By the year 2050, it’s estimated that the world’s population will exceed 9.8 billion. This has scientists concerned about how to keep up with the demand for food, which will be 60% higher than it is today. With changes in climate, urbanization and the degradation of our soil, along with the reduction in the amount of land available for farming, scientists are looking for new options to produce more food. (World Economic Forum, March 2018)
The NIU Engineering Technology Senior Design team consisting of Brandon Cuevas, Thomas O’Donnell, and Alexander Koenen facilitated by Associate Professor Kevin Martin and Associate Professor William Mills, developed a vertical farming system which independently controls nine different LED light spectra (colors) in order to investigate what impacts light has on growth rate and various other vegetation parameters.
They’ve set up a greenhouse in the BEEEAM Lab at Still Gym that controls the temperature, humidity along with the light spectrum. The four growing cells are flexible and can accommodate both soil and hydroponic growing conditions (which use as little as 10% of the water that traditional field watering methods require). Currently, the four independent growing cells are being used to study microgreens. However, the flexible system could be used to study a variety of plants and even algae for use in transportation fuels.
Having the ability to finely tune the intensity and wavelengths that the plants receive allows for NIU to research economical and efficient ways to grow food. “Such technology can allow us to adapt to changes in the climate and maintain food availability,” said Professor Martin. “We’re trying to develop low-cost solutions, based on open source technologies in order to increase the adoption rate of these technologies.”
Engineering Technology Senior Design is a series of two courses where the engineering students apply what they’ve learned in the classroom and work as a team to solve real-world problems for their capstone projects. Check back here as we will update this post with the progress of this project.