Modeling the Unknown – Why Light Calculations are So Hard

When I was a chemical engineering undergraduate student we had a class called process design and economics. We took a chemical product (for example, ammonia) and designed all the unit operations and facilities necessary to most efficiently produce the product while at the same time calculating cost and return on investment (ROI). This was my favorite class because it was the closest thing to designing my own factory.



Figuring out the most cost-effective way to produce a chemical is one thing, figuring out how to do this for living things is quite another matter.

While we can control the equipment we design and quite accurately model the process parameters, there is still so much we don’t understand when it comes to light and plants.

In the scientific community, we still don’t understand all the intricacies of photosynthesis and light response pathways, nor can we model the millions of ways light, humidity, temperature, nutrients, and gene expression interact. We don’t have all plant genomes mapped out – and for those we do, we have only a fraction of the genes annotated.  What this means is that although we can calculate the cost, efficiencies, and mechanical aspects of lighting; it’s modeling the effects of light on the end product (which is living) that is much more challenging.


As I’ve said before, I like a challenge. That’s why in this next quarter I’ll be putting together research and calculations for the sole purpose of better understanding and modeling the conversion of electricity to light and light to plants. The goal: to come up with strategies in which we can model horticulture lighting from both the unit operations and the efficiency standpoint. Eventually, as we understand more about light and particular crops, we can complete the model with better understanding of expected yields and changes due to crop species.  Meaning, these models will be a work in progress.

For now, the goal is agreeing on a framework. This is not an easy task, like building a hypothetical ammonia factory.

This is real life. It involves real dollars.

Therefore, I ask for honest, scientific, mathematical input. As you read through my reports, feel free to contact Illumitex or myself with any feedback. In my opinion, a better world is a world where our dollars and energy lead to a more sustainable food production system – which will require teamwork between all of us…

Let the calculations begin.

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