Square Roots, a CEA startup, announces a new program to prove that light can removed from a commercial vertical farming system and is supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. All the benefits of indoor farming remain, but the system can now operate with radically reduced energy needs. This translates directly to significantly lower production costs and associated CO2e.

"Indoor farms' ability to grow fresh, nutritious food, all year round, in any location, irrespective of outdoor climate, has obvious appeal. But to date, the solution has been energy-intensive. By removing light from an indoor farming system, reducing both costs and CO2e — this program could unlock an enormous benefit for the future of food security around the world," said Tobias Peggs, Square Roots' CEO.

Increasing sustainability
This discovery could make indoor farming considerably more viable and sustainable for low and middle-income countries. The results could change the underlying economics for indoor farming globally, where energy needs today, primarily driven by the requirement for LED grow lights, can typically contribute 20%-40% of total costs.

To enable this new approach, Square Roots is working with gene-edited (CRISPR) plants that grow heterotrophically. More specifically, they can add biomass by uptaking carbon from acetate (a vinegar-like substance added to irrigation water) rather than relying on photosynthesis under LED lights. Effectively, these plants can grow "in the dark" on a vertical farm.

The underlying science was initially developed by Dr. Robert Jinkerson, a specialist in artificial photosynthesis at the University of California (UC), Riverside, in conjunction with Dr. Feng Jiao, a chemist at the University of Delaware. Their lab-scale trials in sustainable acetate production and heterotrophic plant growth, also funded by the Gates Foundation and recently featured in the prestigious publication science, will now be tested at production using the Square Roots indoor vertical farming platform.

"Square Roots has the right technology platform and the operational know-how to grow plants in lab-like conditions but at a commercial scale," affirms Robert Jinkerson. "They are an ideal partner for all the stakeholders in this program as we work together on novel approaches to mitigate future food security issues caused by climate change, especially in low and middle-income countries."


Square Roots combines a leading-edge technology platform with operational know-how to grow plants in lab-like conditions but at a commercial scale.

Initial growing trials are focused on lettuces and so-called SPACE Tomatoes — which have been additionally edited to grow more fruit and less vine. In future phases, the company hopes to tackle higher-calorie crops such as sweet potatoes and cassava — staple crops in many low and middle-income countries.

"Our expertise in indoor farming operations and plant science, along with our flexible, modular infrastructure and smart software, makes Square Roots the ideal growing partner for accelerating agricultural research. It's also really motivating to be applying our platform to tackle important and potentially transformative work such as this," says Tobias.

For more information:
Square Roots

www.squarerootsgrow.com