“We moved away from conventional hydroponics to fogponics, which reduces heat stress in roots and improves root zone surface area, which both results in higher metabolism and lower maintenance requirements,” says Martin Peter, co-founder and CEO of Lite+Fog, a German agtech company that builds aeroponic-type vertical farming systems.
Lite+Fog has designed vertical growing towers which are hollow, completely made of textiles and fed by a fine fog filled with nutrients. While the plants’ aboveground biomass grows on the outer side of the column, the roots grow in this hollow interior and are nourished by this nutrient-rich mist. In this environment, root growth is quite strong and the production of fine root hairs is favored, which improves nutrient uptake and plant health – and thus harvest efficiency.
“As steel or plastics constructions are not sustainable and make up sometimes more than 70% of building costs in vertical farming, replacing them with textiles makes our farms much more environmentally friendly and cheaper to build.”
Designing from the ground up
As Martin explains, vertical farming often struggles with the management of microclimates created by densely layered production systems, whether on these be vertical towers or horizontal shelving systems. However, horizontal multi-tiered systems are particularly vulnerable as the natural vertical movement of air is impeded by racking systems. To mitigate this, Lite+Fog designed its modules in a vertical manner, with round planters which also allowed the company to double its plantable area.
“I feel that today’s vertical farms were built on existing products for greenhouses or other industries. One was applied to the other as a quick solution to a problem, but not necessarily the solution you’d come up with when starting from zero,” says Martin.
Instead, Lite+Fog builds its product around optimal solutions to ensure that its system is as efficient, productive and sustainable as possible. Through the vertical growing towers’ round shape and additional rotation, Lite+Fog estimates that they achieve more than 30% energy savings by maximizing light use efficiency and improving airflow. “Every beam of light not hitting a plant is wasted energy and rotation further improves on lighting efficiency,” says Martin Peter.
Model M and prototype operational in 2021, onwards to next models
Having installed a CBD cannabis production prototype in Switzerland, Lite+Fog soon realized the need to develop remote control of its sensors and automate certain processes to facilitate farm monitoring and control. Then came Model M, which was launched in 2021 at Lite+Fog’s headquarters in Berlin. Model M acts as a minilab in which the company is growing basil and other greens to evaluate certain production metrics and ensure the economic viability of its fogponics system.
Lite+Fog is also focusing on developing scientific partnerships and is looking to join Wageningen University and Research’s start-up accelerator program. The company is also looking to collaborate with Switzerland’s Agroscope, the Swiss center for excellence in agricultural research.
“We want to build Model M units and distribute them to as many knowledge partners as possible and then connect all of them remotely together. With this combined research and perfected operation knowledge, we are preparing the development of our larger commercial farms in the years to come – and everybody can participate in this development,” says Martin.
Lite+Fog is currently developing its next prototype, Model L, which is sized to be economically viable with 1-2 employees. Whereas Model M was designed for scientific use, Model L will be the company’s first economically viable prototype. The farm will be 30-80 square meters in surface area and provide more than 1000 m2 of growing surface – larger than a container but smaller than a large-scale farm. The company already has ideas in mind to scale up the solutions for large-scale production and automate all processes in a feasible and cost-efficient manner.
“Model L is designed for the foodservice sector to grow difficult plants or specific plants for their customers. Therefore it’s an ideal production module for decentralized applications of vertical farming,” says Martin.