Vertical Farming: Energy Drain or Feeding the Future?
As the world searches for sustainable food solutions, closed environment agriculture (CEA) and vertical farming have come into the spotlight. Touted as a solution to supply chain issues, vertical farmers point out that this farming practice has increased crop production with significantly less environmental impact.
In many respects, they are right. Compared to traditional agriculture, vertical farming uses 90-95% less water with less footprint due to the use of vertical growth trays. These facilities also mitigate the impacts of extreme weather events and growing seasons since they can grow food 365 days of the year.
Sounds too good to be true? It can be. The question of, “If vertical farming is so great, why are companies struggling?” is a valid one, especially if you have been reading the latest news on vertical farm closures and lay-offs. The answer lies in energy.
Vertical farming is energy intensive, using LED lamps instead of sunlight, HVAC air-conditioning to control temperature and water-filtration systems to re-use water, which all require a significant energy load. And energy, as we all know, comes at an increasingly higher price due to the volatility of the energy sector these days.
Thus, for many vertical farming companies, the cost of powering the facility makes the business uneconomical, facilitating closures and resulting in investor hesitation.
Here lies the conundrum: this method of farming offers sustainable food security solutions but at a higher cost; however, the world needs to address a growing population and food security while also considering the needs of the planet. So, how do we move forward?
The answer is the planet, or more specifically what lies within the planet. The answer can be the heat energy found beneath our feet. Compared to solar energy which is reliant on the sun’s rays, and wind energy, which is dependent on changing atmospheric pressures, geothermal energy is constant and largely accessible across the globe.
Massive amounts of residual heat resulting from the earth’s formation along with naturally occurring radioactive decay, means there is significant heat that travels upward from deep in the earth towards the surface. By tapping into this heat using geothermal wells, the power to drive turbines for electricity generation and/or thermal energy production is realized.
Novus Earth, a Calgary based company, plans to do just that. Using a closed-loop geothermal system to extract heat and produce electricity, Novus is working to make vertical farming and food security both sustainable and economical. The Latitude 53 Project located near Hinton, AB is progressing with commercial geothermal well drilling anticipated for Q3 2023. Coupled with the proven technologies used in vertical farming, geothermal is poised to support the vertical farming industry by providing heat and energy at a consistent, stable cost.
Vertical farming has the potential to solve food insecurity in a sustainable way– it just needs a little help from the planet and innovative companies like Novus Earth to make it happen.