View Full Version : The Agricultural Lab of the Future

17th November 2014, 13:06
GE, Panasonic, Toshiba and Fujitsu—one can easily point out the similarities between these companies. They have long been recognized and heralded for their work in the electronics and semiconductor industry. However, given their recent investments, it’s possible that this editorial written 20 years down the road may reflect on these companies as agricultural powerhouses instead. Recently, each company has started an indoor vegetable farm to provide pesticide-free leafy veggies. The response so far has been positive, and the future looks bright enough that we may be seeing a new type of “lab of the future.”

In 2004, Japanese researcher Shigeharu Shimamura created the indoor farming company Mirai, which means “future” in Japanese. It was a while before the concept took off, but with a little help from GE, Shimamura started an agricultural revolution in Asia. The farm operates out of an old 2,500-square-meter Sony semiconductor factory. It uses 17,500 LED lights spread over 18 cultivation racks reaching 15 levels high. The farm opened last month and is already producing 10,000 heads of lettuce per day.

The GE-designed LED fixtures are what keep the farm running. The thin lights were designed to fit inside the stacks of lettuce and emit light at wavelengths optimal for plant growth, including the ability to control the day/night cycle. Shimamura told GE that the systems allow him to grow lettuce full of vitamins and minerals 2.5 times faster than an outdoor farm.

Fujitsu chose a slightly different approach to farming lettuce. The goal of its 2,000-square-meter facility is to cultivate low-potassium leaf lettuce that can be eaten raw by dialysis patients and those with chronic kidney disease. The lettuce grown in the Fujitsu cleanroom has less than 100 mg of potassium per 100 g, which is about four times less than regular lettuce. Additionally, the nitrogen level is as low as 75 mg per 100 g, reducing the bitter taste sometimes found in conventional lettuce.

Toshiba took a page out of Fujitsu’s playbook with the intention to market their veggies as rich in polyphenols and vitamin C, achieved by careful control of the growth environment. Not deviating too far from company norm, the production management system for Toshiba’s plant factory is based on that used for semiconductor device production.

Where Toshiba deviates from the others is in choice of lighting: the company chose fluorescent lighting with optimum output wavelength instead of LEDs. Other highlights of the plant factory include: air-conditioning systems to maintain constant temperature/humidity, remote monitoring systems to track growth, and sterilization systems for packing materials.

Singapore imports 419 million kg of vegetables per year, compared to the 11.2 million kg the country produces itself. It’s a similar scenario when it comes to leafy vegetables—82 million kg imported with 10.2 million kg produced per year. It’s these numbers that drove Panasonic from microelectronics to agriculture, aiming to promote food self-sufficiency through a sustainable cultivation method.

Using LED lights that promote 2.5 times faster growth, the Panasonic facility currently produces 10 types of vegetables. The pesticide-free veggies are cultivated within 35 days under optimum conditions, but the company is looking into an even shorter lead time. Total production capacity is 3.6 tons annually, with the intention to increase shelves to support up to 30 different crops. Panasonic says it is aiming to contribute 5 percent of local production of veggies by 2017. For a country where farm land is not available, producing a stable supply of non-imported vegetables is crucial to self-sufficiency goals. Not to mention the 50 percent cost savings for Singapore residents as compared to imported Japanese produce.

Faced with worldwide food shortages, increasing natural disasters and harsh weather environments, I think this type of vertical indoor farming has the potential to revolutionize the industry. With the ability to control all aspects of the indoor setting, countries, cities and towns can exploit their weaknesses and produce something they didn’t think possible—like Singapore is doing. Plant factories are poised to become “personalized farms.” We’re already seeing it with low-potassium and high-vitamin variations; but the potential is even greater. And most importantly, the means to do so is there.

According to Tokyo-based market research firm Yano Research Institute, plant factories are forecast to grow to 44.3 billion yen ($430 million) by 2025, compared to the 3.3 billion ($33 million) yen in 2013.

Toshiba is considering construction of a large-scale factory outside Japan, and Mirai and GE are already working on two large-scale plant factories in Hong Kong and the Far East of Russia. The ability to profitably run large-scale factories will be the distinguishing factor between success and failure. If production costs can be lowered, plant factories will be a win for all involved.

I'm opting for the natural agriculture and cultivation:wizard:


18th November 2014, 03:34
All we need to add to this is growing dishes of protein so that we no longer have to enslave and destroy endless poor animals to feed mankind. The Reptilians who are master geneticists should take note and do likewise. Growing protein with a large sauce of adrenalin would spare humans a horrible death.