The integration of aeroponics into large-scale CEA spaces is a step closer to commercialization, following the first stage of a feasibility study funded by Defra and UKRI.
The 21-month project is led by LettUs Grow Ltd, supported by Agri-Tech Innovation Centre, Crop Health and Protection (CHAP), and focuses on the design and prototype of a fully functioning advanced Aeroponic Rolling BenchTM system.
The aim is to finesse the technology to enable growers to install it into existing automated growing set-ups, such as hectare-scale greenhouses and indoor farms.
Initial work suggests a promising future for the bench system – functionality has been proven across various crops, and constructive feedback has been received from industry experts for future design iterations.
Temi Odanye, Lead Project Engineer for LettUs Grow, led the installation for part one of the study at CHAP’s Vertical Farming Development Centre at Stockbridge Technology Centre. She said: “The journey to creating a new product is always a steep learning curve. These trials provided us with a rare opportunity to test the first prototype’s integration and performance within an existing vertical farming facility.
“We were pleased with the simplicity of the installation process and have already collaboratively identified areas for further improvement in the design. The preliminary growth cycles across four different crops and two different growing media have now provided us with initial design assurance and proven functionality and produced some encouraging indicative growth results.”
Trial in vertical farm
For the study, the bench system was run alongside hydroponic versions within CHAP’s vertical farm. An exclusive showcase event was then organized to gather feedback from UK industry experts, including glasshouse growers, construction experts, and vertical farmers.
Dr. Harry Langford, Innovation Lead at CHAP, said: “In the wake of rising commodity prices and a pressing need to meet Net Zero targets, horticultural growers across the country are keen to explore novel solutions that can help them to achieve continuous improvement in their operational and environmental efficiencies.
“Our existing hydroponic rolling benches represent commercial best-practice, so it has been a pleasure to work with LettUs Grow to install their benches within our farm and conduct a series of validation trials across four microgreen crops to demonstrate comparative performance.
“Stakeholders have been impressed by their performance so far, and we are excited to test further design iterations over the coming months.”
Part two of the study will demonstrate the commercial viability and value at scale and help to reinforce the benefits of aeroponics, which include bed-level control, reduced water consumption, and minimized pest and disease pressure.