100% efficient at transforming electricity into light. You probably end up paying for at least 60 kWh of electricity for each kilogram of dry weight, and that's on top of the other expenses you have (like water, fertilizer, etc). And energy prices are only going up.


Welcome to Thermodynamics, nothing is 100% efficient at converting energy. If we're going that route we should just give up since the surface of the earth isn't 100% efficient at capturing the energy of the sun which isn't 100% efficient at converting it's mass in to energy.....

The thing is that you can't make a power transformer you plug in to the outlet, then stick the leads down your throat to fuel your body from electricity. You're going to lose efficiency converting solar energy to food too, and if your crop lands are competing for surface area with housing, energy production (solar or otherwise), commercial and industrial space than even solar energy has a price in terms of the land needed to capture that energy.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Iulus Cofield » Tue Apr 12, 2011 8:49 pm UTC

If only they could install solar panels for electricity and gutters/cisterns for rainwater.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby ++$_ » Tue Apr 12, 2011 8:52 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:Welcome to Thermodynamics, nothing is 100% efficient at converting energy. If we're going that route we should just give up since the surface of the earth isn't 100% efficient at capturing the energy of the sun which isn't 100% efficient at converting it's mass in to energy.....

The thing is that you can't make a power transformer you plug in to the outlet, then stick the leads down your throat to fuel your body from electricity. You're going to lose efficiency converting solar energy to food too, and if your crop lands are competing for surface area with housing, energy production (solar or otherwise), commercial and industrial space than even solar energy has a price in terms of the land needed to capture that energy.
Using the sun directly to grow crops is 5 times more efficient than using 20%-efficient solar panels to produce electricity before turning that back into light to grow crops. The solar panels take up land too.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby stevey_frac » Tue Apr 12, 2011 8:54 pm UTC

++$_ wrote:
Dauric wrote:Welcome to Thermodynamics, nothing is 100% efficient at converting energy. If we're going that route we should just give up since the surface of the earth isn't 100% efficient at capturing the energy of the sun which isn't 100% efficient at converting it's mass in to energy.....

The thing is that you can't make a power transformer you plug in to the outlet, then stick the leads down your throat to fuel your body from electricity. You're going to lose efficiency converting solar energy to food too, and if your crop lands are competing for surface area with housing, energy production (solar or otherwise), commercial and industrial space than even solar energy has a price in terms of the land needed to capture that energy.
Using the sun directly to grow crops is 5 times more efficient than using 20%-efficient solar panels to produce electricity before turning that back into light to grow crops. The solar panels take up land too.



I agree. You are much better off directly using the sun, and supplementing as need with artificial light.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Dauric » Tue Apr 12, 2011 9:17 pm UTC

stevey_frac wrote:
++$_ wrote:
Dauric wrote:Welcome to Thermodynamics, nothing is 100% efficient at converting energy. If we're going that route we should just give up since the surface of the earth isn't 100% efficient at capturing the energy of the sun which isn't 100% efficient at converting it's mass in to energy.....

The thing is that you can't make a power transformer you plug in to the outlet, then stick the leads down your throat to fuel your body from electricity. You're going to lose efficiency converting solar energy to food too, and if your crop lands are competing for surface area with housing, energy production (solar or otherwise), commercial and industrial space than even solar energy has a price in terms of the land needed to capture that energy.
Using the sun directly to grow crops is 5 times more efficient than using 20%-efficient solar panels to produce electricity before turning that back into light to grow crops. The solar panels take up land too.



I agree. You are much better off directly using the sun, and supplementing as need with artificial light.


First: Who said anything about using solar panels to power agriculture? Oil, Gas and Coal require acreage to produce as well. You'll note I said energy production -of all types- in addition to a list of other land uses.

