In Scotland, a vertical incubator a source of hope for the promises of carbon neutrality

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Dundee (United Kingdom) (AFP) – Surrounded by saplings that may be at the forefront of Britain’s battle for carbon neutrality, Scottish researcher Kenny Hay enthuses: “The early results are stunning.”

In this indoor “vertical farm”, the trees, boosted by purple or green LED diodes, grow six times faster than if they were planted outdoors. Such progress is likely to upset the sector and help the United Kingdom achieve its objectives, set for 2050, in terms of carbon neutrality, according to the organization Forestry and Land Scotland, which manages the Scottish forest.

Vertical farms have gained momentum in recent years around the world with the aim of supplying urban populations with fresh produce throughout the year.

Installed in warehouses full of technologies, they often offer herbs and salads in above-ground containers stored on several floors, under artificial lighting, without pesticides and with a very controlled water supply.

They have benefited in recent years from major technological advances, from LED diodes that have considerably reduced the electricity bill to robotics, including computer vision and artificial intelligence.

Applying this technology to trees, trials conducted in Scotland in collaboration with the specialist company Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) indicate that some plants reach 40 to 50 centimeters in 90 days. A size that would require 18 months outdoors.

Scotland’s forest manager plans to plant around 24 million trees a year, but the need to plant quickly increases demand for quality seedlings, says Kenny Hay.

Parsley sprouts in Intelligent Growth Solutions’ “verticle farm” near Dundee, Scotland on October 18, 2022 Andy Buchanan AFP

But the project, which occupies 300 m2, has “enormous potential”, he underlines.

“You can grow a huge amount of trees on a very, very small space”, which can help fight against global warming, he explains. “We will now look carefully at how we can integrate ‘this method’ into our usual processes”.

Special “recipe”

In this vertical nursery at the James Hutton Institute near Dundee (south-east Scotland), a technician presses a button that sends an elevator to the top of nine meters of shelving, which contains trays of seedlings.

The air is warm and humid, in ideal conditions.

One of the virtues of the project is that researchers can fine-tune light, humidity, water, temperature and soil so that each plant has its own “recipe”, IGS founder Dave Scott told AFP. .

Intelligent Growth Solutions facilities in Invergowrie, near Dundee (Scotland) on October 18, 2022
Intelligent Growth Solutions facilities in Invergowrie, near Dundee (Scotland) on October 18, 2022 Andy Buchanan AFP

Water and nutrition are computer-controlled and feed the plants through a network of plastic pipes.

Vertical nurseries work in a more humid atmosphere and thus lose much less water through transpiration compared to trees grown in greenhouses and plastic tunnels.

According to Dave Scott, these advances have been made possible thanks to advances in LED technologies: each species of tree is assigned unique diodes, the color of which is specially adapted.

“In recent years, LED technology has reached a tipping point, with efficiency doubling every two years,” he explained.

One of the samples resulted in it growing too fast, leaving the roots too weak for the tree to withstand the wind.

The trees, boosted by purple or green LED diodes, grow six times faster than if they were planted outdoors
The trees, boosted by purple or green LED diodes, grow six times faster than if they were planted outdoors Andy Buchanan AFP

A new trial is now being carried out to try to slow the growth and ensure that the trees have strong enough roots.

“You can stretch them, shrink them, stress them deliberately to prepare them for the outside world, you can do all kinds of things,” he explains. And each year, he adds, has brought better results than the year before.

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In Scotland, a vertical incubator a source of hope for the promises of carbon neutrality


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