Circular + vertical – resilience in urban farming

Using food waste to tackle the high energy cost of vertical farming | By Kotryna Gelunaite

Circular + vertical – resilience in urban farming
Photo by Pragyan Bezbaruah

Vertical farming is an environmentally-resilient, pesticide-free way of farming. It has taken off as a solution to growing global food insecurity. However, vertical farms also come with a high cost and energy demand.

Future Greens is a cost-effective vertical farming company founded by four University of Sheffield students.

In 2022, David Dixon, Gabrielė Barteškaitė, Alexander La Fleur and Alastair Roper's original vertical farming project came to a halt due to its unsustainable energy use.

In a quest for sustainable alternatives, the team explored wind and solar options but ultimately settled on anaerobic digestion, a process that breaks down organic matter, specifically food waste, to generate energy. 

The decision to focus on anaerobic digestion not only stemmed from its cost-effectiveness but also its compatibility with urban settings. While wind turbines and solar power face challenges in city environments due to planning permissions and red tape, anaerobic digestion plants can operate in close proximity to urban centers.

La Fleur emphasized the team's commitment to tackling both the energy crisis and supply chain issues in food production. The idea of using food waste to generate power aligns seamlessly with their vision of a circular economy. "It's something I think is really beautiful about using food waste to go full circle to produce the new food, and the thing keeps rotating," said La Fleur.

Photo by “Future Greens”

The company is currently in talks with potential partners for sourcing food waste. Conversations with food manufacturers, distributors, and even a local residential food waste collection initiative in Leeds are all underway. La Fleur expressed enthusiasm for collaborating with these initiatives to not only collect but also effectively use food waste at the other end of the supply chain.  

Currently, Future Greens specializes in leafy greens and microgreens due to their economic viability. However, Alex hinted at their future plans, stating, "after the next raise, we do want to start looking at fruits and vines." This expansion aligns with their goal to diversify their produce, even if it comes with increased energy costs associated with growing fruits. "Transport costs and logistics are the things that spike up," he explains.

Nonetheless, thanks to anaerobic digestion, Future Greens anticipates a massive 80% reduction in costs. This would come not only from the electricity generated but also from the additional heat and CO2.

La Fleur underscores the broader impact of their initiative, acknowledging the global scale of the climate crisis. "This is like a global problem we're trying to play a small part in tackling," he notes. The company's commitment to sustainability extends beyond its own success, with the hope that Future Greens' innovative approach will inspire others to devise circular solutions in their own sectors.

Written by Kotryna Gelunaite