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Semiconductor factory turned into high-tech indoor veggie farm

A defunct factory in Japan has a new life as an LED-powered indoor farm that turns out 10,000 heads of lettuce per day.

Factory farm
Stacks of lettuce grow in a controlled environment. GE Reports

I've spent the last few months puttering around my garden, dedicating hours to planting, watering, weeding, and catching squash bugs. What I have to show for it so far is a dozen tomatos and a handful of cucumbers. That's a pittance compared to what Shigeharu Shimamura, a plant physiologist in Japan, has done with an old factory and a host of special LED fixtures.

Shimamura has a bit more room to work with than most gardeners. He has a whole former Sony semiconductor factory totaling 25,000 square feet to raise plants. He's not at the whims of the weather, either. He uses GE-developed LED fixtures designed to offer the perfect light wavelengths for plants. The veggies sit in epic cultivation racks stretching up 16 levels, dwarfing the people who work there.

"I knew how to grow good vegetables biologically and I wanted to integrate that knowledge with hardware to make things happen," Shimamura tells GE Reports. He says this new method of farming grows lettuce more than twice as fast as a conventional farm while reducing the amount of unusable produce to just 10 percent, compared to 50 percent at outdoor farms.

The high-tech farm uses a total of 17,500 LED lights which are used to mimic day and night. This is enabled by technology advances in LEDs that allow for slimmer lights to fit inside the cultivation racks.

The indoor environment lets Shimamura control minute details of irrigation, light, and humidity to create ideal growing conditions. As shifting climates and growing populations place greater stresses on food production, it may be that more veggies will come from factories than farms.