“In moderation, plant stress can have a positive impact on stem growth and product shelf life,” says Michael Schreiber, Managing director at German agtech start-up OrbiLoop.
The company spun off from the Fraunhofer Institute IME in Aachen and has designed a modular, closed system to produce food, medicinal plants and natural cosmetics on a small footprint. A grower only needs an electrical socket, freshwater connection and Internet access to produce food with 95% less water than conventional agriculture and with 30% faster-growing cycles.
The OrbiLoop system
A circular system
Most indoor farming systems either orient plants horizontally or vertically, but the OrbiLoop® system is rewriting that narrative by designed a conveyor-driven system that moves the plants through a closed-loop over the course of 24 hours. The closed-loop has two entry points at which seedlings are inserted and two harvest points from which harvestable plants are removed.
The circular design means that the plant spends part of its day facing upwards, sideways and upside-down. According to Michael, the constant shift in plant position imposes stress on the plant as it grows towards the artificial lighting while fighting gravity. Preliminary studies have demonstrated that these movements can actually improve crop quality.
The system blueprint
“We are seeing that the shelf life of greens grown in the OrbiLoop system is considerably longer than other greens. We’re hoping to do more research on this to validate. That is where our connection to universities and institutes helps,” says Michael.
The OrbiLoop system was designed as an instore vertical farming solution to be installed at retailers, supermarkets, research institutes and even pharmaceutical and cosmetics companies.
OrbiLoop has also designed and built a serpentine growing system called OrbiPlant®, which is well suited to large-scale vertical farming. Rather than moving in a closed-loop, the conveyor system moves the plants vertically upwards then redirects downwards, continuing this wave-like pattern until reaching the harvesting point at the end of line. The OrbiPlant system has only two interaction points, seeding and harvesting, which results in simple process control and low labor costs. OrbiPlant can also be built with different vertical heights and horizontal lengths.
The OrbiLoop and OrbiPlant systems use aeroponics and strict environmental control to produce a variety of crops. According to marketing director Cristina Garcia Mata, producing various crops year-round is aligned with OrbiLoop’s mission to contribute to food security.
“The world is going to keep facing major challenges to agriculture. We want to contribute to these solutions. We want to have OrbiLoop systems in many places to ensure access to healthy food,” Cristina says.
OrbiLoop has not yet commercialized its system as the company is probing the market, developing its business model and improving its design to reduce costs. However, OrbiLoop invites any interested parties to contact the company with any inquiries, proposals and suggestions. OrbiLoop has also built demonstration systems which are being promoted through social media.