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LEDs may help grow veggies in space

Posted: 08 Jan 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:NASA  space  plant production  LED 

NASA scientists have developed a technology that uses LEDs to create a solution for plant production in drought-stricken areas and, wait for it, space! There seems to be an increased focus on using the technology to spur growth as well as provide nutrition.

NASA originated and researched the concept for nearly two decades, recently resulting in the farming of red romaine lettuce on the International Space Station (ISS). Using a vegetable production system (aka Veggie), the NASA unit is, for the first time, able to provide space crews with safe, nutritious and fresh food, as well as a bit of a green-thumb hobby. The unit delivers light via red, green, and blue LEDs and nutrients while controlling temperature and CO2 for growth promotion.

Obviously, the benefits are many for the ISS astronauts now but it will also provide future space travelers with a sustainable food source on their way to Mars. In the meantime, it will be used on Earth in plant factories that can benefit from light and water conservation.

Prototype version of the Veggie unit

This prototype version of the Veggie unit has plants growing inside it. Source: NASA

NASA isn't alone in using LEDs for plant growth. Battlefield Farms in Virginia noticed improved quality of its plants with Philips' LED production modules. According to Philips, LED lighting in horticulture is new and still in its early stages, especially in the U.S., where farmers harvest multiple crops. The technology has been used successfully in Europe, where there tends to be monoculture crop production. Specific crops require certain lighting based on light requirements and production.

Philips indicates that benefits of using LEDs include improvement in lateral and basal branching, which reduced the need to shear the crop, saving on labour, improved propagation rates and lower chemical use.

Philips, while continuing its research, encourages growers to join in and research as well. LEDs vary dramatically by supplier in the trial results of using them to provide for plant nutrition and growth.

- Carolyn Mathas

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