As the world population continues to increase exponentially, food becomes ever more of an issue. The process of photosynthesis is one of the most important chemical reactions that goes on in our world, whereby plants convert CO2 and water into oxygen and sugar, and light drives this whole process. Without the sun the earth would be an icy wilderness where none of us could live. But with expanding populations, land to grow food is becoming ever more valuable, and ultimately this is going to come to a nasty head. Hunger is already a major problem throughout the world, but some clever scientists in Holland think they may have solved it.
As with all things around us, the colours plants take on are the wavelengths of light that they cannot absorb. Plants are mostly green because they reflect this ‘colour’ of light, and if you tried to grow them under green lighting they would die. However, the reflection of this light takes work by the plant, and they begin to heat up. Just like us they need to use energy to cool down and they do this by evaporating water, and this stunts the growth in a small way.
By growing plants under red and blue light only, this Dutch company can avoid this unnecessary cooling of the plants and feed them the prime light they need to grow. This results in a much more efficient way of growing plants, and through a source that is readily available. It could well be the beginning of produce growing on mass scales, and will be suitable for many different parts of the world including places that otherwise would have little chance of growing otherwise. It is estimated that the plants can be given up to 7300 growing hours under these artificial conditions, as opposed to around 1500 in the sunniest parts above ground, and this represents a significant improvement in yield.
It does, however, produce some strange side effects. As the plant is not having to expend energy reflecting useless light wavelengths, they appear black. This may be slightly off-putting to some, but apart from the colour they are the same in every way. It also creates a rather futuristic looking farm, full of black plants, robotic arms and purple lighting, and in some senses it is close to what we can expect. With trends in population set to continue we may well have to rely on technologies like this in years to come for the survival of the human race.
Rob is an environmental scientist in training working for RJ Herbert, specialists in vegetable processing and potato equipment. He is a keen researcher and loves new technologies like this.