Two of Japan's chip companies have decided to grow lettuce and other vegetables in idle semiconductor clean rooms, using specialized lighting to replace sunlight.
The clean-room environment is dust-free and germ-free, as it would be for the production of integrated circuits. As a result, no pesticide is used, and the lettuce stays fresher for longer.
Fujitsu Semiconductor and Toshiba Corp have both started to grow greens and believe the tightly controlled conditions produce superior plants that can be tuned in terms of trace elements and therefore for taste or for specialized diets to meet healthcare needs.
Fujitsu has begun selling low-potassium lettuce, grown in a clean room at its semiconductor plant in Aizu-Wakamatsu, Fukushima prefecture. Fukishima is the region that experienced a nuclear reactor meltdown on March 11, 2011.
Artist's impression of Toshiba cleanroom vegetable facility.
Toshiba has announced a similar initiative and has begun construction of a vegetable clean room at an idle semiconductor facility in Yokosuka, Kanagawa prefecture. Toshiba plans to start shipping lettuce, baby leaf greens, spinach, mizuna, and other vegetables in the summer.
The vegetable facility will be equipped with closed growing systems that integrate lighting with a wavelength optimized for vegetable growth and air-conditioning systems that maintain constant temperature and moisture level, and the production management system is based on that used for semiconductor device production. As well as making sales to supermarkets, Toshiba expects to offer functional vegetables tuned to be rich in polyphenols and vitamin C, achieved by careful control of the growth environment.
Fujitsu is hoping to post annual revenues of 400 million yen (about US$4 million) from the Kirei Yasai line in the year ending March 2017, while Toshiba is estimating annual sales of about 300 million yen. However, Toshiba is also considering construction of a purpose-built, mega-veggie fab and creating a business around the sale of equipment and systems for vegetable fabs in its current financial year.
— Peter Clarke is the editor of EE Times Europe Analog.
Article first published on EE Times Europe.