What many customers of vertical farming do not know is that the growing media used, i.e. the materials in which the plants germinate and grow, are by no means sustainable materials. Single-use materials such as extruded plastics, glued organic materials, and rock wool are the preferred media in vertical farming. They are easy to handle and inexpensive. But at what cost?, writes Christoph von Studzinski with BionFarming on LinkedIn.
Their production not only requires a lot of fossil energy, but the resulting waste is also particularly persistent. Micro- and nanoplastics are emitted mainly during use and afterward by synthetics. The most popular growing media in vertical farming are therefore anything but environmentally friendly or sustainable. Organic-based growing media developed for use in indoor agriculture are now an important priority to replace single-use materials.
The BionFarming team is taking this challenging path and has tested numerous growth media including life cycle assessments. The end outcome was an unexpected candidate, Sphagnum moss. Peat moss has long been used by gardeners and horticulturists as a substrate for growing plants and crops. Peat mosses are mainly obtained by over-exploitation of natural peatlands, but they are an extremely important carbon sink. By using Sphagnum moss, i.e. harvesting the living moss from renaturalised areas, this natural sink can be protected. Internal tests have shown that Sphagnum moss is an excellent growth medium. This is due to its structural composition and its nutrient binding capacity. The only question was whether sphagnum moss, which binds large amounts of carbon during its growth, could also be used with the most modern methods of plant cultivation, such as hydroponics?
The answer is a resounding yes. With appropriate adaptations, it is possible to cultivate any plant in Sphagnum moss without limiting growth productivity. On the contrary, BionFarming has identified further potential savings that it will integrate into its production in the coming weeks. All in all, this is a success story that benefits the environment and the customers of vertical farming.