The GravityFlow™ system is a high-tech controlled environment farming solution developed to grow a wide range of food and medicinal plants, while saving water and reducing environmental pollution. “Conventional agriculture is not sustainable, nor can it deliver the quantity and quality of food and medicinal plants needed in the future. Our system uses the planet’s resources wisely. We are completely changing how plants are grown,” says Per Aage Lysaa, CEO of the Intravision Group.
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Our need for food poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet. Agriculture already uses 70 per cent of the world’s fresh water while many of the world’s most populated regions are experiencing a severe water shortage. Farming also makes extensive use of pesticides and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and harmful fertiliser runoff.
In order to feed a global population of almost 10 billion by 2050, food production will need to double (relative to 2009). However, it is not sustainable to rely on conventional agriculture alone, so innovative methods of food production are needed to grow more food, while minimising environmental footprint, especially use of fresh water.
GravityFlow™ is an automated, controlled environment system for vertical farming. Food and medicinal plants are grown in “grow boxes” that move through a series of growth environments, optimising the phases of plant development from germination through harvest. The solution employs advanced multispectral LED lighting, sophisticated automation technologies, and closed-loop air and nutrient management systems.
The GravityFlow system is ideal for growing leafy greens, such as the popular romaine lettuce or high-end varieties such as arugula, basil and kale. A wide range of medicinal plants are also being tested in the system – from traditional Chinese medicinal plants to plant-made pharmaceuticals via GMO biotechnology.
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GravityFlow™ is up to 95 per cent more water efficient than conventional growing methods. This makes the system one of the world’s most sustainable ways to grow plants, especially in areas of drought or regions with a general water shortage, such as the Middle East and North Africa.
“We have learned that compared to competing controlled environment systems our solution is by far the most volume efficient. This is mainly due to our specially developed flow racks with automated lift systems combined with integrated air management systems allowing homogenous air management in dense shelves. We therefore need only 40 per cent of the floor space, which means that investments in buildings and land become much lower,” says Lysaa.
The GravityFlow system eliminates fertiliser runoff and pesticide use. It also reduces the need for long-distance transport of fresh produce since plants can be grown in any climate zone, closer to the consumers. “This is a big win for the environment,” says Lysaa.
Moreover, the system is fully automated, cutting labour costs by as much as 90 per cent in system operations.
The European market for vertical farming crops is expected to reach USD 520 million by 2027. “But in our view this is only scratching the surface of the potential,” says Lysaa.
“While leafy greens and similar perishable food plants like berries do represent enormous market potential, we believe the next two decades will open up for a new range of commercial applications within controlled environment plant production, spanning from high-protein foods to plant-derived medicines, but also within plant extracts for food flavourings, cosmetics and fragrance."
“The potential market for GravityFlow™ is so large that it’s almost scary,” adds Lysaa.
The GravityFlow system has been developed by the Intravision Group, which has enjoyed a decade-long research partnership with the Canadian space research institute and the Controlled Environment Systems Facility at the University of Guelph in Canada. Intravision is also a partner in the European Space Agency’s Melissa programme.
Headquartered in Norway, Intravision has a subsidiary and production facility in Canada. In the area of leafy green food plants, Intravision has partnered with Canadian Farms, with whom it is currently cooperating on realising new leafy greens production facilities in New Jersey, USA, and Hamilton, New Zealand.