The global production of plant-based foods is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. Indoor vertical farms (IVFs) have emerged as a promising approach to urban agriculture. However, their environmental performance is not well understood, particularly in relation to operational choices where global warming potentials (GWP) can vary between 0.01–54 kg CO2e/kg−1 of leafy greens produced.
The researchers conducted a life cycle assessment (LCA) of a building-integrated IVF for microgreen production to analyze a range of operational conditions for cultivation: air temperature, CO2 concentration, and photoperiod. We analyzed a dynamic LCA inventory that combined a process-based plant growth model and a mass balance model for air and heat exchange between the chamber and the outside. Results showed that the GWP of IVFs can vary greatly depending on the operation conditions set, ranging from 3.3 to 63.3 kg CO2e/kg−1. The optimal conditions for minimizing GWP were identified as 20 ℃, maximum CO2 concentration in the chamber, and maximum photoperiod, which led to a minimum GWP of 3.3 kg CO2e/kg−1 and maximum production of 290.5 kg fresh weight week-1. Intensification of production thus led to lower impacts because the marginal increase in yield due to increased resource use was larger than the marginal increase in impact. Therefore, adjusting growing conditions is essential for the sustainability of urban food production.
Parkes, M.G., Azevedo, D.L., Cavallo, A.C. et al. Life cycle assessment of microgreen production: effects of indoor vertical farm management on yield and environmental performance. Sci Rep 13, 11324 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-38325-0