Lighting

Growth in the light market

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With increasing interest in the grow light market, small start-ups are sowing the seeds of an agricultural revolution. Joe Young reports.

Australia has no shortage of land or sun but there still is a developing interest in using specially-designed LEDs as grow lights in the horticultural space. Increases in industrial vertical farming and domestic inner city veggie gardens have motivated a few new local players to emerge, such as start-up, Plantilium.

Plantilium co-founder Doug Ford says LED technology is now at a point where it completely out performs conventional light sources in producing wavelengths to encourage plant growth and can give the user more control over their plant growth.

The current de facto lights for people growing indoors in Australia are 400W hail lights. While they are cheap, Doug believes attraction to these will decline as they are harshly bright to the eye, run very hot and give off a yellowish spectrum, which is not ideal for plant growth.

“A red light optimises leaf growth and a more blue light encourages fruit to flourish,” Doug says.

“Our LEDs use a combination of a red and blue colour spectrum which allows plants to naturally transition from leaf to fruit growth.”

This design is ideal for any chlorophyll-based life form to flourish but it’s optimised to promote veggie growth.

The company currently has two lights in its stable. The PHG-150, a grow light which Doug says is nine times as efficient as discharge lights and twice as efficient as broad spectrum LED designs which use white LEDs. It can be used in a linear array making it ideal for industrial farming. Vertical farming is an emerging industry which can use these lights with applications like farming fodder for cattle.

The PHG-18 is targeted more towards domestic use for applications such as indoor herb or veggie gardens. It uses a PAR38 form factor with an Edison screw base.

Both luminaire’s outputs operate across four wavelengths and over a wide range of mains supply voltages.

Most grow lights use fans, which mean moving parts and consequently noise and unreliability, particularly since fans used in grow light applications will often be in moist environments. Plantilium lights use a heat sink and natural convection instead of fans to circulate air. The heat sinks use pipes to convey the heat resulting in the overall temperature staying low and avoiding hot spots. The entire fixture rises to about 26° and stays there.

“The cooler you can run the electronics, the longer the life span. Also when red LEDs get hot, their output drops,” Doug says.

Australia isn’t experiencing the same push towards indoor growing as some European countries which are short on space and sunlight or in the US where there are areas too polluted to grow outdoors.

However, with an increasing number of algae farms, vertical farm, and herb and veggie gardens in the inner city, interest from the cut flower market and with laws around marijuana growth being debated in parliament, Plantilium is confident its products will be valued in the Australian market.

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