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The dark side of lighting: a critical analysis of vertical farms' environmental impact

New research by Cecilia Stanghellini and David Katzin, published in September 2023, critically analyses the sustainability claims of vertical farming by particularly focusing on crop energy budgets and productivity.

It makes evident that staple crops, vital for calorie intake, cannot be economically grown in vertical farming. Nonetheless, leafy vegetables can and are grown in vertical farming. Based on existing literature, we quantify vertical farms' annual production potential and its associated electricity consumption. The researchers use figures about electricity production to demonstrate that it is doubtful that urban vertical farming production is more climate-smart than transport from far away.

It is indeed wishful thinking that there is no environmental cost to getting rid of (free and non-polluting) sunlight, even for the very best lighting fixtures. Even in a future world of green (but not unlimited) electricity, there will be a need to balance grid usage, which does not fit well with the electricity craving of vertical farms.

While vertical farming significantly reduces water use and avoids chemical emissions, these benefits can also be attained in greenhouses, and they often fail to outweigh the environmental impact of electricity consumption. Vertical farming may have the potential for niche crop production or be employed for other practical reasons. However, our review challenges the claim that vertical farming production is inherently more environmentally friendly than conventional agriculture.

Click here to access the research.

For more information:
Wageningen University and Research, Greenhouse Horticulture and Flower bulbsUnit
Droevendaalsesteeg 1
6708 PA, Wageningen, NL
[email protected]
[email protected]

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