Secondly: You missed the point where agriculture is in competition with housing, commercial and industrial uses of land. Out where I live open space that used to be cattle ranches and plots of land that used to be owned by farmers is routinely being bought up and paved over. The urban sprawl of the Denver Metro grows every year, Denver and Boulder are pretty much the same metro area at this point (I think it goes as far north as Longmont, but it's been a while since I've been up that way), and Colorado Springs is maybe five to ten years from connecting to the Denver sprawl itself. Urban and Suburban developments make more money than agriculture, and only those pesky government regulations prevent more of it from being urbanized faster.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby ++$_ » Tue Apr 12, 2011 9:37 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:First: Who said anything about using solar panels to power agriculture? Oil, Gas and Coal require acreage to produce as well. You'll note I said energy production -of all types- in addition to a list of other land uses.

Secondly: You missed the point where agriculture is in competition with housing, commercial and industrial uses of land. Out where I live open space that used to be cattle ranches and plots of land that used to be owned by farmers is routinely being bought up and paved over. The urban sprawl of the Denver Metro grows every year, Denver and Boulder are pretty much the same metro area at this point (I think it goes as far north as Longmont, but it's been a while since I've been up that way), and Colorado Springs is maybe five to ten years from connecting to the Denver sprawl itself. Urban and Suburban developments make more money than agriculture, and only those pesky government regulations prevent more of it from being urbanized faster.
I don't see how this makes a difference. If you put agriculture inside buildings, you still need to buy the land to put the buildings on. If you try to use multistory buildings, first of all you have to build the expensive tall buildings (and a multistory building is very expensive, and requires regular maintenance), and secondly you can no longer use natural sunlight, so you have to provide the electricity. Our nonrenewable energy resources are already stretched to the breaking point, and using renewable energy for this requires a much greater amount of land to be dedicated to energy production than it saves in agricultural land.

Let me put it this way: the US currently uses 2.3x1012 square meters of arable land. If you want to move 10% of that to artificial light, at 5 kWh per square meter per day, you need to provide 1015 Wh/day. The current US electricity production is on the order of 4x1015 Wh/year. In order to accomplish this, we would need to produce about 90 times as much electricity as we do now, and that's assuming the lights used are 100% efficient.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Heisenberg » Tue Apr 12, 2011 9:47 pm UTC

Maybe we could power the LED lights with solar panels in ANOTHER high rise, which are fed by flourescent bulbs, which are powered by burning biomass that we get from the first building! Then we'll use that electricity to run a pump which drives a water wheel which powers a dancing robot perpetual motion machine! Eureka!!!

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Iulus Cofield » Tue Apr 12, 2011 11:18 pm UTC

I don't understand why there is so much pooh-poohing of this going on. The article explained that they get bigger yields with less soil and water and for more of the year, that they use LED's (which are the most efficient type of lighting, BTW), that artificial light is actually more effective for growth than sunlight, and that tropical plants can be grown in them (tropical plants normally being the most expensive to transport).

As for having buildings to put them in, in the US at least there is currently thousands of high rises being mostly unused. Making new ones is also pretty much a one time sunk cost as well, so the expense isn't that huge of a deal and gives construction workers jobs.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Magnanimous » Tue Apr 12, 2011 11:29 pm UTC

There's also the benefit of reducing shipping costs. When you can regulate environmental variables like this, you can pretty much grow anything anywhere, which is a far cry from today's farms.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby ++$_ » Tue Apr 12, 2011 11:40 pm UTC

Iulus Cofield wrote:I don't understand why there is so much pooh-poohing of this going on.
Because the amount of energy required is truly ludicrous. As I pointed out above, moving 10% of US agriculture to artificially lit facilities would require 90 times the total current US electricity production just to provide the light, and that's making favorable assumptions like 100% efficient lighting. It just doesn't matter that you save on shipping costs, water, or anything else.

If we're talking about moving 0.01% of production to indoor facilities, then it's way more feasible, but the article states that "Advocates say this, or something like it, may be an answer to the world's food problems." That would require moving more than 0.01% of production indoors.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Crius » Wed Apr 13, 2011 12:35 am UTC

The Economist ran an article a few months back on this, though it focuses more on urban farming in general. The problem with it, as others mentioned, is the cost of electricity.

