Crops in greenhouses — an increasingly popular way to supply year-round fresh greens and other produce to places with cold winters — are most productive when they receive the right amount of light at the right time.
But there’s a downside. Greenhouses are energy hogs and typically generate more gasses than traditional field agriculture because of their lighting and heating needs. Those are terrible characteristics for a burgeoning industry at a time of growing concern over global warming.
GrowFlux, a Philadelphia agricultural technology start-up that is trying to make the industry more efficient, won a $250,000 grant last week from the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator for research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado. The aim is to reduce energy consumption in greenhouses by fine-tuning the amount of artificial light that crops receive.
Simple timers are traditionally used to turn lights on and off in greenhouses, said Eric Eisele, GrowFlux’s chief executive and cofounder. “They’re not dialing in the light in accordance with when the crop is actually using light most efficiently,” he said. “It results in a fair bit of energy that’s wasted.”
The GrowFlux system — to be further developed with the help of researchers at NREL and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis — measures the natural light available and then adjusts the artificial light to add more when needed.