Scientists are growing beer hops in energy-efficient greenhouses

Beer, here !
Image: Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Inside a spacious greenhouse in Fort Collins, Colorado, a kaleidoscope of red and blue illuminations ray down on rows of hop plants.

Hops are a key ingredient in beer, and they typically flower just once a year in this mountainous nation. But Bill Bauerle, who runs the greenhouse, lately picked his fourth crop since January thanks to the manipulative powers of his energy-efficient, color-changing LED lights.

Bauerle is a professor of horticulture at Colorado State University and an expert in hoponics the science and technology of growing hydroponic hops.

After each harvest, he trucks the fragrant, pine cone-shaped-flowers over to nearby craft breweries, which transform the fresh hops into small batches of India pale, extra pale or golden ales.

Bill Bauerle’s hop plants grow under artificial light.

Image: CSU Photography

A new greenhouse at Colorado State University is equipped with LED lighting.

Image: CSU photography

With his 3,200 -square-foot research operation, Bauerle said he hopes to create a new business model to fulfill Colorados insatiable thirst for locally-made craft beers.

These breweries would like a local, quality hop. They havent been able to get that up until now, Bauerle told Mashable from Fort Collins.

The greenhouse boom

Bauerles project is one in an expanding field of agricultural experimentations that are using LED( light-emitting diode) lamps and other innovative greenhouse technologies.

Researchers are producing new assortments of plants and growing fruits and vegetables in regions where chilly weather, harsh rainfalls or absence of sunlight previously precluded such harvests.

In the Netherlands, researchers at Wageningen University are employing specially-calibrated LED illuminations in greenhouses to grow juicy tomatoes with 50 percentage more Vitamin C than ordinary versions. In Japan, plant scientists are producing 10,000 heads of lettuce a day at a massive indoor farm built in a former semiconductor factory.

As a general rule of thumb, if its green and it grows, LEDs probably have a fit in terms of affecting how[ plants] grow in a controlled surrounding, Ron Dekok, director of horticulture LED answers at Philips Lighting, said in a phone interview.

An employee pickings tomatoes at an experimental greenhouse in Guipavas, western France.

Image: FRED TANNEAU/ AFP/ Getty Images

Philips Lighting the LED systems in Bauerles greenhouse as part of a long-term partnership with Colorado State University. The Amsterdam-based manufacturer is also working on greenhouse projects to grow lettuce in London, tomatoes in Englands Isle of Wight and fruits and herbs in the Dutch town of Eindhoven.

If we can complement what the sunlight is doing, and extend day durations or increase light available to the plant, the world is wide open to this research developing, Dekok said.

Lighting up

LEDs have two main benefits for greenhouse growers compared to other types of illuminating, such as high-pressure sodium lamps.

First, digital controls can easily adjust the LEDs to shine particular parts of the color spectrum. Red light is the most efficient colouring for promoting photosynthesis. Blue illuminations trigger the plants pores called stomata to take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen and water, who are capable of boost plants health.

Second, LEDs are much more energy-efficient than traditional light sources, a crucial feature considering that greenhouses consume hefty quantities of energy to mimic the sun’s light. LEDs can reduce a greenhouses energy consumption by up to 70 percentage is comparable to other lighting, according to a 2012 analyze by Pennsylvania State University.

This also benefits energy-hungry houses such as warehouses and hospitals.

An LED system, for example, can make the same amount of light as a similarly sized fluorescent light but with 60 percentage less energy, Jay Black, a vice president at Revolution Lighting Technologies Inc ., a Connecticut-based LED manufacturer, told Mashable .

LEDs can also last longer in some cases, beaming light for around 100,000 hours before burning out, compared to 25,000 hours with fluorescents, Black said.

Hacking hops

In Bauerles case, the Fort Collins greenhouse allows him to tinker with methods used to growing far more hops than beer-obsessed Colorado could make outdoors.

Hops, a key ingredient in beer.

Image: UIG via Getty Images

The professor can grow hops year-round, even during the months when the states blustery breezes and hailstorms would destroy most crops. Since the hops are grown hydroponically entailing the roots are in an aquatic system , not soil the plants receive water and fertilizer multiple times a day, is comparable to just a few days per harvest outside.

The hops wont become just any type of beer. Theyre earmarked for wet hop brews, which are made with freshly-picked hops and boast a more intense flavor.

Fresh hops must be brewed within one to two days after being mechanically picked from the vine; otherwise their chemical components degraded too quickly. Most brewers use dried hops that, while delivering less flavor, can be brewed on a more relaxed timescale.

A Colorado brewer holds a glass of craft beer.

Image: Denver Post via Getty Images

Its like use fresh herbs instead of dry herbs the optimal way to use them is when theyre fresh, Bauerle said.

Up until now, Colorado brewers could only get fresh hops once a year, around the harvest in late August to early September. Bauerle said he expects to get five harvests before the end of this year, a number that may rise if Colorado entrepreneurs build their own hops-friendly greenhouses.

His fourth harvest this year wrapped up in mid-August, and his fifth will likely take place in late December.

Bauerle now plans to keep hacking his hydroponic hops to find the most bountiful, commercially viable way to grow the plants. I plan to focus my career route on this from this point forward, he said.

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