HortiCann Day 1: Device advances, light recipes bring new tools to SSL and grower communities

Sept. 28, 2021
Opening day of online HortiCann Light + Tech Conference delivers insights from technology developers and researchers supporting the expansion of controlled environment agriculture.

Once again, LEDs Magazine reports from the virtual conference floor as the first day of the HortiCann Light + Tech Conference comes to a close. For the second year, our in-person event has been reverted to an online experience due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But as we reported in 2020, interlinked concerns over climate change, energy consumption, and global food production have continued to stimulate research and investment in technologies and practices for controlled environment agriculture (CEA) including solid-state lighting (SSL), automation, data analysis, and light science for specific cultivars.

Ams Osram senior applications engineer (and 2020 40 Under 40 honoree) Kurt Liepmann kicked things off with an overview of new findings applied to cost-optimize packaged LEDs for horticultural SSL. Liepmann outlined a series of analyses performed in order to improve the efficacy of white-based spectra for horticulture. Modifying LED architecture to utilize direct red emission, rather than phosphor conversion, increased photon and system efficacy, Liepmann said. Further gains were attained with a primary batwing-distribution lens’ wider angle, instead of the narrow beam delivered by a conventional Lambertian lens. This also eliminated the need for a secondary optic, reducing costs and optical losses.

In the second session, BLOSSOM LED’s Charles Kirmuss and Signify’s Celine Nicole, PhD, both discussed various outcomes with specialized light recipes, but approached the topic from very different directions. Kirmuss’s talk centered mainly on the ultraviolet A and B (UV-A/UV-B) bands and infrared (IR) wavelengths not typically provided by many available luminaires with regard to cannabis but also some produce cultivars. He argued that BLOSSOM LED’s work has shown that growers are missing an opportunity to “hoodwink” plants by utilizing SSL fixtures with increased energy in the UV and IR spectra, which force seasonal-type responses and add another cycle of growth to cannabis production in particular. Furthermore, Kirmuss said, “by adding 10% [infrared light], we are adding to the mass of the produce that we are growing.”

Nicole, a senior plant expert in recipe research at Signify, spoke in terms of nutrition and potency of both food and medical-grade plant compounds, which she said is an emerging area of interest in Europe specifically. In the Eindhoven-based GrowWise Research Center, varying amounts of blue, red, and far red light were observed to create very different plant responses. “We found that blue light was the color [that] most affected the color of the tomatoes” in one study, she explained, with increased phytopigments in the tomatoes correlating to measurable increases in vitamin C and beta carotene. She also cited a basil study which showed that increased levels of vitamin C also correlated to improved shelf life of the herbs.

During the Q&A session with LEDs Magazine chief editor Maury Wright, Nicole said, “People want more and more healthy food and fresh, and when you analyze the compounds of the spinach that you have in your fridge, they are still appearing green,” but the nutritional composition is often degraded. If a food producer can claim a certain amount of potency or even guarantee it, “that is for me a food revolution,” she stated.

Third in the session was longtime Strategies in Light advisor Ian Ashdown of SunTracker Technologies, representing the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) Horticultural Lighting Technical Committee in preparing to make available its RP-45-21, Recommended Practice: Horticultural Lighting, this October. Because we have a full contributed article on the intent and guidance behind the RP, we won’t go into many details here, but one of the interesting aspects of the talk was that the guidance contained therein does not solely address lighting equipment. Ashdown also discussed the properties of agricultural films, which may not seem to be the typical purview of the lighting designer or specifier but would have a decided impact on the thermal, photosynthetic photon efficacy (PPE), and energy conservation parameters considered in CEA design and execution.

The final session of the day covered total environmental control for CEA. AgEye Technologies plant physiologist Brandon Huber, PhD, shared some compelling results from studies regarding the effects of air velocity, carbon dioxide (CO2) enrichment, and interval-based far-red light on tomato plants. Huber explained that providing additional CO2 in a contained space is relatively inexpensive yet showed the potential to increase tomato dry mass by 34.3%.

Last, Richard Field, III, PhD and director of product and program management at NanoFlex Power Corp., summarized the benefits of organic photovoltaics (OPV) that enable self-powered wireless sensors indoors, harvesting energy directly from the grower’s LED lighting. Field described the robust but simplified sensor network setup and cloud control capabilities driven by 4000-ft-range Bluetooth that eliminates the need for line of sight between gateways and sensors.

Day 2 of HortiCann begins on Wednesday, Sept. 29, with the Plenary panel featuring new “Voices from the Farms” at 11:00 AM Eastern time. Last year’s panel certainly enriched the program with the grower viewpoints on technology needs and gaps. You can still register for Day 2 and gain 60-day on-demand access to the presentation and resource archive after the event.

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About the Author

Carrie Meadows | Editor-in-Chief, LEDs Magazine

Carrie Meadows has more than 20 years of experience in the publishing and media industry. She worked with the PennWell Technology Group for more than 17 years, having been part of the editorial staff at Solid State Technology, Microlithography World, Lightwave, Portable Design, CleanRooms, Laser Focus World, and Vision Systems Design before the group was acquired by current parent company Endeavor Business Media.

Meadows has received finalist recognition for LEDs Magazine in the FOLIO Eddie Awards, and has volunteered as a judge on several B2B editorial awards committees. She received a BA in English literature from Saint Anselm College, and earned thesis honors in the college's Geisel Library. Without the patience to sit down and write a book of her own, she has gladly undertaken the role of editor for the writings of friends and family.

Meadows enjoys living in the beautiful but sometimes unpredictable four seasons of the New England region, volunteering with an animal shelter, reading (of course), and walking with friends and extended "dog family" in her spare time.