The World's Largest LED Hydroponic Farm Used to Be a Sony Factory

As climate change begins posing new challenges to conventional outdoor food production methods, hydroponic farming has made quick gains in popularity thanks to its space- and energy-saving design. This enormous indoor lettuce farm for example—the largest of its kind in the world—produces 10,000 heads a day in less space than a single American football field and could signal a sea change in how we get our greens.

This 25,000 square foot (roughly half a football field) indoor farm actually used to be a Sony semiconductor plant in Japan's Miyagi Prefecture. That is, until plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimamura set about converting it into the world's largest indoor farm illuminated by LED.

Using LED bulbs developed by GE, designed to produce the optimal wavelength of light that plants crave, Shimamura is able to accelerate plant growth by 250 percent. "What we need to do is not just setting up more days and nights," he said in a press release. "We want to achieve the best combination of photosynthesis during the day and breathing at night by controlling the lighting and the environment."

To that end, the farm uses 17,500 LED lights spread across 18 cultivation racks, each towering 16 levels high. Combined with tightly modulated temperature and humidity levels within the grow room, this system has already shown significant advantages over outdoor farms since coming online earlier this year: Produce waste has been cut from 50 percent of a harvest to just 10, productivity per square foot has increased 100 fold, and water usage has been slashed to just 1 percent of what a conventional farm would consume.

Shimamura's indoor farming company, Mirai, is currently working with GE to set up similar "plant factories" in both Hong Kong and Eastern Russia. Should the method continue to gain traction—as it has in Chicago—we could very well be looking at the future of agriculture. [GE Reports]