I could see this being adopted heavily at some point in the future, but that would require electricity becoming much cheaper, probably usable farmland running out as well (though climate change could speed that up).

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Iulus Cofield » Wed Apr 13, 2011 2:59 am UTC

++$_ wrote:
Iulus Cofield wrote:I don't understand why there is so much pooh-poohing of this going on.
Because the amount of energy required is truly ludicrous. As I pointed out above, moving 10% of US agriculture to artificially lit facilities would require 90 times the total current US electricity production just to provide the light


I would like to a citation on this.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Apr 13, 2011 4:26 am UTC

America has ENORMOUS swaths of land dedicated to growing crops. Even assuming high efficiency LEDs, the idea of ignoring all that sunlight is a pretty silly notion.

I think people are poopooing this because it's like saying "Oh, I see most of the country uses gas powered automobiles. That seems silly. I'm going to market a 40-wheeled coal powered steam engine, because it'll totally be better than what's already used".

Articles like these come out a lot; they fling a base assumption of "I can do it better" around, and claim that it's the wave of the future. Agriculture is a HUGE enterprise, that's very interested in maximizing efficiency. I'm fairly confident it can do it better than you can, and, hydroponics are already used in places where it's profitable.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Zamfir » Wed Apr 13, 2011 4:55 am UTC

No one is seriously proposing to use this for large-scale low value production. It is intended for vegetables or flowers, and similar products with a high value per amount of energy absorbed.

Even for those, the energy price can be too much. Cannabis growers do everything to avoid paying their energy bills. Regular greenhouses already put up a lot of light at night, but not enough to grow at artificial light alone.

The idea behind this more experimental plan is to have small light sources near the plant, so most light get absorbed, and to generate only the wave lengths of light that are most productive. That way, energy bills should be much lower than the current practice of large lamps.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby ++$_ » Wed Apr 13, 2011 4:59 am UTC

Re sources:

Here's the source for US electricity production: http://www.iea.org/textbase/nppdf/free/2010/key_stats_2010.pdf. Turn to Page 27 of the booklet, which happens to be Page 28 of the PDF file. The data is for 2008, but my understanding is that energy use has remained roughly flat since then due to the recession.

The data on how much light is used to grow crops comes from the rule of thumb that ground-level insolation at the latitudes of the continental US is roughly 5000 Wh per day, averaged over the year. This figure includes clouds and other such things.

I can't now find the source I used for data on arable land. In any case, it turns out that it was wrong or out of date, since everyone else disagrees with it. The figure to look at is "Cropland (acres)" from http://www.ers.usda.gov/statefacts/us.htm. The number is 406,424,909 acres, and Google tells me that is 1,644,743 km2, or 1.6x1012 m2.

The rest of the calculation is straightforward, and with the corrected figure for arable land it comes out to more like 60 times the current US electricity production. If you add even more favorable assumptions like the crops being grown for only 1/2 the year in the outdoor plots (this is true in some places, but even then the vast majority of the sunlight comes during that part of the year), it still is 30 times the current US electricity production or so.

Zamfir wrote:No one is seriously proposing to use this for large-scale low value production.
Except for the "advocates" quoted in the article. Are they serious? They certainly think so, even if I don't.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Randomizer » Wed Apr 13, 2011 5:01 am UTC

This. Is. Awesome. We could grow our food underneath our cities! :mrgreen:

To figure out whether this is feasible/more efficient than above ground farming, we need a few numbers: The percent of solar energy plants convert (photosynthetic efficiency), the percent of solar energy solar panels absorb, the efficiency of LED bulbs, and the efficiency of plants in absorbing LED light.

*Numbers pulled out of ass warning*
If plants absorb 10% of solar energy, solar panels get 20%, LED efficiency is 90%, and plants absorb 90% of LED light, the ratio would be:
10% solar vs. 16.2% (20%*90%*90%) artificial.

