LEDs save the day in giant post-tsunami indoor farm

The world’s largest indoor farm has been set up in a former semi-conductor factory in Japan, as a response to food shortages after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear facility.

In the factory, plants grow in tall vertical stacks under customised LED lights. The factory produces 10,000 lettuces a day with 40% less power, 80% less food waste and 99% less water than in an outdoor farm. An indoor farm using the same technology is now being constructed in Hong Kong, and other indoor farms are planned for Mongolia, Russia and mainland China.

The site of the farm is a former semi-conductor factory that closed after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Shigeharu Shimemura turned the giant facility – it is about half the size of a football field – into an indoor farm to replace much needed fresh, locally grown greens.

At the farm the cycle of days and nights is shortened and temperature and humidity are controlled to produce the best results. Much of the process is automated, and Shimemura has plans to employ robots to harvest the lettuces in the future. 

Shimemura became interested in food farms after visiting the Expo ’85 World’s Fair in Tsukuba, Japan. He went on to study plant physiology and started an indoor farming company, Mirai, which means future, in 2004. He says:

“I believe that, at least technically, we can produce almost any kind of plant in a factory. But what makes most economic sense is to produce fast-growing vegetables that can be sent to the market quickly. That means leaf vegetables for us now. In the future, though, we would like to expand to a wider variety of produce. It’s not just vegetables we are thinking about, though. The factory can also produce medicinal plants. I believe that there is a very good possibility we will be involved in a variety of products soon.”

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