One of the deterrents to the commercial adoption of controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) on a broad scale is the significant energy cost for lighting and thermal environmental control. Advances in energy conversion technologies, such as internal combustion engines (ICs), microturbines and fuel cells, offer the potential for combined heat and power (CHP) systems, which can be matched with the needs of CEA to reduce fossil-based fuels consumption. A principal concept delineated is that an integrated entrepreneurial approach to create business and community partnerships can enhance the value of energy produced (both electrical and heat). Energy production data from a commercial dairy farm is contrasted with energy use data from two greenhouse operations with varying energy-input requirements. Biogass produced from a 500-cow dairy combined with a 250-kW fuel cell could meet nearly all of the energy needs of both the dairy and an energy-intensive 740-m2 CEA greenhouse lettuce facility. The data suggest CEA greenhouses and other closely compatible enterprises can be developed to significantly alter agriculture, as we have known it.
The Sun Grant Initiative is a new Act of Congress (Sec. 9011 of Title IX of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act) that reflects a new vision for the future in agriculture. The Sun Grant Initiative is driven by a national consortium of land grant universities, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy. The mission of the Sun Grant Initiative is to 1) enhance national energy security through development, distribution, and implementation of biobased energy technologies; 2) promote diversification and environmental sustainability of America's agriculture through land-grant based research, extension, and education programs in renewable energy and biobased products; and 3) promote opportunities for biobased economic diversification in rural communities. Bioenergy produced on American farms represents an opportunity to both reduce dependence on imported oil and provide a significant source of income to American farmers.