University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental doctoral student Erico Rolim de Mattos foresees a world where exploding human populations, global climate change and land over-development has rendered mankind incapable of producing enough food to sustain humanity.

This scenario is a very real possibility, and it has captured the minds of specialists from organizations like NASA and the United Nations.

Mattos has an idea that may help solve the problem, however, and it recently won him a $30,000 scholarship to an intensive 10-week graduate studies program at Singularity University, a Silicon Valley ideas incubator that seeks to solve the planet’s most pressing challenges using advanced technologies.

He proposes the use of LED lights and advanced computer monitoring systems to provide artificial light in structures known as vertical farms. These immense greenhouse-like buildings are dedicated to the production of indoor food crops.

“The biggest problem with vertical farming is energy consumption,” said Mattos, a doctoral candidate in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences department of crop and soil sciences. “Using this intelligent light system that we are developing here, we can make vertical farms feasible from the point of view of lights.”

A large indoor farm using traditional grow lights would require massive amounts of electricity to operate. But Mattos’ system works much more efficiently. An energy-efficient LED array above crops provides the light.