So, If you have a building with two floors and a solar panel on top you could fill 1.62 of those floors with plants, running it entirely off solar power, and yield a net gain in production versus open field farming.

But anyway, the question is, what are the real numbers? Without anyone quoting that it's hard to say this won't work. And even if the numbers do say it won't - there's nothing to say that solar panel efficiency and so on can't be improved to the point where it is feasible. Let's see what I can find:
--------------
Wikipedia says photosynthesis is about 3-6% efficient: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynthetic_efficiency
The photosynthetic efficiency is the fraction of light energy converted into chemical energy during photosynthesis in plants and algae. Photosynthesis can be described by the simplified chemical reaction

H2O + CO2 + energy --> CH2O + O2,

where CH2O represents carbohydrates such as sugars, cellulose, and lignin. The value of the photosynthetic efficiency is dependent on how light energy is defined. On a molecular level, the theoretical limit in efficiency is 25 percent[1] for photosynthetically active radiation (wavelengths from 400 to 700 nanometer). However, photosynthesis is now known to occur up to 720 nm wavelengths (see Chlorophyll). For actual sunlight, where only 45 percent of the light is photosynthetically active, the theoretical maximum efficiency of solar energy conversion is approximately 11 percent. In actuality, however, plants do not absorb all incoming sunlight (due to reflection, respiration requirements of photosynthesis and the need for optimal solar radiation levels) and do not convert all harvested energy into biomass, which results in an overall photosynthetic efficiency of 3 to 6 percent of total solar radiation.[1] If photosynthesis is inefficient, excess light energy must be dissipated to avoid damaging the photosynthetic apparatus. Energy can be dissipated as heat (non-photochemical quenching), or emitted as chlorophyll fluorescence.

There's a new film that improves solar panel efficiency by 300%, but I don't know if the wikipedia numbers for solar efficiency are from before or after this stuff is applied: http://blogs.forbes.com/eco-nomics/2011 ... 0-percent/
Solar panel efficiencies vary from 6 to 42.8%: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cell_efficiency
Solar cell efficiencies vary from 6% for amorphous silicon-based solar cells to 40.7% with multiple-junction research lab cells and 42.8% with multiple dies assembled into a hybrid package.[6] Solar cell energy conversion efficiencies for commercially available multicrystalline Si solar cells are around 14-19%.[7] The highest efficiency cells have not always been the most economical — for example a 30% efficient multijunction cell based on exotic materials such as gallium arsenide or indium selenide and produced in low volume might well cost one hundred times as much as an 8% efficient amorphous silicon cell in mass production, while only delivering about four times the electrical power.


There's some efficiency numbers for LEDs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Led#Effici ... parameters
Typical indicator LEDs are designed to operate with no more than 30–60 milliwatts [mW] of electrical power. Around 1999, Philips Lumileds introduced power LEDs capable of continuous use at one watt [W]. These LEDs used much larger semiconductor die sizes to handle the large power inputs. Also, the semiconductor dies were mounted onto metal slugs to allow for heat removal from the LED die.

One of the key advantages of LED-based lighting is its high efficacy,[dubious – discuss] as measured by its light output per unit power input. White LEDs quickly matched and overtook the efficacy of standard incandescent lighting systems. In 2002, Lumileds made five-watt LEDs available with a luminous efficacy of 18–22 lumens per watt [lm/W]. For comparison, a conventional 60–100 W incandescent light bulb emits around 15 lm/W, and standard fluorescent lights emit up to 100 lm/W. A recurring problem is that efficacy falls sharply with rising current. This effect is known as droop and effectively limits the light output of a given LED, raising heating more than light output for higher current.[33][34][35]

In September 2003, a new type of blue LED was demonstrated by the company Cree Inc. to provide 24 mW at 20 milliamperes [mA]. This produced a commercially packaged white light giving 65 lm/W at 20 mA, becoming the brightest white LED commercially available at the time, and more than four times as efficient as standard incandescents. In 2006, they demonstrated a prototype with a record white LED luminous efficacy of 131 lm/W at 20 mA. Also, Seoul Semiconductor plans for 135 lm/W by 2007 and 145 lm/W by 2008,[36] which would be nearing an order of magnitude improvement over standard incandescents and better than even standard fluorescents. Nichia Corporation has developed a white LED with luminous efficacy of 150 lm/W at a forward current of 20 mA.[37]

Practical general lighting needs high-power LEDs, of one watt or more. Typical operating currents for such devices begin at 350 mA.

