Vertical Farming using LED lights – Interview with Céline Nicole, Philips Lighting Research

Vertical Farming using LED lights – Interview with Céline Nicole, Philips Lighting Research

Céline Nicole, from Philips Lighting Research will present her vision on the developments of Vertical Farming using LED lights on the 28th of June, at the Vertical Farming Conference in Venlo, The Netherlands.

Plant scientist and researcher Céline Nicole worked at Philips Horticulture LEDs solutions for 8 years and at the Philips Lighting Research for 16 years.

Since the year 2000, vertical farms have been introduced to grow vegetables and soft fruits. As LED lights became increasingly efficient they have become the light source of choice for commercial scale vertical farming.

How has vertical farming become so efficient?

“With the growing population, living in cities more and more, we need a solution to feed the world. Vertical farming represents a contribution to meeting that challenge. With this technology, growing conditions can be controlled including the climate, the water, nutrition and the light. Philips Lighting uses different light combinations which we call light recipes. These are a combination of different LED colours (spectrum), intensity and lighting hours per day. In vertical farming, water is re-used making this system very sustainable for water usage (more than 90% on water savings). No pesticides or other chemicals are used because there are no external influences getting inside the farm and everything used inside the farm is sterile. Accurate control of the climate allows crop growth in the best conditions. And because there are no seasons inside the farm, the yield per year is the highest of what can be achieved compared to other ways of growing crops.,” according to Nicole.

In addition, vertical farms can be built close to or in cities, allowing the shortest time from farm to fork. That increases useful shelf-life of the fresh produce and improves logistics, and therefore also contributes to reduced food waste.

You create an indoor climate, but is that good for the vegetables, as nature has its reasons for varying conditions.

Nature and climate varies much on the surface of the globe. For plant growth, tropical regions are rather mild in temperature and humidity, while continental or temperate climates have colder and warmer months with variations in humidity. Vegetables are originating from all over the world and have therefore evolved for different climate and light conditions. In a vertical farm it is possible to create a climate close to the optimal growing conditions for each variety.

For example, spinach likes it cold, especially at the start of growth and we can adjust the climate in order to optimize its growth and quality. In contrast, Basil likes it warm because it is a tropical plant, but it is grown in Europe as an annual crop. This is changing with vertical farming as we can now grow Basil at any time of the year, regardless of the season, and of a very high quality.

“Optimizing growing conditions for plants doesn’t always necessarily mean that it is good for the plant, sometimes it is done to achieve benefits for the consumer. For example, growing red oak lettuce in a climate and with light settings that is good for plant biomass production will not always create a good red colour like it would when grown outside in the summer. This is in fact a ‘stress response’ due to the UV component in sunlight. With the knowledge that we are gathering at Grow Wise centre and with our customers, we are developing and fine-tuning growth recipes for different crops. With vertical farming we can create climates and light conditions that mimic the natural environmental changes, in order to trigger the plant to produce those photo protective pigments (anthocyanin) and make them identical to when grown outside,” says Nicole.

Can you elaborate on Nitrates and health?

For decades there has been a controversy about assessing the possible negative health effects of nitrates ingested from vegetables. Over the past 5-10 years, more and more articles have appeared claiming the opposite, that nitrate consumption is healthy. It was shown to have an antimicrobial activity and also to enable the body to produce nitric oxide which is believed to have an important physiological role in vascoregulation and therefore beneficial for cardiovascular patients. The vascoregulation has been proved and is used by high level sportive people who need to perform in a short time frame. Still, the association of high nitrate levels has a negative impact on consumer minds. The Dutch food authorities’ recommendation has recently changed the advice on spinach and high nitrate vegetables. The limitation of daily uptake in grams has vanished in the Netherlands and some other countries. This is probably due to recent research showing that people eating on average more vegetables per day are more likely to be healthy. However, since there is no scientific consensus, it is wise to know how to limit the amount of nitrate when growing leafy vegetables, especially for those vegetables containing a lot (like spinach or rucola).

“With vertical farming we can provide both, low or high nitrate vegetables. Some of our customers desire to have a very low nitrate level in leafy vegetables, and we can help them by providing this. We can also provide a ‘runners’ lettuce with an ultra-high nitrate content if anyone asks. For sure, with vertical farming we are preventing pollution of the environment from overusing nitrogen fertilizers as the irrigation circuit is closed and water is recycled.” Concludes Nicole

For more information and registration to the Vertical Farming Conference, we invite you to visit

The interview was made by Jakajima, the organiser of the conference. For more interviews with speakers at Jakajima conferences, we invite you to visit Jakajima’s website

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