A recipe for growth

In collaboration with Michigan State University, OSRAM is conducting research into new ways of cultivating plants in buildings more efficiently and more economically. In an interview with Prism Project Manager David Hamby talks about vertical farming, light recipes and business opportunities for OSRAM.

PRISMA  Vertical farming, namely the practice of producing greens in buildings, is an area where artificial light plays a crucial role. How does light actually influence the growth of plants, such as lettuce or herbs?

HAMBY  LED lighting in these vertical farms can influence the taste, appearance and nutrition values of many leafy greens and vegetables, increase yields and shorten growth times. By tuning the light spectrum, for example, we can increase the nutrient uptake of lettuce, or control whether basil will taste mild or strong. Every plant has different lighting requirements. Together with Michigan State University, we are searching for the optimal light recipes to ensure that basil, lettuce and other leafy greens get their own, entirely personalized lighting treatment.


PRISMA  And why do we speak of "vertical" farming – what exactly is vertical about it?

HAMBY  It simply means that the plants grow above and below each other in special grow boxes on multiple levels, which is to say, vertically. This setup ensures that more plants can grow in small spaces. This is particularly important in places where space is tight, such as in big cities.


PRISMA  What is OSRAMs function in the joint research project with Michigan State University (MSU)?

HAMBY  The Innovation department supplied the MSU research team with a connected-lighting system which we developed here at OSRAM. They use that system in their controlled-environment lab to create practically any lighting conditions.

“We want to use our knowledge from the partnerships to develop economical solutions for vertical farming.” David Hamby, Project Manager Smart Horticulture Solutions

PRISMA  What's special about the lighting solution from OSRAM?

HAMBY  The system consists mainly of 72 tunable LED fixtures, microprocessors, temperature sensors, and special software developed by OSRAM. The software allows the team to individually adjust the intensity, wavelength and duration of the light. Any number of light scenarios – and thus, individual light recipes – can be programmed this way.


PRISMA  How exactly can we envision these light recipes for plants?

HAMBY  Light recipes are a challenging topic. As I mentioned, there is no single light recipe for plants as every type has its own requirements. Additionally, light recipes may differ in the various growth phases of plants or when environmental conditions change. It gets even more complex when you consider that all of the parameters that affect plant-growth – such as lighting, temperature, humidity, CO2, and so on – interact in some way with one another. So every light recipe has to account for each of these factors.


PRISMA  What does OSRAM gain from working with MSU?

HAMBY  MSU is leading the way in lighting strategies and data collection. Working with MSU is giving us an in-depth understanding of the challenges associated with indoor farming. Specifically, this partnership is allowing us to move beyond pure lighting applications. With this collaboration, we can begin to understand the types of data collected in these applications and decisions that arise from this information. We are also working with several other startups engaged in plant research or commercial growth with similar lighting systems from our Innovation department to provide a more holistic view. We want to use our knowledge from these partnerships to develop economical solutions for vertical farming.


A video about the research partnership with Michigan State University can be found in our report with Innovation Manager Timo Bongartz.