NY grows greater greenhouse crops with less energy

ITHACA, N.Y. – A public-private consortium led by researchers at Cornell University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is poised to match consumer appetite for increased, local vegetable production with reduced greenhouse energy consumption.

The Greenhouse Lighting and Systems Engineering consortium is being launched to transform the way greenhouses operate in order to reduce electricity use up to 70 percent.

This consortium, led by Neil Mattson, associate professor in Cornell’s Horticulture Section of the School of Integrative Plant Science and colleagues at Cornell and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, plans to demonstrate a greenhouse energy management system that integrates control of LED lighting, carbon dioxide supplementation, ventilation and humidity.

The seven-year, $5 million project funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) will advance Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s energy policy – Reforming the Energy Vision – that aims to reduce greenhouses gas emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels.

RPI engineers will develop energy-efficient light-emitting diode plant-lighting systems. Unlike the high-pressure sodium bulbs traditionally used to illuminate greenhouses, LED light can be dimmed and the spectrum adjusted to match optimal wavelengths. Cornell horticulture experts in collaboration with RPI photobiologist Tessa Pocock will test dynamic lighting and control systems that adjust to provide light more effectively to plants.

Mattson says such reactive lighting made possible with LED technologies allows growers to provide optimal lighting even as conditions change throughout the day.

“An ability to adjust in real time the light spectrum and light quantity means plants get consistent, uniform, reproducible light at all times. That means we’re not wasting light and the electricity needed to create it when plants don’t need it for growth,” Mattson said.

Trends in New York are pointing toward more vegetables being grown indoors. The most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture census data shows the cultivation of lettuce and tomatoes in the state increased by 10.6 percent per year from 2007 to 2012.

“This is an industry that continues to expand in the vegetable growing sector,” Mattson said. “This investment in energy-efficient greenhouse production will help ensure New York’s continued leadership in local food production in the Northeast.”

Over the life of the project, Mattson’s team will work with industry partners to test strategies in commercial facilities and monitor the carbon footprint of their operations.

The consortium will work with lighting and fixture manufacturers, growers, trade groups, supermarket produce buyers, agriculture lighting engineers, researchers, government agencies, Cornell Cooperative Extension specialists and others.

This new greenhouse consortium is a vital part of New York’s strategy to build a clean, resilient and affordable energy system in the state, according to NYSERDA.

“New York’s greenhouse industry is experiencing rapid growth, making quick and meaningful action key to ensuring new and existing greenhouses are energy-efficient and highly productive,” said John B. Rhodes, President and CEO, NYSERDA. “The consortium’s work will advance Governor Cuomo’s energy goals and New York’s vital agriculture sector.”

The consortium is being organized to persist as a self-sustaining group. When the seven-year funding commitment ends, the consortium plans to continue to be viable by working with companies and partners to develop an organization that can respond to industry needs.


For more information:

Joe Schwartz
office: 607-254-6235
cell: 607-882-3774

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews. For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.