From a kitchen corner to the expanses of sand on the planet Mars, will plants soon be grown in technology-controlled artificial environments? Some startups and croient, more, more to find the economical and viable model on a large scale.
“In 5 or 10 years, most homes will be equipped with indoor vegetable gardens” , des petites armoires where the plants grow in a completely controlled environment, says during the VivaTech salon Thibaut Pradier, the founder of the startup La Grangette. Once the consumer is equipped with a vegetable garden, this company plans to provide refills in the form of a coconut fiber capsule containing a seed with the desired vegetable, for 1.5 euros in target price. The purchase of the seed then gives access to an application, which indicates how to set the indoor vegetable garden in an appropriate way – nutrient dosing, hygrometry, light, etc.
Proof that the market is bearer, the home appliance manufacturer LG “Already produces, with great success, indoor vegetable gardens in South Korea and Miele has just launched in Germany, especially” , indicates the contractor. For him, this totally controlled agriculture is indeed part of the equation to succeed in feeding the planet at an acceptable environmental cost. Certainly “The indoor vegetable garden will consume the equivalent of a fridge” but the carbon balance of his salad will be much better “Because it will not have to be transported and delivered” he asserts.
Interstellar Lab founder Barbara Belvisi, who wants to grow plants in the most hostile environments, is about the same length. “Naked traditional agriculture alone will not be able to feed 9 billion people” she says. “A closed and controlled environment allows the optimization of energy consumption” and can also allow “Relocate agriculture” Avoiding importing local produce from distant lands.
Interstellar Lab, which has raised € 7 million and employs around 30 people, plans to deliver by the end of 2023 some 20 “BioPods”, 55-square-meter “domes” of culture, in which The plants grow in a nutritious fog in aeroponics. These modules, completely waterproof to their environment, foreshadow on Earth the true ambition of Interstellar Lab: culture in space – in a space station, for example – or on another planet.
Instantly pour, BioPods are intended for pharmaceutical laboratories, cosmetics or another industry, researching very particular and high value-added plants, details Barbara Belvisi. “In the beginning, it will not necessarily be for food, except for very specific plants, such as vanilla.” » The typical example for her is the vetiver, a breed used in perfumery that grows very well, and without destroying the soil, in aeroponics.
Because for inland agriculture, the road to commercial viability is long, as evidenced by the filing of Agricool. The promising French startup, which raised 35 million euros in 2018, wanted to grow salads or strawberries in urban containers equipped with computers, as close as possible to the consumer.
Despite the craze for its concept, it failed to find a viable economic model, explains its co-founder Guillaume Fourdinier. “Consumers will agree to pay about 20% more” for this type of local products, “May not be enough to make R&D costs profitable and stay above competitor prices” traditional, he regrets.
Agricool managed to become a beneficiary on a few plants, such as herbs, but failed on strawberries or lettuce, which had higher production costs. Her diagnosis coincides with that of Barbara Belvisi: in the short term, this type of crop can only be viable for high value-added products.
Or “In the long run, everything will change with climate change” and urban farms, in domes or containers, may prevail if temperatures prevent outdoor cultivation, in southern countries in particular. “In order to meet the major challenges that await us in terms of food, we will have to continue to test and invest massively in parallel in the transformation of traditional farms” he maintains.