The Carbon Column – Vertical farming, will it get off the ground?

In this article I look a vertical farming, an alternative method to reduce deforestation

Net Hero Podcast

 The future Net Zero team went to Iceland last week to report on the country’s commitment to net zero.

Iceland is known for its extensive use of renewable energy in forms of hydropower and geothermal.

The country runs on 85% renewable energy and is leading the way with ambitious targets of net zero by 2040.

As part of their trip, they explored the way the country is utilising geothermal to create a more sustainable economy. One destination was a vertical algae farm just outside Reykjavik.

With a growing population and increasing pressure on agricultural land to achieve higher yielding products, there is a desire to grow food upwards instead of outwards. According to the UN, agricultural expansion drives nearly 90% of deforestation.

We need a rapid shift in our food production and consumption to curb the devastating effects of deforestation.

Vertical farms may be one option.

Vertical Farms

Vertical farms are focused on generating higher yielding crops using hydroponics, a process of growing plants without the use of soil, making it suitable for urban areas.

Often, they are used to grow more traditional fruit and vegetables like tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers, peppers etc.

The farm the future Net Zero team visited was growing algae called Spirulina. It is believed Spirulina rivals beef with its nutritional content and can save 100 kg CO2e if you swap 1 kg of beef with 1 kg of Spirulina.

These vertical farms are a perfect solution for Iceland with their short summers and access to the necessary natural resources including renewable energy and spring water. Generating electricity through geothermal to power vast amounts of LEDs to light the photobioreactors, a system for growing the algae.

But before we all start running off and trying to grow our own fruit and vegetables all year round, there are certainly things to consider.

The carbon dioxide saving is due to the use of geothermal energy. If we tried growing Spirulina in an abandoned warehouse in a city in the UK, the energy mix would likely be natural gas and various forms of renewable.

This would significantly increase the CO2 emissions and could make the emissions from a vertical farmed product many times higher than a traditional farming method, if fossil fuels were used.

Not only that, but these vertical farms are expensive. Expensive to run and to build. Vertical farms require large amounts of capital to get off the ground.

Having said that, the food crisis is real. People are starving all over the world. We waste one third of all food which is enough to feed the malnourished four times over. Food supply chains are under pressure, and we require innovation to combat the environmental chaos we are causing.

Vertical farms may be one solution.

I’d love to know your thoughts on vertical farming. If you have any comments or questions, email me or find me on LinkedIn.