After years of R&D, the Swiss scale-up CleanGreens Solutions SA sees a strong commercial upswing with the unique positioning of its mobile aeroponic system designed for growing leafy greens in greenhouses. So far, hydroponics imposed itself commercially for CEA growing as aeroponic technologies were not mature enough. CleanGreens Solutions is about to change this status quo.
"We developed a system called GREENOVA equipped with a robot that drives up and down the greenhouse bay and sprays the roots with a highly diluted nutrient solution. Having a moving robot allows us to really cuts down the maintenance costs and to spray all plants uniformly. This is our secret sauce," says Bruno Cheval, CEO of the company. "It doesn't stop there: we identified three main areas where aeroponics has an edge upon hydroponics techniques."
Less phytosanitary risks
GREENOVA is designed to separate physically the foliage growing in full light from the roots, which need a dark, humid environment. Both parts benefit from lots of oxygen. The wet area is not exposed to light, and the roots hang independently from each other. Those two elements drastically lower the risk of phytosanitary contamination and virtually eliminates the risks of cross-contamination between plants. "This is a key aspect for many of our clients: they cannot allow themselves to lose one or two harvests plus the negative image of having a product recall," according to Bernhard Baumgartner, Commercial Director of CleanGreens Solutions. This system also allows for easier and more stable climate control in the root zone, which is especially hard to achieve in hot climates like the Middle East.
The roots in the air allow GREENOVA users to explore new varieties that are currently very complicated to grow using classic hydroponic systems. "Using GREENOVA, our clients can consistently grow large heads of lettuce over 500 grams all year long. This is especially important for processors and their suppliers. Our agronomy team is working hard on species that are almost impossible to grow using hydroponics techniques. We should have some good news for our clients very soon," declares Bernhard.
By increasing the size of lettuces and keeping cycle times and densities similar to hydroponics', clients of CleanGreens Solutions are able to produce over 950 tons per hectare per year. And this is done using only 10 liters of water per kg produced. and obviously without any pesticides. "In a world where resources get more and more scarce, this is of increasing importance. In the Middle East, this is usually the first question asked: how much water does the system use? We are very proud of having best in class numbers here," tells Bruno.
Additionally, several published studies on basil and lettuce show that the aeroponics technique is the most suitable way for plants to absorb nutrients and thus, to grow healthy. This intake efficiency leads to fewer nutrients used and lower costs.
"CleanGreens Solutions doesn't stop at the equipment when it delivers a project"
"From discussing with early clients, we noticed that they were unsatisfied with their crop management software. It is often not adapted to their growing system or their crops. That's why we developed GURU, our proprietary software. It is tailor-made for our aeroponic growing systems. Our clients can operate their farms from seed to harvest and plan an entire year of growing in advance while having full traceability and data overview. The combo between GREENOVA and GURU really facilitates the life of our clients," says Bernhard.