Note that these efficiencies are for the LED chip only, held at low temperature in a lab. Lighting works at higher temperature and with drive circuit losses, so efficiencies are much lower. United States Department of Energy (DOE) testing of commercial LED lamps designed to replace incandescent lamps or CFLs showed that average efficacy was still about 46 lm/W in 2009 (tested performance ranged from 17 lm/W to 79 lm/W).[38]

Cree issued a press release on February 3, 2010 about a laboratory prototype LED achieving 208 lumens per watt at room temperature. The correlated color temperature was reported to be 4579 K.[39]

But since I'm not sure on the percentage of electric energy converted to light energy, let's look that up:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luminous_efficacy
In some systems of units, luminous flux has the same units as radiant flux. The luminous efficacy of radiation is then dimensionless. In this case, it is often instead called the luminous efficiency or luminous coefficient and may be expressed as a percentage. A common choice is to choose units such that the maximum possible efficacy, 683 lm/W, corresponds to an efficiency of 100%. The distinction between efficacy and efficiency is not always carefully maintained in published sources, so it is not uncommon to see "efficiencies" expressed in lumens per watt, or "efficacies" expressed as a percentage.

So, going by the best numbers, 145 lm/W is 145/683 = 21.2%

For the percent of LED light the plants absorb... can't find that, but assuming if it were 100% and the best numbers for the other stuff, we'd have:
Natural light: 3-6%
Artificial: 42.8% panel efficiency * 21.2% LED efficiency * 100% absorption = 9.08 % efficiency, or better than natural light.

Well, obviously we won't get 100% absorption, so let's say half - Converting solar energy to artificial light would be 4.54%, or on par with using straight natural light. Anyone have any idea what the real numbers are?

I think we're going to have to see some technical improvements before we start seeing farming skyscrapers run on 100% solar power, but I'd say it'll happen eventually. In the meantime this new LED tech is still useful stuff.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby ++$_ » Wed Apr 13, 2011 5:05 am UTC

Randomizer wrote:For actual sunlight, where only 45 percent of the light is photosynthetically active, the theoretical maximum efficiency of solar energy conversion is approximately 11 percent. In actuality, however, plants do not absorb all incoming sunlight (due to reflection, respiration requirements of photosynthesis and the need for optimal solar radiation levels) and do not convert all harvested energy into biomass, which results in an overall photosynthetic efficiency of 3 to 6 percent of total solar radiation.[1]
This is the figure you want -- you've got a theoretical maximum efficiency (barring genetic engineering) of 11% / 45% = 24%, and apparently this still uses the assumption that 100% of the captured energy is converted into biomass. There is no way you are getting anything CLOSE to 90% efficient use of the LED light.

EDIT: And yeah, good luck with those 40% efficient solar panels. I hope they start being economical soon, but I can't give great odds on that, especially if I'm right in thinking that they use ruthenium-based dyes.

EDIT 2: Never mind, it says "dies" not "dyes." But it does mention indium, which is pretty expensive too.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Magnanimous » Wed Apr 13, 2011 5:12 am UTC

Aside from the huge costs, it's also worth noting that some of these plants were grown with up to 90% less water. That's good to know if water ever becomes scarce.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Zamfir » Wed Apr 13, 2011 5:55 am UTC

Except for the "advocates" quoted in the article. Are they serious? They certainly think so, even if I don't.

