As climate change becomes part of our everyday lives, an increasing number of consumers are asking for and purchasing products that have been produced sustainably, including fruits and vegetables. In response to consumer demands but also aware of the environmental costs of energy usage, leading tomato producer Lans Group of The Netherlands and Budapest-based Tungsram have jointly developed LEDFan, a new toplight for greenhouses that they say promises to revolutionize the industry.
Sustainability and innovation are at the root of both Lans Group’s and Tungsram’s corporate mission. Lans Group, a leading global tomato grower, has been in the market for nearly half a century while Tungsram’s history spans close to two centuries. The two parties have developed a new toplight for greenhouses that is built on a novel idea and promises to be more efficient. "Versus HPS, LEDs are up to 60% more efficient. In addition, LEDFan provides considerable savings on heating costs due to the utilization of heat losses from the LEDs and drivers', they say.
LEDFan in the making
Lans Group grows seven different types of tomatoes on 80 hectares in three locations in The Netherlands. The company has several subsidiaries that specialize in plant seeds, labor force management, retail, energy, and packaging. The onset of the Covid pandemic combined with the environmentally unsustainable nature of transportation as well as labor and energy costs, has prompted Lans Group to focus on local markets, says Leo van der Lans, chairman of the company.
Lans Group is heavily involved in innovation and development as they seek to stay ahead of market trends and keep an eye on the direction into which the industry is headed. “One of the key considerations for future-proof production is to decrease the amount of energy we use, especially for lighting. LED luminaires are definitely a huge step in this direction. With LEDs, you need a lot less energy for lighting but still a lot of energy for heating (via pipes). This is where the idea of LEDFan is rooted,” says Leo van der Lans.
The history of LEDFan reaches back 5 years when Lans Group partnered up with a company to jointly develop this new kind of LED lamp for greenhouses. Even though the initial results were promising, Lans Group’s partners failed to deliver to the level of their expectations. Lans Group set out to find another partner to work together on the project, and they decided to continue the work with Tungsram.
“In Tungsram, we found a big organization that has the engineering skillset, the flexibility, the manufacturing capabilities, and the financial background to develop new products. Tungsram also has the sourcing skills and the production capacities for the mass production of these lamps. We speak the same language as Tungsram, and this is extremely important. We are growers and making our needs and priorities known and understood by engineers was a high priority,” Leo van der Lans stressed.
A truly revolutionary product
The concept behind the LEDFan toplights is that the fans built into the lamps draw cold air from above the luminaires, the air is heated by the LED modules and the drivers, using their heat losses. The warm air is blown downwards. The warm air forms an air blanket between the crop and the luminaires, forming an invisible energy screen. When the warm air from heat pipes rises, some of the heat goes through the warm air blanket, but some is blocked by it, keeping the warm air from the heat pipes longer between the crops and thus increasing the efficiency of the whole heating system.
As an additional advantage, the warmed-up air can hold more water, stimulating the evaporation of the plants, thus stimulating photosynthesis, and reducing the risks of foliar diseases like mildew. Due to the increased evaporation, we can even open our screens and windows less than on the HPS side. “This is a kind of revolution in the industry. LEDFan shows the direction where we have to go. It’s a one-of-a-kind product, the first on the market, that allows us to use less electricity, less heat and it’s good for the plants,” Leo van der Lans says.
The first lamps have already rolled off Tungsram’s production lines in Hungary and 1,500 have been installed on a 1,5-hectare full LED area in Lans Group’s greenhouses in The Netherlands. This is the first commercial installation of LEDFans, and Lans Group is doing various measurements to show the benefits of this product. RVO has delivered a significant contribution in realising this full-scale installation by approving the MEI- subsidies (Market introduction Energy-Innovations) for this innovation in horticulture lighting. Compared to their HPS installation Lans have increased light levels by 39%, yet still have recognized 17% savings on electricity and are expected to save 15% on heating cost. This two-fold impact enables Lans to increase yield whilst reducing operating costs significantly.
With LED lamps currently available on the market, it is difficult to have a full LED installation. Most growers use a hybrid solution combining LED lamps with old-fashioned bulbs. With LEDFan, a full LED solution is now within reach even for colder climates. The technology behind LEDFan ensures an optimal light distribution with the lowest possible light loss.
Developed for growers by growers
“We wanted to make with Tungsram a lamp that is good for all the growers. I am fully satisfied with the new lamps, they work perfectly and the tomatoes, which grow beautifully under them, prove this. Plants never lie,” Leo van der Lans says.