Libra Design

This interview details Libra Design, an indoor farming technology company based in the United States. The interview is with Travis Williams, Co-Founder & CEO of Libra Design.

Source: Libra Design

What is the origin story of Libra Design?

Libra was founded by Travis Williams and Dung Duong who first met in 2015 at Build My LED, LLC (also known as BML Horticulture and subsequently re-branded to Fluence Bioengineering). During their time as colleagues, Travis and Dung found a shared passion for advancing controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) with new lighting technologies.

The two also recognized the industry faced many challenges, non-greater than the financial viability of indoor farming due to large CapEx and OpEx requirements (both primarily driven by horticulture lighting). In 2021, Travis and Dung founded Libra to address this challenge head-on by providing indoor and greenhouse growers bespoke horticulture lighting solutions at a cost significantly less than conventional lighting products.

Source: Libra Design

What are some of the biggest challenges facing Libra Design in the future?

Global pandemics and military conflicts aside, the largest threat to our business is the current downturn impacting the CEA industry. With countless indoor and greenhouse farming operations shuttering their doors this year (or at best, downsizing and/or pausing operations), we naturally see less demand for our services. That said, we believe CEA will emerge as a major component to our overall food system, and the services we provide will play an integral role in helping the surviving businesses flourish in the years to come. 

Source: Libra Design

What is unique about Libra Design compared to competitors?

Unlike many businesses, we are not driven by shareholder value, EBITDA, profit margins or other financial benchmarks which so many companies base and evaluate their success (though, we do ensure a healthy financial statement to ensure the viability of our business). 

We are a mission-based company focused on addressing the climate crisis and global food insecurity through the advancement of CEA. This mission permeates every aspect of Libra, from our prioritization of energy efficiency to our customized product design process and our transparent, function-based pricing model which ensures growers pay only for the performance and features they want rather than perceived value. This all culminates into what ultimately makes Libra unique: providing growers access to affordable horticulture lighting solutions designed to their exact growing environment and operational requirements. 

Source: Libra Design

What size growing areas do you work with?

Given the nature of our business model, we are currently limited to working with farms that have at least half an acre (roughly 20,000ft2) of plant canopy. Actual size will vary based on lighting requirements, but this is as a general baseline that we use in order to meet the typical minimum order quantity of our supply chain. As we scale, we hope to reduce this requirement and expand our ability to support a larger number of operations with a smaller footprint. 

What are your thoughts in CO2 usage in indoor farms?

Supplemental CO2 is a necessity for most indoor farms to optimize productivity and overall efficiency (especially those growing under PPFD greater than 500 µmol/m2/s). Ambient CO2 levels will restrict photosynthetic activity under higher light intensity, and thus reduce the overall potential yield and yield efficiency of the farm if not augmented. There are many factors that go into the optimal CO2 levels for a crop so it’s never advised to supplement without a detailed understanding and assessment of what’s required. Doing so will simply lead to unnecessary costs and, more importantly, additional CO2 to an already overly saturated atmosphere.  

Source: Libra Design

How can indoor farms reduce energy usage with their lighting?

First and foremost, farms need to ensure their lighting system is providing the optimal intensity (PPFD), spectra and uniformity that their crops need to thrive. If these requirements are not met, then prioritizing energy efficiency is a fool’s errand. Second, operators should purchase a lighting system with the highest photosynthetic photon efficacy (PPE) – the specification that measures a light fixture's energy efficiency as measured in µmol/J – which they can justify based on budget and payback analysis depending on their cost of electricity.

For operators with a high dollar-per-kilowatt-hour rate, spending more upfront on a lighting system with a higher PPE will result in a faster payback than an operator with a low utility rate. Third, implement a dimmer or control system that allows operators to decrease intensity (and thus energy consumption) when it’s not required or during peak operating hours when electricity costs are higher than usual. 

As a horticulture lighting solution provider, Libra has an obligation to address the unsustainable energy use (or more specifically, the carbon footprint associated with the energy use) of indoor farming which is why we ensure every lighting system we design has a minimum PPE of 2.7 µmol/J (more than 17% higher than the industry standard). From there, we will increase the efficiency of a lighting system based on the requirements of our clients.  

Source: Libra Design

How can people connect with you or learn more about Libra Design?

Our website is a great resource to learn more about our services and technology (www.libradesign.org), and we can best be reached on LinkedIn or via email (hello@libradesign.org). 

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