Research Projects – Controlled Environment Agriculture (NEMALI Lab)

Research Projects

1. Increasing Lettuce Yield in Organic Production using Hydroponic Systems

Hydroponically produced crops can receive USDA certification as long as the certifier can demonstrate that the crop is produced in a way that complies with the standard guidelines. A premium of nearly 50% is charged for organic compared to conventional lettuce. However, lettuce yield is lower when certified organic fertilizers are used to grow using soilless substrates in recycling hydroponic systems. This is related to slow-release of nutrients from organic fertilizers.


The current project uses a systems approach to increase lettuce yield in organic production using hydroponic systems:


We are custom building image sensors with IoT capability to measure crop growth and nitrogen stress index in lettuce plants. These sensors can predict the right time to apply liquid organic fertilizers to the crop and reduce wastage of expensive liquid feeds.

2. Increase the Nutritive Value of Leafy Greens by Optimizing Spectral Composition:

We are currently testing the effects of different light spectra on vitamin A and vitamin K levels in leafy greens. The goal of the project is to improve ‘crop value’ by increasing healthy nutrients while maintaining crop productivity

3. Develop Best Practices for Producing E.coli-free Lettuce in Indoor and Greenhouse Hydroponic Production:

The goal of the project is to utilize UV sterilization and water sanitization approaches to produce E.coli-free lettuce in indoor and greenhouse production. The project is a collaborative effort between our lab and Dr. Amanda Deering from Food Science Department at Purdue. The research is funded by USDA SCBG.











4. Develop Affordable and Efficient Hydroponic/Aeroponic Production Systems

The goal is to compare different hydroponic/aeroponic production technologies for applicability to small-scale growers. The objective is to compare yield and water-use among different systems. We are testing different custom-built and commercial hydroponic and aeroponic technologies for their efficacy. The project is funded by USDA FAS.











5. Smart Sensors for Monitoring Plants

We are developing novel technologies that allow greenhouse growers to use smartphones monitor several plant traits of economic value include size, area, number of flowers, height, damage area, nitrogen stress, and shelf-life.














6. Develop region-specific best production technology for greenhouse and indoor hydroponic production systems

The project researches different supplemental lighting, spectral composition, rootzone heating, production systems, recycling techniques, and varieties of lettuce to develop guidelines for maximizing productivity of hydroponic lettuce production during different months of the year in the US Midwest in greenhouse systems. For indoor production systems, the project tested different LED light spectra, commercial fixtures, and lettuce varieties for maximizing crop productivity and optimizing electrical energy use in  production.



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