A new way to grow
Vertical farming solution helps to reach Sustainable Development Goals
On the outside, it’s the size of a simple freight container. Inside, there’s a whole farm. Using the latest automation technology, the GreeenBox mobile vertical farming solution supplies organic, fresh, and local produce anywhere, in any climate conditions, all year round, with less water and fertilizer and fewer CO₂ emissions than with conventional field farming.
The idea for GreeenTech was born when Dmitrij Lipovskij, now the company’s CEO, wanted to explore new opportunities for his company. “I was in the technical container business and had the idea to add value to the solutions we deliver: what else can we do that we can fit into a container?” says Lipovskij. “And then, almost by accident, I came across vertical farming, and I thought, ‘This is interesting.’” He discussed this idea with a former colleague, Milan Souček, and together they decided to act on it. Both come from mechanical and electrical engineering backgrounds, and they saw the idea’s potential, but needed additional expertise from the agricultural side of the business.
Another lucky accident came when Lipovskij got in touch with Karolína Pumprlová, who founded the first urban farm in Prague and is a vertical farming and hydroponics pioneer in the Czech Republic. Together, the three experts created GreeenTech with the goal of providing high-quality, fully functional mobile hydroponic farms. Just one year later, the first farming container was installed in the Manifesto Market in Prague.
Our customers are not farmers, but hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets that want to offer locally grown fresh products.Dmitrij Lipovskij, CEO, GreeenTech
The right technology for growth
Hydroponics has been used as a farming method on commercial farms and greenhouses for many years. But there was a wide gap in terms of technology and usability between these commercial installations and what was available in the mobile farming segment. GreeenTech wanted to close this gap with an industry-grade solution that would offer the same level of quality, services, and capabilities as state-of-the-art industrial systems, including a high-quality automation system, says Souček, now CTO of GreeenTech.
“We worked with Siemens to identify the optimum solution for connecting with the various sensors and lighting control and water circulation systems,” he adds. “Moreover, we wanted to be able to access the automation systems remotely. And finally, we needed a user-friendly and intuitive solution for operation of the farm.” The customers of GreeenTech are not farmers – they’re hotels, restaurants, and supermarkets that want to offer locally grown fresh products,” says Lipovskij.
“We also offer a service package along with the vertical farm, whereby we take care of the entire farming operation, and this is done via a remote link to the automation system,” he points out. “This data-based business adds value to our farming solutions in two ways: we can support our customers to make sure their crops are healthy and thriving, and we can optimize our solution in terms of its energy and resources footprint.”
We chose Siemens because we wanted to offer an industry-grade solution that would offer the same level of quality, services, and capabilities as state-of-the-art industrial systems.Milan Souček, CTO, GreeenTech
Integrated solution for automation and operation
Currently, GreeenTech offers two different types of vertical farms: The GreeenBox is housed in a standard 40HC container and can produce up to 3,200 heads of lettuce per month. The Urbinio was designed for indoor use and is basically a smaller version of the GreeenBox “without the container,” says Souček. Both use the same automation solution: a compact SIMATIC S7-1200 PLC controls the hydroponics system, including ventilation, temperature, lighting, as well as pH and conductivity of the nutrient solution. Via a 10-inch SIMATIC HMI Unified Comfort Panel, users can monitor the farm, adjust individual parameters, and choose the matching programs for the cultivated plants.
The farm is connected to a remote monitoring and control solution based on SIMATIC WinCC Unified, which enables operation by GreeenTech as well as monitoring and control via any mobile device that has a web browser on it. The high degree of integration offered by the Siemens solution made implementing the automation and control system straightforward, says Souček. “With TIA Portal, we could access all systems and functions in one software, which is very convenient and very easy to use,” he adds. “What I liked especially was the excellent documentation and support that you get with the Siemens systems – for any challenge that we had, there was a solution in the online support.”
GreeenTech containers allow crops to be grown anytime, anywhere, in the city or in the desert.Karolína Pumprlová, CGO, GreeenTech
From local produce to larger picture
Following the successful launch of the GreeenBox in Prague, GreeenTech entered the world stage, presenting its solution as part of the Czech Pavilion at World Expo 2022. Its impact has been broad: the Urbinio system showcased at the Expo will not travel back to the Czech Republic but will stay in Dubai, where it will be used at a hotel to farm fresh local vegetables for its guests.
Developments such as these help show where the luxury of having an indoor farm intersects with global challenges, says Pumprlová, who as the CGO of GreeenTech is responsible for the Grow Division, which addresses the agriculture aspect of the vertical farms. “People look at field farming and think that this is the best way to produce food,” she adds. “But this is not always true.”
Globally, many regions are not suitable for farming, and climate change and soil degradation will aggravate that reality. Irrigation practices are often not sustainable, and perishable food is transported over long distances, with a large CO₂ footprint, resulting in waste. Hydroponic farms can produce more per acre using up to 90% less water and 70% less fertilizer compared with field farming, and their produce often has a higher nutrient content, too. All of this is vitally needed: United Nations predictions warn that food production must increase by 70% by 2050 to feed the world.
“GreeenTech containers offer a solution that allows crops to be grown anytime, anywhere, in the city or in the desert,” says Pumprlová. “So while ours is a small solution, it’s still part of this very large picture of achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of responsible consumption and production, health and well-being, and zero hunger.”
The GreeenTech mobile farming systems use vertical hydroponic growing systems. The growing beds are arranged in vertically stacked layers, where the plants are cultivated without soil in a nutrient solution that is circulated continuously through the roots. As the crops are regrown in a controlled environment with optimum temperature, humidity, lighting, and nutrients, the plants will grow much faster, allowing for repeated, year-round harvesting. Moreover, crops are typically healthier as a result of not being treated with herbicides or pesticides.