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
Health
A smoky haze obstructs the view of the San Francisco skyline on Aug. 24 in San Francisco, California. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Smoke Is a Big Health Risk as California Wildfires Rage On

By Nneka Leiba

Deadly wildfires continue to blaze in Northern and Southern California. Dozens of people are dead, hundreds more missing and entire communities have been destroyed.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Westend61 / Getty Images

EcoWatch Gratitude Photo Contest: Submit Now!

EcoWatch is pleased to announce its first photo contest! Show us what in nature you are most thankful for this Thanksgiving. Whether you have a love for oceans, animals, or parks, we want to see your best photos that capture what you love about this planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Leela Cyd / Photolibrary / Getty Images

EPA Finds Replacements for Toxic 'Teflon' Chemicals Toxic

By Anna Reade

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released draft toxicity assessments for GenX chemicals and PFBS, both members of a larger group of chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). GenX and PFBS are being used as replacement chemicals for PFOA and PFOS, the original Teflon chemicals that were forced off the market due to their decades-long persistence in the environment and their link to serious health harms in exposed people and wildlife.

Keep reading... Show less
Science
Demonstrators at the Earth Day March for Science Rally on April 22, 2017 in Washington, DC. Paul Morigi / Getty Images

New Report Details Trump's Destructive War on Science—And How the New Congress Can Fight Back

By Jessica Corbett

A coalition of watchdog and advocacy organizations on Thursday released a new report detailing the Trump administration's nearly two-year war on science and how Congress can fight back.

Produced by 16 groups including the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), Defenders of Wildlife and Greenpeace, Protecting Science at Federal Agencies: How Congress Can Help argues that while "scientific integrity at federal agencies has eroded" under President Donald Trump, "Congress has the power to halt and repair damage from federal agencies' current disregard for scientific evidence."

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Downtown Houston surrounded by flooding and mist after Hurricane Harvey. Prairie Pictures / The Image Bank / Getty Images

Houston’s Tall Buildings and Concrete Sprawl Made Harvey’s Rain and Flooding Worse

The science is clear that in order to prevent more extreme weather events like hurricanes, we need to stop burning fossil fuels. Thursday, EcoWatch reported on a study that found major hurricanes in the past decade were made five to 10 percent wetter because of global warming, and another study last year calculated that the record rainfall that flooded Texas during Hurricane Harvey was made three times more likely due to climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Roundup for sale at a hardware store in San Rafael, CA, on July, 9. JOSH EDELSON / AFP / Getty Images

Second CA Glyphosate Trial Scheduled for Elderly Couple in Declining Health

The first trial claiming long-term use of Monsanto's Roundup weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer ended with a $289 million jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff, though that was later reduced by a judge to $78 million.

Now, Monsanto's next date in the judgment seat in California has been set for March 18.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. NASA

Not Enough Ice to Drill the Arctic! Offshore Oil Drilling a 'Disaster Waiting to Happen'

Last month, the Trump administration approved the first offshore oil drilling development in federal Arctic waters, which environmentalists fear will ramp up carbon pollution that fuels climate change.

But here's the ultimate irony: Hilcorp Alaska's project—which involves building a 9-acre artificial drilling island in the shallow waters of the Beaufort Sea—has been delayed because of the effects of climate change, Alaska Public Media reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights/Opinion
Dominion Energy's headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. VCU CNS

Cash Buys Elections—and Continued Fossil Fuel Dominance

By Wenonah Hauter

Last week, the fossil fuel industry successfully squashed several local measures it didn't like—thanks to the more than $100 million it shelled out to oppose them.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

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