LED Lighting for Optimization

Dr. Matt Wheatley
February 22, 2018
By Dr. Matt Wheatley
Light and Your Environment: Dr. Matt Wheatley explains growers who want to leverage LED lighting should take the time to understand environmental factors like photosyntheses efficiency, leaf temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide concentration, and light intensity.
Light and Your Environment: Dr. Matt Wheatley explains growers who want to leverage LED lighting should take the time to understand environmental factors like photosyntheses efficiency, leaf temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide concentration, and light intensity.
The newest generation of powerful LED grow lights have changed the way that licensed producers (LPs) maximize profits and crop quality. Growers at LPs often ask what adjustments need to be made to their growing environment in order to optimize their facility for LED lighting.


Well, one answer to these questions is that new and experienced growers who want to reap the benefits of an LED strategy should familiarize themselves with the relationships between environmental factors that affect the efficiency of photosynthesis; leaf temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide concentration, and light intensity.

When it comes to lighting, LPs should keep in mind the following factors: The effect of temperature on photosynthetic rate; how temperature and CO2 concentration are intimately linked to plant growth at higher temperatures; and compare the differences between ambient temperatures in high-pressure sodium (HPS) and LED grow rooms.

Leaf Temperature VERSUS Ambient Room Temperature
When scientists discuss photosynthesis and temperature, they typically reference leaf temperature, not the ambient room temperature. This makes sense given that the biochemistry of photosynthesis takes place inside plant’s leaves. In contrast, when grow-room designers discuss temperature, they usually reference the ambient room temperature. In most growing environments, the leaf temperature will be higher than the ambient air temperature surrounding the plant. This is especially true for plants grown under HPS lights, which emit infrared radiation that is absorbed as heat by the plant.

Temperature Requirements for Photosynthesis
RuBisCO is the plant enzyme responsible for the chemical reaction that begins carbon fixation. This chemical reaction is seen as the conversion of CO2 and water into simple sugars during photosynthesis. The chemical reaction that RuBisCO performs is temperature dependent.

With full sunlight and ambient CO2 concentrations of about 300 ppm, as well as a temperature range of 5°C to 27°C, the rate at which CO2 is absorbed by the plant and converted to sucrose increases as the temperature increases, leading to increasing gains in net photosynthesis.

If the internal leaf temperature rises above 27°C, RuBisCO enzymes begin to perform the reverse reaction, with some of the RuBisCO enzyme converting sucrose and oxygen into CO2 and water in a process known as photorespiration. As leaf
temperatures approach 40°C, net photosynthesis will become negative as the plant burns more carbon than it gains. So, under normal ambient CO2 levels, a grower will achieve the greatest growth with leaf temperatures just below 27°C.

Fortunately, an indoor grower can adjust their environment to achieve optimal growing conditions. Controlled environments allow growers to maintain optimal temperatures, carbon dioxide concentrations, light intensity and relative humidity. So, let’s explore how a grower can adjust the growing environment to take advantage of high rates of growth that occur at high temperatures.

The Importance of CO2 Enhancement for High Temperature Growing
Increasing CO2 concentrations will extend the temperature range in which RuBisCO may fix CO2 into sugar. With increased CO2, we see that as temperature increases so does the rate of the chemical reaction that RuBisCO performs. This works because an increase in CO2 concentration means that the ratio of chemical substrates to products is being increased. If the CO2 concentrations are increased from ambient 300 ppm to 1,500 ppm, the change in the ratio of reactants to products will allow plants to continue to fix CO2 into sucrose at leaf temperatures well above 27°C, all the way up to about 36°C!

And as the temperature increases, so does the rate of carbon fixation and plant growth. This means, that if they are careful with their environmental controls, growers may achieve very high rates of carbon fixation and plant growth at leaf temperatures well above 30°C.

Infrared Radiation Creates Leaf Temperature Gradients Down the Canopy
HPS bulbs emit a large infrared peak between 800 nm and 900 nm. This infrared peak significantly increases leaf temperatures at the top of the canopy, where most of the infrared light is absorbed. When examining the differences between leaf temperatures of plants grown in the same room under either HPS or LED lights, we will see significant temperature differences that infrared light causes.

In one study, the photosynthetic activity and internal leaf temperature of leaves was measured at different distances from the light source. The internal leaf temperature measurements were very clear.

The leaves of plants under LEDs did not show an increase for internal leaf temperature significantly above the ambient room temp at any distance between two and four feet from the lamp. In contrast, the leaves of plants under the HPS lamps showed a wide range of internal temperatures.

With HPS lamps, the highest temps were apparent at the top of the canopy and lowest internal leaf temperatures were at the bottom of the canopy. This partially explains why HPS lamps produce top-heavy crops while LED lighting creates a more uniform canopy.

Since the rate of carbon fixation by RuBisCO is affected by leaf temperature and CO2 concentration, increasing the ambient temperature in LED-lit rooms will increase the rate of photosynthesis and plant growth.

Raise the Temperature in a LED Room
Based on scientific study and experimentation, researchers have found an increase in the ambient room temperature of 5°C to 7°C in LED-lit rooms, relative to temperatures in HPS grow rooms, is necessary to achieve similar internal leaf temperatures and plant growth rates as those experienced by plants in HPS-lit rooms.

However, it is important to keep in mind that as the ambient room temperature increases, the relative humidity decreases, and proportionate adjustments should be made to the relative humidity to adjust your Vapour Pressure Deficits.


Dr. Matt Wheatley began his career as a cannabis grower by planting his first garden while enrolled in botany classes at Weber State University in northern Utah. He is an independent consultant with LumiGrow Inc. (lumigrow.com).
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