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Sunday, 23 June 2013 22:00

Mood Lighting: New efficient lighting technology creates optimal conditions for plants to grow

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Jeff Mastin, bio-energy development engineer for Venntis, takes light measurements for one the company’s new commercial growing LED products, which uses colors and light intensities to provide optimal environments for plants to grow. Jeff Mastin, bio-energy development engineer for Venntis, takes light measurements for one the company’s new commercial growing LED products, which uses colors and light intensities to provide optimal environments for plants to grow. COURTESY PHOTO

Commercial growers pay great attention to the soils and nutrients they use with their plants, but until now, the lighting in growing operations has been mostly an afterthought.

But that attitude toward lighting could change with a new product from a Holland-based company that has the potential to help growers both produce better plants and reduce their energy consumption.

The 150-watt volumetric light emitting diode (LED) technology sprung from United Lumen, a joint venture developed last year involving Venntis Technologies LLC, LumenFlow Corp. in Middleville and help from Dow Corning and Zeeland-based Ventura Manufacturing.

Venntis says the new LED system should result in better quality plants, increased process efficiency and ultimately reduced energy costs once it goes on sale starting in July.

While companies find more applications for LEDs as an efficient option compared to traditional lighting sources, not many operations have explored their potential uses in commercial growing operations, said Dr. Erik Runkle, associate professor and floriculture production specialist at Michigan State University Extension.

Engineers at Venntis and MSU researchers are sharing ideas and data on varying combinations of LED intensity, color and position in hopes of tailoring lighting to optimize plant growth.

With nearly two years of development under their belts, Venntis and its partners think they have a game-changing product that fills an unmet need in commercial growing operations and helps to plot a new course for the company.

“With current lighting like metal-halides and other high-pressure sodium lights, they’ve mostly been designed around people,” said Justin Teitts, CEO of Venntis. “In talking with commercial growers, the discussion is always around energy. With LEDs, energy (savings) is given, so it’s really about getting secondary benefits.”

Beyond reducing energy costs, engineers at Venntis are trying to figure out how to give commercial growers more certainly with their crops, reduce plant rotation and cut waste.

The company is committed to taking the commercial growing industry to the next level, Teitts said, and it even keeps a biologist on staff. Venntis also has aggressive goals for the new LED product. While there is big opportunity for the company to market its product in the states surrounding Michigan, Venntis already has a presence on the West Coast, in the Southeast and in Asia because of its established history in wireless and touch technology and in integrated circuits.

“We think we can quickly develop a global presence with this product,” said Dan Fischer, vice president of new business development for Venntis. “When we look at what others are doing throughout the world in lighting, we think we have a novel solution to solving a lot of problems that currently cannot be solved by the current technology.”

The company is already receiving inquiries throughout the state, said Kevin Bird, CEO for United Lumen.

“We’re constantly getting pulled by opportunities to support what others are doing in their markets,” he said.

The macro level factors driving the market for Venntis’ agriculture-specific LEDs include mounting climate and environmental concerns, population growth and a scarcity of land. It’s the latter two factors that company leaders expect will push agriculture indoors to accommodate more off-season growing capabilities.

Right now, one of the biggest challenges for Venntis is staying focused on the launch of its new volumetric LED, executives said. Because of its multiple capabilities, the outfit is getting pulled in numerous directions ranging from consumer electronics to automotive applications.

“What’s happening in the lighting world is not quantity of light but quality of light,” said Mark Leonard, business development manager for Venntis. “The world of lighting is going to change significantly in the next five years. The optics of it are going to change dramatically. It can be more expensive now, but if you want to manage your power grid effectively in the future, LEDs are part of the solution.”

The company’s product also fits with growers’ triple bottom line approach to business. Teitts believes LEDs will replace all conventional lights in agricultural production operations because of their energy efficiency payback.

Venntis also looks to develop connections with others in the industry, he said.

“The suggestion in that model is we partner to thrive,” Teitts said.

Venntis has also started working with researchers at the MSU Extension to determine how to use different light spectrums to manage poultry in open and closed environments.

MSU’s Runkle said many people in the company’s target customer market — commercial growers and agriculture — are increasingly interested in the new LED product and are asking about it on a regular basis.

“The technology is advancing rapidly already,” he said, noting the capacity for innovation in LEDs should continue for the foreseeable future. “As devices continue to get better and better, we’re going to get more and more details. There are quite a few more years of research on this idea, partly just because we are at the beginning.”

Read 4608 times Last modified on Friday, 19 July 2013 12:00