Quantcast
Food

World's Largest 'Vegetable Factory' Revolutionizes Indoor Farming

Indoor vertical farming is often derided as a pipe dream and completely infeasible on a commercial scale, but Shigeharu Shimamura's farm proves that indoor farming is not only possible, but profitable. Shimamura started Mirai, an indoor farming company in 2004. When the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan, sparking the Fukushima nuclear disaster and causing food shortages, Shimamura seized the opportunity to turn an abandoned, semiconductor factory into what is now the world's biggest indoor farm.


At 25,000 square feet, the farm can yield up to 10,000 heads of lettuce a day. That's 100 times more per square foot than traditional methods. One of the major obstacles to making indoor farming cost-effective was lighting. General Electric (GE) who partnered with Mirai, reports, "plant factories have typically used fluorescent lamps for artificial illumination, which has low initial costs." But these fluorescent lights didn't increase yields enough to cover the energy costs.

Then, GE and Mirai developed LEDs that "generate light in wavelengths adapted to plant growth. While reducing electric power consumption by 40 percent compared to fluorescent lighting, the facility has succeeded in increasing harvest yields by 50 percent." Since the plants grow twice as fast with 40 percent less power, 80 percent less food waste and 99 percent less water usage than outdoor fields, Mirai has been able to recover the initial cost of the LED lights and make the cost of artificial lighting worth it.

For now, it is only half automated because various tasks including harvesting the lettuce are done by hand. Shimamura, however, predicts the emergence of harvest robots, who can seed, transplant, harvest and package the products.

Indoor agriculture takes out many of the risks inherent in outdoor crop production. By controlling light exposure, temperature, humidity and watering levels, you can grow food very efficiently. Indoor farming has the potential to produce food with less energy, less water, less waste and in less space than traditional methods. Because agriculture has such a significant impact on the environment, indoor farming offers solutions to many of the current problems. It could eliminate land conversion and habitat loss, wasteful water consumption and soil erosion and degradation, just to name a few.

Mirai has two smaller factories in Mongolia, where long, harsh winters stunt the growing season and leave Mongolians without fresh vegetables for many months. Instead of importing them thousands of miles from Europe, they are now able to grow them domestically. Shimamura is looking to expand to Hong Kong and Russia in the near future and eventually all over the world.

As for crops besides lettuce, Shimamura 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."

In a world facing more and more extreme weather events from climate change, there will likely be more devastating impacts on agriculture, such as those from the Fukushima disaster and Typhoon Haiyan. The GE team in Japan believes that indoor farms could be a key to solving food shortages in the world. Indoor farming takes what factories do best, which is harnessing technology to efficiently produce a good, and what nature does best, which is producing biomass from light, water and nutrients, and combining the two.

If done correctly, indoor farming has the potential to be the best of both worlds. Mirai is by no means the only indoor farming operation in the world. There are more like this one in Chicago. Says Shimamura: “Finally, we are about to start the real agricultural industrialization."

Watch how it works:

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Farmers Rewarded for Practicing 'Carbon Farming'

Hydroponic Planter Makes It Easy to Grow Your Own Indoor Edible Garden

Revolutionary Family Shows True Meaning of Self-Reliance

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Climate
Miami is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to raise roads in response to rising sea levels. Matthew Hurst / CC BY-SA 2.0

What Is Climate-Ready Infrastructure? Some Cities Are Starting to Adapt

By Mikhail Chester, Braden Allenby and Samuel Markolf

The most recent international report on climate change paints a picture of disruption to society unless there are drastic and rapid cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Although it's early days, some cities and municipalities are starting to recognize that past conditions can no longer serve as reasonable proxies for the future.

Keep reading... Show less
Politics
Hurricane Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle on October 10, as a category 4 storm causing massive damage and claiming about 30 lives. Scott Olson / Getty Images

Climate Deniers on the Ballot in 2018

By Justin Mikulka

As the midterm elections approach, DeSmog is taking this opportunity to highlight some of the top climate science deniers currently running for office in the U.S.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
If you have to pay for free speech then it isn't free. Tim Aubry / Greenpeace

Our Constitutional Right to Protest Is Under Assault

By Lauren Reid

A new proposed rule from the National Park Service is aiming to restrict peaceful protest in parks and even sidewalks within the District of Columbia—just one effort on a long list of anti-protest laws popping up all around the country.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Pexels

A New Language for Grappling With Climate Change

By Phil Newell

This month, a major UN report on climate change declared that humanity has just a few short years to make the drastic changes needed to stave off an environmental catastrophe. While news outlets reacted with shock and alarm, those who regularly write, research or advocate on climate change were more resigned. For them, the report—which synthesized existing research—merely aggravated the psychic wound formed by continually reckoning with the end of the world.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
Microplastics. MPCA Photos / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Microplastics Detected in Human Stool Samples for First Time

Humanity has created more than 9 billion tons of plastic since the 1950s, when large-scale production of the material first took off. Of that total, a staggering 76 percent has gone to waste. These days, plastics are found in most table salt, marine life and the deepest parts of the ocean. So is it any surprise that they have made it into our bodies, too?

A small study has detected microplastics in human excrement for the first time, raising larger questions about how the tiny particles can affect our health.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Pexels

Massive Study Finds Eating Organic Slashes Cancer Risks

Eating organic foods free from pesticides is strongly correlated with a dramatic reduction in the risk of cancer, according to a groundbreaking study published today in an American Medical Association journal.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Pexels

Does Climate Change Affect Real Estate Prices? Only if You Believe In It

By Constantine Yannelis, Lorenzo Garlappi and Markus Baldauf

In the wake of two powerful hurricanes in the U.S. this fall, the scientific evidence that climate change will raise the risk of severe weather events continues to grow.

Keep reading... Show less
Health

Dewayne Johnson reacts after the verdict to his case at the Superior Court Of California in San Francisco on Aug. 10. JOSH EDELSON / AFP / Getty Images

Judge Upholds Historic Monsanto Verdict But Lowers Damages

A San Francisco judge made a surprise ruling Monday and upheld a jury's verdict that Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller gave a California groundskeeper cancer, and that the company failed to warn him of the danger, CNN reported.

Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bolanos had issued a tentative ruling Oct. 10 ordering a new trial over the punitive damages awarded to plaintiff Dewayne "Lee" Johnson, saying he had failed to prove that Monsanto acted with "malice or oppression." After reviewing arguments from both sides, however, Bolanos instead upheld the verdict, but lowered the punitive damages from $250 million to $39 million. A new trial will only take place if Johnson's lawyers don't accept the reduced award.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!