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A Skytree and Fieldless Farms collaboration

How to manage your footprint in CEA

"We have to be careful on how we talk about sustainability in the sector as we're not always more sustainable than others, comparisons of greenhouses vs vertical farms and who is more sustainable than the other. Even though some methods may be more sustainable than the other at times, it's not always right. A big part of the context depends on where your energy comes from," says Jon Lomow, CEO of Fieldless Farms, a vertical farm operator based in Cornwall, Canada.

Fieldless located itself close to renewable power to be more sustainable and be able to live up to those claims. As CEA growers, you're able to address that aspect from the growing media and the waste, which are all carbon-focused. "A lot of us will broaden the degree of sustainability beyond that, though. Standardization on this issue is really important. I want to make the case for the primacy of CO2 and solving the existential problem of CO2 and making sure that our industry is on top of that."

Jon Lomow

Elaborating on the matter, a few of these lower-hanging fruits are other than energy. Yet, according to Jon, energy is the most significant one and everyone should search for green alternatives to run their farms. Yet, there are issues with CO2 supplementation, as in Fieldless, who need that supply for their plants to flourish. "If the plants are using CO2 from a fossil fuel source, as Jon explains, that's problematic given the seepage. That CO2 does re-enter the environment and ends up in landfill, which is even more alarming."

Chipping into the CO2 supplement talk, Rob van Straten, CEO of Skytree says, "The inconvenient truth is that all greenhouses and vertical farms are serving the fossil fuel industry with postponed and amplified emissions. Most of the CO2 supplementation for vertical farms is fossil fuel-based, whereas greenhouses are 'burning gas on-site' through CHPs. Skytree's mission is to have CEA operators switch to non-fossil fuel sources of CO2 to improve the carbon footprint of food production facilities."

Trialing with Cumulus
Currently, Fieldless and Skytree are running a trial operation to explore the on-demand CO2 generation in the vertical farm site. If the CO2 isn't used, the tank on-site is filled to save it up for later. Given the Cumulus is IOT connected, the operators back at Skytree's Amsterdam office are constantly innovating the capturing materials and data that are obtained throughout the process. This allows them to do field upgrades, once new materials are coming in, the installed devices are automatically updated too.

Rob van Straten

Differences in consumption
As Rob explains, a greenhouse requires much more CO2 given the size, for which Skytree's 7m tall Stratos unit is designed. "It doesn't come in cheap, but it's a complex and rewarding system." The unit will be available in the Middle East, the US, and Canada by the end of 2024.

Whereas a vertical farm would use a smaller-sized unit, called Cumulus. Jon points out that it was a challenge on the payback side to install a Cumulus. "Non-dilutive- and government funding will be key on the outside of the use of this technology. Yet, I think on the larger scale, the economics are pretty good at the right of the gate."

Given the units are powered by electricity, compared to CO2 supply, it's not a transparent market with gas companies that are playing a monopoly. "In Spain, you'd pay about 8 EUR per KG of gas, whereas in New Zealand, for instance, that's even more." Jon pays about 10 CAD for the gas supply of the vertical farm. "Compared to the prices of electricity vs the prices of CO2, we've seen payback times that never happen, as CO2 might be cheaper elsewhere and electricity expensive. Or, the other way around, where we've seen payback periods in less than a year," Rob adds.

Stop the greenwashing
"Where the industry is at, we want to do more than we say at this point. I worry that we'll do a similar disservice as to what the financing bubble in this industry has done to where getting financing again today. If there's a black eye of greenwashing in the industry, we're going to tarnish the long-term ability of the industry to be impactful. It very much can be the most sustainable way to farm, depending on the context you're in, choosing the right technologies and methodologies to fit that context. You can be the most sustainable option," Jon emphasizes.

For more information:
Rob van Straten, CEO
[email protected]

Fieldless Farms
Jon Lomow, CEO