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Growing a brighter future with Mitacs-Accelerate

Commercial greenhouses provide significant benefits over traditional outdoor crop growing, particularly in cool climate countries such as Canada. They allow for year-round crop production while protecting plants from the harsh environment, pests and diseases.

But one of the biggest costs greenhouse operators face is for the energy required to run their lighting systems.  Many greenhouses use inefficient electric lights to compliment light from the sun, particularly in winter.

GE Lighting Solutions, based in Lachine, Québec, sought to develop a new range of LED lighting applications for the greenhouse industry which not only cut down on energy use but also increase plant growth and yields.

Through Mitacs-Accelerate, Masters of Science students Michael Schwalb and Julie Gagne, along with Post-Doctoral Fellow Most Tehera Naznin from the Department of Bioresource Engineering at McGill University, took on the challenge to calibrate the optimal LED light wavelength in order to maximize plant growth.

It is already known that plants react better to certain light wavelengths.  The interns, working under McGill University’s Dr. Mark Lefsrud, set out to find the optimal lighting colors and intensity to both maximize growth and maintain energy efficiency in the lighting array.

The experiments focused on observing the plant’s photosynthetic response to varying light quality. The research has led to the development of prototype LEDs, with specific light wavelengths, which help maximize plant growth and energy efficiency, which are now being trialed.

As Schwalb explains, the new LEDs could make greenhouses cheaper to operate and reduce the cost of food.  “LEDs have a lot of potential as a supplemental light source in greenhouses. Unlike fluorescent, high intensity discharge, or other traditional light sources, the spectrum of an LED light can be manipulated and optimized for plant growth. Current lights were developed for human applications but our research has focused on selecting light wavelengths specifically for plants.”

Program Manager at GE Lighting Solutions, Jean-Francois Richard said that “Mitacs-Accelerate helped create a synergy between industry and research so we could leverage the academic expertise of the interns.  It has ultimately helped us design better LED lighting products which will help Canadian greenhouse growers become more profitable and competitive in the global marketplace.  It exemplifies successful collaboration driving technological innovation.”

Mitacs gratefully acknowledges Industry Canada, the Networks of Centres of Excellence's Industrial Research and Development Internship program and the Government of Québec for their support of Mitacs-Accelerate in the province.