Pushing forward vertical farming techniques in Europe
"Our aim is to build the foundation for large-scale industrial vertical farming based on a circular economy."
iFarm, YASAI and Logiqs B.V. recently announced an industrial partnership across borders between European technology and thought leaders in the field of vertical farming. Mark Essam Zahran, CEO of YASAI says that this partnership was formed to create the best state of the art turnkey-solution for hardware and software in vertical farming. ""Our aim is to build the foundation for large-scale industrial vertical farming based on a circular economy. A collaborative mindset is great to scale up in the industry,” he adds.
Currently, we’re finalizing the design & creating a unique team that is able to create large-scale vertical farms. When having agreed upon operations, the whole construction process could be less than six months. We were able to minimize CapEx (Capital Expenditure) significantly compared to other available turnkey solutions.
The system has a high degree of pre-installed automation realized by Logiqs, consisting of structured systems and automated internal logistics with no corridors, which require usually a lot of space. Plants are coming towards us, instead of people walking to them. “We can actually decrease OpEx (Operational Expenditure) by minimizing the human labor costs. There are other solution providers that are much more expensive than what we can offer right now. Our advantage is crop diversity enabled by iFarm’s large variation of growing recipes created from multiple farms,” Mark notes.
Crop diversity is one key goal the parties would like to accomplish during the project by integrating vertical farming, as they feel the product offer is rather limited nowadays. Another key goal is taste enhancement, by applying diversity.
Fitting into the right puzzle
According to Mark, iFarm offers the right growing recipes through its large database, combined with Logiqs unique hardware. The project will focus on reducing labor costs, which soon will be tested in the first module farm. Throughout the trial, the farm will be constantly tested, optimized, calibrated and scaled up to a larger phased farm. “Bringing all aspects together couldn’t be made possible without both parties due to their expertise, which we’re very grateful to work with,” Mark adds. “YASAI applied to all of our core values, namely staying true to what they’ve promised and being transparent in every aspect,” Rick Boekestijn, Sales engineer at Logiqs B.V. affirms.
“As we were looking for a partner to scale within Europe, it was a natural choice for us. Partners like YASAI know what technology our customers need and Loqiqs B.V. will offer us a great benefit in terms of their unique racks and trays moving cube system,” says Kirill Zelenski, CEO at Intellectual Farms Oy iFarm. Kirill notes that iFarm has a great trust base with both parties. “Combining all parties together, we’ll be able to concentrate on improving the growing recipe together.”
Room for improvement
“We wanted to focus on automation, crop growth, system hardware, and shuttle systems. Therefore, we did many experiments on understanding what kind of environmental parameters were needed to achieve this envelope. It’s definitely interesting to make systems more automated, from seeding to harvest, excluding all labor costs in the middle,” says Kirill. Several trials were done to evaluate the effectiveness of a fully automated system, creating cost-effective production. “Soon we will get to see the latest results, which hopefully will be better than before. However, it’s a good thing to keep improving so the next farm will even be better. Eventually, we will then be able to provide the same farms worldwide,” he adds.
“We don’t have to invent everything from scratch, but we’re growing better together, therefore cooperating and specialize in different fields will help the industry,” says Mark. “The market is about to grow more and much faster than we all expected it to. The demand is huge, the impact is large and in the end, we really appreciate the collaborative mindset in Europe. Therefore we want to start with making an efficient impact on the world, economically and ecologically. I think this is a challenge we need to look at very closely,” Mark notes.
According to Mark, the market’s biggest challenge is scaling up, because of the capital intensity of this industry. Some new capitalization methods have to be introduced, rather than venture capital. He says that especially in Europe, there’s less venture capital than in the US for instance. We’re working on different capitalization methods, such as infrastructure- and real estate funds. The investments will be used to eventually build bigger farms in different markets. “There’s a high demand for farms, however, we cannot deliver at this point, so our current priority is ‘how to accelerate and scale up quickly'.” Mark affirms that once there’s a scalable and adaptable module it can be ‘copy pasted’ into different contexts.
Together with Yasai Logiqs research which system fits the best to the wishes of Yasai. Eventually, we ended up on the 2D shuttle because of her flexibility, scalability and modularity. Flexible because it can be used where it is necessary, and the flow can be changed when it is required. Scalable because with an extension in the future we could just simply add another shuttle. Modularity, depending on the capacity, one shuttle can be enough for an entire farm such as Yasai.
When figuring out research questions that would apply to the project they laid a focus on circularity, making use of sustainable sources. Using heat waste, water waste using the ingredients for the new farm solution. Also in terms of computer vision by growth tracking and the evaluation of it. The newly designed farm management systems used are adaptable to new customer's needs and demands. For instance, the introduction of new products to cultivate.