New Light Paradigm

The rapid advancement of light and light-based technologies over recent years signals a new paradigm. In much the same way that digital technology changed our daily lives, so too are advancements in light technology. From elementary indicator lamps in calculators and microwave ovens, Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) and laser technology have advanced to applications such as street lighting, stadium and building lighting, aviation and automobile lights, traffic signals, camera flashes, phototherapy to diagnose and treat medical conditions, food production and pest control. The list of new light applications grows almost by the day.

In horticulture, the boom in LED technology has been largely driven by energy efficiency. LEDs are increasingly being used for supplemental and single light source in greenhouses and plant factories around the world. Not only are light and light-based technologies changing the way we produce food, by manipulating wavelengths, colours and light intensities, growers are increasing crop quality and yields. Advancements in light technology is also changing the food distribution chain, by allowing the production of fresh food in densely populated urban areas, close to the consumers they serve. Competing alongside McDonalds and Subway, we now have the SumoSalad restaurant chain growing salad greens in-house, thanks to advancements in light technology.

Although bug zappers take advantage of flying insects’ attraction to light, new light technology is being explored that can identify and burn the wings off harmful insects. The ‘phonenic fence’, developed for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2007 to combat malaria, uses lasers to identify and shoot down mosquitoes in midair.

The technology uses an LED array to cast infrared light on a retro-reflective surface several yards away, which sends the light back to a camera lens attached to the LED array. The lens can detect any insect that tries to cross this ‘fence’ of infrared light. When the fence is breached, it immediately hits the intruder with a harmless diagnostic laser. This laser measures the insect’s wing-beat frequency to identify the species; it’s sensitive enough to tell the difference between male and female mosquitoes, only the latter of which drink blood. Non-target insects are allowed to pass, but if the intruder turns out to be a female mosquito, a second laser hits her with just enough energy to burn off her wings. All this happens in a fraction of a second, before the mosquito has time to cross the fence and enter the protected area. Powered from the grid or by solar panels, researchers are investigating the phonenic fence to target the wingbeat frequency of other flying insects, offering an environmentally responsible alternative to synthetic chemical pesticides in greenhouse and field crop production.

In this issue, we focus on several light and light-based technologies, including the Svensson Harmony light-diffusing climate screen that significantly increases crop quality and marketable produce compared to a whitewash greenhouse. We also feature a story on doomsday preppers who will go to whatever lengths they can to make sure they are prepared for any of life’s uncertainties, including the adoption of hydroponic, aquaponic, LED and solar technology to ensure their long-term survival. We also report on greenhouse operations in Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Iran, where the focus is on sustainable food production systems to improve food security and the livelihoods of their people.

PH&G April 2015 / Issue 154