The Green Promise of Vertical Farms

Indoor farms run by AI and lit by LEDs can be more efficient than field agriculture, but can they significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

11 min read
Staff looking at a wall of basil.

Wall of Plenty: A wall of basil is bathed in light from LED tubes, which are optimized for this particular crop by Plenty's proprietary machine-learning algorithms.

Photo: Plenty Unlimited

I emerge from the Tokyo Monorail station on Shōwajima, a small island in Tokyo Bay that's nestled between downtown Tokyo and Haneda Airport. Disoriented and dodging cargo trucks exiting a busy overpass, I duck under a bridge and consult the map on my phone, which leads me deeper into a warren of warehouses. I eventually find Espec Mic Corp.'s VegetaFarm, in a dilapidated 1960s office building tucked between a printing plant and a beer distributor. Stepping inside the glass-walled lobby on the second floor, I see racks upon racks of leafy green lettuce and kale growing in hydroponic solutions of water and a precisely calibrated mix of nutrients. Energy-efficient LEDs emit a pinkish light within a spectral range of 400 to 700 nanometers, the sweet spot for photosynthesis.

I'm here to find out how plant factories, called vertical or indoor farms in Western countries, can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with conventional field agriculture. According to the World Bank, 48.6 million square kilometers of land were farmed worldwide in 2015. Collectively, agriculture, forestry, and other land uses contributed 21 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, per a 2017 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, mostly through releases of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.

Keep reading... Show less

Stay ahead of the latest trends in technology. Become an IEEE member.

This article is for IEEE members only. Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Video Friday: Guitar Bot

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

3 min read
Closeup of a robotic arm strumming an acoustic guitar

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We’ll also be posting a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months; here's what we have so far (send us your events!):

ICRA 2022: 23–27 May 2022, Philadelphia
ERF 2022: 28–30 June 2022, Rotterdam, Germany
CLAWAR 2022: 12–14 September 2022, Açores, Portugal

Let us know if you have suggestions for next week, and enjoy today's videos.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

Dress Smart: This T-Shirt Senses Breathing Problems

Prototype garment provides wireless, real-time monitoring of a wearer’s respiratory patterns

2 min read
Close up of a person wearing dark long sleeved shirt. Multiple blue sensors and wires cover it.

This new smart T-shirt has thin antennas incorporated in the cloth, which detect deformations in the antennas as the user breathes in and out.

Université Laval

This article is part of our exclusive IEEE Journal Watch series in partnership with IEEE Xplore.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

Electric utility infrastructure habitually falls prey to overgrown Right-of-Way, high winds, and harsh weather. Impactful events causing outages are increasing in frequency, and need to be endured without major disruptions in electric service. This webinar will discuss the application of covered aerial conductor to "harden" the electric utility grid so that unpredictable events don't result in unsustainable outages.

Speaker:

Keep Reading ↓ Show less