The Light Fantastic: The LED Recipes Taking Indoor Farming to the Next Level

High density, intensive indoor farming has long been seen as a major component in the fight against world hunger, particularly in areas where fertile land, or in fact any outdoor space, is at a premium.

Plants respond to different wavelengths of light than humans, so indoor farming typically involves the use of specialist light systems . However, until recently the lights used have been the same for different types of plants, despite the fact that it has been long known that different species respond better to different wavelengths.

However, now that LED technology has become cheap and widespread, this has changed, allowing custom “light recipies” to be developed for specific crops based on their optimum growing conditions. The result is a system that allows for rapid harvesting cycles – between 20 and 25 each year – providing a dramatic boost in overall output.

LEDs also have another benefit for effective growing; their low temperature enables them to be placed far closer to the plant than traditional lighting, which gives better light coverage, avoiding under-nourished patches.


The light recipe system has been developed by lighting heavyweights Philips, and the company is currently testing the system with Indiana-based vertical indoor growing company Green Sense Farms.

“Different plant types have different light needs and working with forward-thinking growers like GSF, Philips is building up a database of ‘light recipes’ for different plant varieties,” said Udo van Slooten, Director of horticultural lighting at Philips.

“GSF is using vertical hydroponic technology with Phillips LED growing lights, enabling them to do what no other grower can do: provide a consistent amount of high quality produce, year round.”


GSF grows its plants in fourteen growing towers measuring a whopping 25ft (7.6m) each in height.

“By growing our crops vertically, we are able to pack more plants per acre than we would have in a field farm, which results in more harvests per year,” said Robert Colangelo, founding farmer and president of Green Sense Farms. “We produce little waste, no agricultural runoff and minimal greenhouse gasses because the food is grown where it is consumed.”

Such vertical farms are being hailed as the solution to feeding ever-growing urban populations, a key concern given that the United Nations is predicting that 80% of the global population will live in cities by 2050, equivalent to roughly 7.6 billion people.

Given that far more space is likely to be taken up with buildings to accommodate these people, farms will need to operate in areas that cannot be used for housing, such as underground. A vertical farming system that can actually keep up with food demands is going to vital is we are to feed everyone, and this system could well play a vital role.

Images courtesy of Philips.

Are 3D printed houses practical? The experts weigh in

Recently Chinese company WinSun 3D printed 10 full-sized single storey houses in just 24 hours – a feat that seems incredible and may be able help solve housing problems around the world.

Discussions about printing 3D houses have been going on for some time, however printing a house may not be as simple as it has been made out – if it is even possible at all.

It was reported that the Chinese houses were built using printers to spray a mixture of cement and construction waste to build the walls, layer by layer.

The materials and lack of manual labour each house needed resulted in each being printed for under $5,000 dollars, it was claimed.

WinSun chief executive Ma Yihe said: “We can print buildings to any digital design our customers bring us. It’s fast and cheap.”

Jonathan Rowley, an architect from London-based  3D printing studio Digits2Widgets, told Factor that there are a lot of limitations preventing houses being made with the technology.

For example, there is the need to ensure a house is insulated and can be warm for those living inside, which cannot be achieved by 3D printer alone. The glass and rendering on the Chinese-produced houses, for example, needed to be man-made and inserted by hand.

Rowley said: “Some of what you are seeing is 3D printed. But the foundations you are never going to 3D print.

“If it [a 3d printer] goes wrong you have got to maintain it. You also have to consider if it works in the rain or not. Building sites are incredibly complicated and messy places.

“People are being led to believe that 3D printers make things as you want them. They can only print in a single material at the moment.

“It’s only going to be part of the process. They will only be able to produce a shell. There’s only a few things that come out of a 3D printer that are ready to go.”

Rowley did not, however, completely rule out basic 3D printed shells being used in disaster zones or areas where there is a need.


Dr Phil Reeves, managing director of3D printing consultancy and research firm  Econolyst, also said that 3D printing on a construction site would not be the best way to utilise the technology.

“Personally, I really struggle with the idea of using onsite 3DP to make a house. Where is the benefit? Why not just take a 3-axis robot build a gantry and then deliver all the parts you need on trucks and assembly them?”

“It is no different. That way you get the benefits of automation, minimal waste and all the benefits of the myriad of different materials used in the construction industry.”

He also said that 3D printing has more to offer in high value products that are complex to manufacture using different techniques, for example engine parts for planes such as those designed by General Electric.

“However, I do see the benefit in the Chinese system of making panels on a production line and then assembling on site. This is just another form of modular construction, which has shown great promise already.

“Personally, I think there is a huge amount of band wagon jumping (3D printed houses, chocolate, food, drugs). The benefits of AM/3DP are in the production of small scale, complex and high value products.”

Images courtesy of WinSun