CubicFarms’ Patented Crop Motion Technology™ moves plants to grow lights rather than using endless rows of energy-intensive LEDs. The energy savings are remarkable and puts our technology in a category on its own. And we’ve got the data to prove it.
With global populations growing and natural resources getting scarcer, we urgently need to build an energy-efficient, resilient food system that is immune to fragile supply chains and extreme climate conditions. We need to scale up the amount of food we grow using less resources, and it needs to be done sustainably.
It’s a tall order but as a local chain ag-tech company, CubicFarm Systems Corp. (CubicFarms) has risen to the challenge, innovating new vertical farming technologies to dramatically reduce the energy, land, labour, and water required to grow nutritious food at commercial scale.
Vertical farming is predicted to be way we’ll feed ourselves in the future and is the practice of growing crops indoors under controlled conditions, usually using vertically stacked layers and trays. Because growing takes place indoors, controlled environment agriculture (CEA) can grow more crops using less water and land, with no pesticides.
Vertical farming as an industry will only continue to grow. In 2020, the vertical farming market was estimated at $3.24 billion and is expected to reach $24.11 billion by 2030.
With growth numbers like these, it’s natural to wonder if there are any drawbacks to indoor growing, and concerns about energy use are usually at the top of the list. Claims about energy use in the vertical farming space are rampant, so much so, a 2021 Global CEA Census report by Agritecture, an independent leader in sustainability research, highlighted the need for greater transparency and accountability across the vertical farming sector.
As a company, we are proud to transparently quantify our energy and sustainability numbers. The question that goes to the heart of our energy claims is how many kilowatt hours does it take to grow a pound of leafy greens compared with typical vertical farms?
Shining a light on the problem
Most indoor farming operations rely on vertically stacked layers of plants, bathed in thousands of LED grow lights. A Google image search of indoor farming tells the story, endless rows of lights with staff sporting specialized eyewear working in the corridors of glowing indoor farming warehouses. It’s no surprise that lighting alone accounts for about 65% of energy usage in a typical indoor farming operation, usually requiring about 32 watts per square foot.
Our world class data and technology teams modelled that our two CubicFarms growing systems with the energy requirements of a typical vertical farm.
Typical Vertical Farm
- 17.6 kWh per pound
- 38.8 kWh / kg for typical vertical farm
CubicFarm System uses 54% less energy than a typical vertical farm
- 8 kWh per pound
- 17.71 kWh per kg
CubicFarms FreshHub System uses 62% less energy than a typical vertical farm
- 6.67 kWh per pound
- 14.95 kWh per kg
Source: Typical Vertical Farm energy usage CEA 2021 Global Census Report, page 46
These are dramatic differences so let’s dig into how CubicFarms can achieve such low energy numbers compared to typical vertical farming.
Crop Motion Technology™ is our Industry-Leading Energy Advantage
Unlike “rack and stack” vertical farming systems, CubicFarms developed patented Crop Motion Technology™ that moves grow trays throughout a CubicFarms module on an undulating path and uses a single layer of LED lights instead of the thousands of lights needed in a typical vertical farm system.
The single layer of LED lighting at the top of a CubicFarms module provides all the necessary light for plants, even at -40° Celsius in colder climates. Simply put, Crop Motion Technology™ moves plants to the grow lights rather than having dedicated lights for all the plants. The movement of the crops simulates outdoor growing, which makes the plants stronger and less susceptible to burning.
The benefits of Crop Motion Technology™ are also realized on a larger scale with FreshHubs. FreshHubs are high-density indoor growing systems using 96 CubicFarms modules. A FreshHub occupies 1 acre of land and can replace 100 acres of field production. Due to its size, it benefits from improved efficiency of the growing system.
Crop Motion Technology™ Maximizes Cubic Space
With CubicFarms, every cubic metre of our modules are maximized because grow areas are designed to dedicate virtually the entire energy draw in the modules to grow plants. Crop Motion Technology™ eliminates the need for floor space to walk around in the individual growing modules, optimizing the energy requirements of the module space.
From a workflow perspective, it also means that the physical work required to harvest crops is dramatically reduced. The same Crop Motion Technology™ that moves trays to the dedicated grow lights also helps with harvesting, bringing mature crops directly to the people rather than people moving to the crops. It’s a boon for energy savings and for the people operating their CubicFarm System.
Comparing Crop Motion Technology™ with Greenhouse Growing
Vertical farming is typically no match for greenhouse growing when it comes to energy consumption. And it makes sense. Greenhouses need minimal lighting and can grow more kilograms of produce per kilowatt hour because they can leverage solar energy but are more land and water intensive.
According to self-reported data surveyed compiled in Agritecture’s 2021 Global Census Report, greenhouse operations require an average of 2.5 kWh/pound (5.4 kWh/kg) with vertical farming operations, requiring significantly more at 17.6 kWh/pound (38.8 kWh/kg).
CubicFarms’ technology is a close second when it comes to matching greenhouse growing’s low energy consumption, and it should come as no surprise. CubicFarms’ technology was developed by Jack Benne, founder of Bevo Farms, one of North America’s largest greenhouse plant propagation businesses, and his son Leo Benne, Head of Invention. Bevo’s decades of indoor growing experience have culminated in the next generation of ag-tech, which has resulted in a technology that closely resembles the incredibly low energy consumption of greenhouse growing, with all the benefits of vertical farming.
At CubicFarms, we feel the responsibility of leveraging our indoor growing technology and expertise to optimize commercial-scale food production so we can feed a changing world. We are on a relentless journey to do more with less when it comes to growing nutritious food, while being responsible with the scarce resources available for the sake of our planet and everyone living on it.
QUESTIONS TO FREQUENTLY ASK
Agritecture’s 2021 Global CEA Census highlighted the need for greater transparency and accountability across the vertical farming sector, especially because the numbers and claims can vary so greatly and depend on how numbers are calculated. In order to get more apples-to-apples, or in our case, “romaine-to-romaine” comparisons, we’re sharing Questions to Frequently Ask when evaluating CEA energy claims.
- How much energy does it take to grow a pound or kilogram of produce?
- We think this is a top key metric that can be easily standardized. CubicFarms Systems uses 54% less energy than other vertical farms and needs 17.71 kilowatt hours per kilogram of produce, with FreshHubs using just 15.95 kilowatt hours.
- How many lights and energy are needed per square metre?
- Vertical farm systems use available lights and space differently which impact the energy draw. One CubicFarm system has a footprint of 320 square feet, using 8.03 kWh per pound of produce, or 17.71 kWh per kilogram.
- What percentage of the energy draw in a vertical farming operation is from lighting?
- Lighting typically draws 65% of the energy in a vertical farm system. Our numbers parallel this percentage of energy draw, but our overall energy requirements are lower.
- Are spoiled and unsellable crops factored into the energy equation?
- We assume a 95% efficiency which is typical for experienced indoor vertical farming and do not calculate spoiled crops into our energy numbers. We believe it’s more authentic to only calculate sellable plants into the energy equation.
- Is non-growing energy utilization, or overhead energy included in the equation?
- We assume a 10% overhead energy draw. This represents non-growing energy utilization including pumps, heating and cooling systems, power washers, and facility lights.