New technologies in grow lights have opened the doors to food being grown in some unusual places around the world. How about deep under London’s streets, in shipping containers or even in space? Let’s bounce around the world (and beyond) to see how lighting technology has enabled people to grow food crops away from the sun and may even be able to support life far from home.
Nasa Feeds Astronauts In Space
Nasa took an interest in grow lights in the early 2000’s as the US space agency sought ways of getting fresh food to people on deep space expeditions such as the first manned Mars mission. Being able to grow their own food while sat in a space capsule headed for the Red Planet will mean that astronauts can have the very freshest food while on their travels. Ultimately, to have a permanently manned base on Mars people will need to grow their own food to save on the costs of getting that food to them.
Nasa’s research showed that LED grow lights are very much the way forward. They require a lot less energy than the fluorescent bulbs or metal halide lamps that preceded them, and provide exactly the right wavelengths required for plants to grow without having sunlight. From Nasa’s research there emerged an understanding of the wavelengths of light required to grow plants indoors and this led to the market of ‘full spectrum LED grow lights’ that are on the market today. Being low energy, this means that a lot less power is required to keep the plants alive and in space this again means that less weight will be required in fuel or in solar panels to generate that energy.
Into The Cities
Farms have sprung up in some pretty unusual places thanks to Nasa’s research and the improvement in LED grow light technology. In London, England there is a farm inside tunnels that were originally dug to protect the city’s citizens from German bombs in World War 2.
The Independent newspaper reported that founder Steven Dring “said that Growing Underground uses hydroponics, a system whereby plants are grown without soil but with the help of low-energy LED grow lights. This allows each crop to grow in a carefully controlled, pest-free environment, and the farmers to produce plants of consistent quality, regardless of the whether the city above is being graced with blazing sunshine or pelted with relentless rain.”
Meanwhile other companies have seen the potential in growing plants in shipping containers. This means that the farm can be set up in a 40ft box and then delivered to the site it is needed on a normal shipping container truck. One company called Local Roots is actively talking to SpaceX about a manned Mars mission using its technology. According to Inhabitat, “Local Roots’ 40-foot shipping container farms, called Terra Farms, grow produce twice as fast as a traditional farm, all while using 97 percent less water and zero pesticides or herbicides. They can grow as much food as could be grown on three to five acres. They’re able to do this thanks to LED grow lights tuned to specific wavelengths and intensities.”
Indoor Farming Could Yet Save Us
Given the wayward climate we face and risks associated with our political leaders falling out with one another, it is not a bad thing that humanity is investigating ways of growing food in inhospitable places. We never know when we might need the technology where for relatively low energy we can live in deserts, underground or even in space capsules while it all goes to rot where civilisation once stood.