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A*STAR’s Agritech Programme champions innovation in farming in Singapore

PHOTOCREDIT: www.a-star.edu.sg

In Singapore, the government has established a nationwide “30 by 30” initiative, which is a goal to produce 30 per cent of the nation’s nutritional needs locally by 2030 to strengthen their position on food security. This in turn has sparked an increase in research and development in agritech.

Traditional farming methods have been majorly affected by rising temperatures, droughts or flooding caused by global warming, meaning their yields are hard to predict and crops sometimes completely destroyed. These increasing disasters and worrying trends have prompted the search for more sustainable and efficient methods of farming. Many countries, governments and farm owners are turning to agriculture technology to improve their farming outcomes.

To support Singapore’s ambitious goal, A*STAR’s Agritech and Aquaculture Horizontal Technology Programme Office (A2HTPO) is championing efforts to bring cutting edge technologies to the farming community in Singapore.

This multi-disciplinary approach draws on A*STAR’s wide-ranging expertise, from biology and life sciences to robotics and automation, and enables them to develop innovative solutions that address key challenges and problems in agritech.

The hybrid lighting system maximises crop growth

One of A*STAR’s latest projects features research in sustainable hybrid lighting systems.

They find out how innovations in lighting technologies create an environment where vegetables can be produced with higher yields, reduced energy consumption and lowered carbon footprint.

This technology optimises the use of both natural sun and artificial lighting – LED, to improve crop yield and reduce energy consumption in greenhouses and vertical indoor farms.

The hybrid lighting system maximises crop growth by customising and finetuning light wavelengths – blue, red, white, to achieve optimal photosynthesis rates.

The lighting system is in the development stage and we expect the working prototype to be ready in late 2021. The programme is hosted by the Institute of Material Research and Engineering (IMRE) and co-lead by the Institute of High-Performance Computing (IHPC), Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech), National University of Singapore, Temasek Life Sciences Laboratory and Nanyang Technological University.

Tackling Challenges Faced by Local Farms

The project targets to achieve ambitious energy savings of up to 80 per cent and improve crop yield by tackling key challenges faced by local farms:

Land Constraints
Where land is scarce in Singapore, indoor vertical farms are under pressure to produce more agricultural output per unit of land area. The hybrid lighting system can increase lighting coverage in vertically stacked farms – adding an additional layer means an additional 100% of crops that can be grown within the same area. The hybrid lighting system is also able to maximise crop growth by customising and finetuning light wavelengths to achieve optimal photosynthesis rates.

High Consumption of Energy
Indoor farms consume a high amount of energy; this is not only costly, but it is also damaging to the environment. Up to 70 per cent of electricity is used in indoor farms to power artificial lighting. Innovation in LED lighting, which uses at least 75 per cent less energy and lasts 25 times longer than incandescent and fluorescent lighting2, has the potential to be a game-changer.

Tropical Climate Hinders Growth
Crops that do not receive enough light take a longer time to reach mature stage. In tropical Singapore, we experience cloudiness and rain for at least a third of the year, which can affect crop production. The hybrid lighting system can increase lighting coverage as and when required to promote crop growth.

A*STAR Collaborations with local and international firms

A2HTPO, together with A*STAR scientists, is working closely with local farms to further improve and validate the energy-saving hybrid lighting system.  Research collaboration agreements have been recently signed with three companies, &ever Singapore Pte Ltd, LivFresh Pte Ltd and Life3 Agritech Pte Ltd.

&ever is an indoor vertical farming company originating from Germany. They are setting up their Global R&D Centre in Singapore.

LivFresh is a local greenhouse farm that uses an advanced, data-driven, climate-controlled facility to grow local greens by applying state-of-the-art hydroponic technology. A

Life3 Agritech is the subsidiary of the local food tech start-up Life3 Biotech. Life3 Biotech is setting up Singapore’s first integrated agri-food pilot facility. Their project collaboration with IMRE is related to tunable lighting solutions for indoor farming. The developed lighting solution aims to improve their productivity in their R&D and farm operation.

Through these collaborations, A2HTPO plans to improve its research quality and introduce new innovations to the local agritech industry.

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