Note that the 'advocates' part is not a quote. It's lazy way for journalists to suggest more than they have, without finding an actual quote. An actual quote in the article says they are aiming at high value vegetables.

Sure,this kind of businessmen likes to sketch vague vistas about what could happen next. With farms in cities and what not. But that's not the business plan, not what they got money for.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Me321 » Wed Apr 13, 2011 8:05 am UTC

So insted of farming in mile square fields, we can farm in buildings, cool, now to find a building(s) big enough to put all the farms in the world in......

(I would be supprised if the usable floor space of all the buildings on earth was anywhere near the area of the farmland on earth.)

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Harry Manback » Wed Apr 13, 2011 10:21 am UTC

To all the people making arguments to the effect that this can't support the bulk of agriculture: I think you're missing the point.

Regardless of what the article claims it does, the main advantage of this technology is that it shines only light that plants can absorb on the plants. As mentioned before, hydroponics are already extensively used to grow plants that are native to other climates (i.e. tomatoes and oranges in northern Europe) or can't be grown outside without the grower getting arrested (i.e. marijuana). Those currently suck up way more energy than they need to because they are lit with more or less the entire visible spectrum, and most of that light is wasted energy (otherwise leaves would appear black, not green), whereas this puts all its energy into wavelengths that actually help photosynthesis.

Provided that the cost of LEDs plus (reduced) power is lower than that of traditional bulbs plus power, there's already a huge market for this. That's not the same thing as good old fashioned farms becoming obsolete.

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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Apr 13, 2011 3:10 pm UTC

I think you're missing the point. Sunlight is free.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Telchar » Wed Apr 13, 2011 3:17 pm UTC

I guess this method is pretty cool if you want to do things like grow strawberrys in Finland in December but that's very niche and the claims being made in the article are rather grandiose.

The ideas of using less water and only using light that plants can absorb is cool. Saying that we could bury mango plantations in Siberia, while true, is also impractical without a drastic reduction in energy costs and a substantial land crisis.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Apr 13, 2011 3:24 pm UTC

Only if you're certain that growing strawberries in Finland year round is somehow better than growing them seasonally naturally, and distributing the excess.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Dauric » Wed Apr 13, 2011 3:30 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Only if you're certain that growing strawberries in Finland year round is somehow better than growing them seasonally naturally, and distributing the excess.


Strawberries don't travel well. Distribution is tricky at best and those strawberries that travel well have the least flavor. Most fruits and vegetables have the same issues. Tomatoes served in restaurants have more fibrous tissue (which significantly changes the texture, flavor, and nutritional content) than ones you might grow in a home garden precisely because they've been bred to maintain their shape and appearance through massed transport.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Izawwlgood » Wed Apr 13, 2011 3:33 pm UTC

Greenhouses have been around for a long time, so, that we don't see more greenhouses growing tomatoes or strawberries for local distribution says, to me, that it's not worth growing them in greenhouses when you can buy them from seasonal growers that distribute globally. I could be wrong about this, but I remember reading that the largest greenhouse product is flowers. So. I dunno.
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Re: "Future farm: a sunless, rainless room indoors"

Postby Harry Manback » Wed Apr 13, 2011 3:43 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Greenhouses have been around for a long time, so, that we don't see more greenhouses growing tomatoes or strawberries for local distribution says, to me, that it's not worth growing them in greenhouses when you can buy them from seasonal growers that distribute globally. I could be wrong about this, but I remember reading that the largest greenhouse product is flowers. So. I dunno.

Well, like I said, provided that the materials cost of getting this set up isn't to exorbitantly high, it would improve the economic advantages of local, indoor production. Such farming already exists, and this could make it more efficient. Doesn't mean this will eclipse traditional farming, but its a useful piece of tech regardless.

Side note: I imagine that this technology would be most useful on a spaceship, where natural growing isn't really an option. I wonder if it would be worthwhile for the International Space Station, for example, to put in a centrifugal, solar-powered vegetable garden lit this way.


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