Controlled environment agriculture, or CEA, is quickly becoming a way to address food insecurity and pollution while offering something to do with large, abandoned buildings. Whether it is called indoor agriculture or CEA, its technologies and markets are the way of the future. 

Emerging Markets 

Vertically-grown lettuce 

Instead of needing acres of land to yield a large crop of lettuce, it can grow in rows stacked atop each other – vertically – in a sealed building or container. This is where repurposing an unoccupied building, building on land not adequate or zoned for agriculture, or even on top of a building in the inner city has its place. In addition, companies are growing year-round greens for consumption using emerging technologies, including LED grow lights and automated controls. 

There is a worldwide audience for lettuce. Some companies like Gotham Greens are even targeting urban areas resulting in 

  1. Increased access to inner cities  
  2. Decreased water usage  
  3. Decreased transportation of food across the US 
  4. Reduced carbon associated with food/water waste and transport 

Another benefit is year-round nutritional vegetables for communities, even in locations where the climate can be challenging. 

With the world population increasing and access to affordable, suitable land for growth decreasing, it’s crucial to invest in these emerging markets. It’s a great way to optimize real estate and resources and produce the most food possible, whether the area is rural or urban. Find more information on urban farming and food security in this article on TastingTable. 


Mushrooms are having a big moment, including multiple documentaries, books, puzzles and even nail polish! They are popular in culinary, psychology, wellness, and even home décor. With promising research and development happening in all areas, we can expect to see more mushroom farms popping up across the country to meet the demand.  

While mushrooms don’t need intensive light like cannabis or other produce, they are almost always grown in a controlled environment indoors, where temperature and moisture are closely regulated. There are many different varieties of mushrooms – over 10k! As an introduction to mushroom varieties, Better Homes & Gardens covers ten that are great for cooking.  


Emerging Technologies 

Heat pumps*

Heat pumps can range widely in capabilities, size, shape, and efficiency. In our work across the US, we’ve seen some excellent applications in the CEA market. Here are three. 

Variable refrigerant flow (VRF)
In complex indoor cannabis spaces, VRFs allow one system to efficiently serve multiple zones simultaneously.

Air-source heat pumps
Combined with a fossil fuel backup, this technology shows promise in helping northern climate greenhouses support year-round growth.

Ground-source or geothermal
These heat pumps are a common technology used outside the US that will undoubtedly continue their success in the future greenhouse market.

Tip: Use a reliable contractor for heat pump installations, as refrigerant can be hazardous to the environment if not handled properly. As with any HVAC system, it’s wise to schedule regular maintenance for heat pumps. You’ll want to limit biological concerns like mold or bugs gaining access to the grow space that may sneak in if systems aren’t maintained or appropriately designed for your space. 

LED grow lights 

LED lights can efficiently and effectively replace high-pressure sodium (HPS) grow lights, which have been the industry’s gold standard since the disco ball era. Thanks to rapid advancement by LED manufacturers, incentives from utilities, and the technical requirements put in place by the DesignLights Consortium (DLC), LED grow lights have recently stepped up their quality and efficacy games.  

The development of exciting, new products and capabilities make LEDs an emerging technology. DLC is going through the review process to increase LED’s efficacy and controllability, pushing the market to create even higher-quality, tested, efficient, and safe LED grow lights for all applications.  

Controlled environment agriculture is one of those “why haven’t we been doing this all along” industries. Yes, there is a lot of science behind it, and it isn’t a field to enter without preparation. The output is not limited to crops and flowers but also potential energy efficiency gains. Now is an ideal time to be part of this growing commerce.  

Contact us today for more details, support for your CEA initiatives, or to set up a consultation. 

*Heat pumps of all types are becoming an interesting efficiency opportunity for CEA facilities. They are generally versatile, efficient systems that move thermal energy from one place to another using refrigerant. In addition, heat pumps can reverse and modulate the flow of refrigerant, which can provide heating or cooling to a space depending on the time of year.  


Lauren Morlino