1. Can you summarize the PlantLab narrative?
A Revolution In Food
PlantLab is on a mission to change the way the world is fed. Through our revolutionary technology we can grow fruits and vegetables on a fraction of the land required for conventional farming. Not only do we greatly improve crop taste and nutritional value, we also eliminate the use of pesticides and drastically reduce the amount of water necessary. Given that our technology is geographically indiscriminate, we can almost eliminate the need for transportation and thus significantly curb pollution. Better food, better-fed people, and a healthier planet for our children and grandchildren.
The global population is expected to increase from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, with 85% of people living in cities by that time. Land in locations suboptimal for growing crops will have to be developed in order to meet the needs of our rising population. However, crops grown in these harsh conditions are extremely susceptible to pests and diseases. Current agricultural practice suggests we address this issue by increasing the amount of pesticides and by genetically modifying crops. Even if we use these methods, we cannot continue to feed the world’s growing population using existing agriculture technology without depleting natural resources and damaging the planet. We urgently need to transform the way we feed the world in order to ensure food production is sustainable, and that our growing population has access to affordable, safe and nutritious food.
New Plant Logic
From the earliest years of our cooperation we began studying plants and developing mathematical models in order to unravel the algorithms that help explain them. In nature, and even in the most sophisticated greenhouses, plants only use a fraction of the energy of the sun, approximately 1-5%. Plants often or almost always suffer from the energy of the sun. By controlling this better the plant can achieve out of a much lesser amount of energy more biomass. In other words: we obtain more outcome out the same genetics with less energy input.
What plants consider paradise is quite different than what we might expect. If plants had a say in their environment, they would have very specific requirements for every stage of their development regarding light, temperature, airflow, humidity, CO2, water and nutrients. Using our research, we created their paradise: a merger of state-of-the-art technology and knowledge of plant physiology. We built a completely closed growing environment where we can optimize and control all growth conditions: the PPU (Plant Production Unit).
PlantLab does not modify plants themselves; instead, we select the characteristics of nature that plants like, while omitting the elements that inhibit plant development and growth. For example, we give plants only the wavelengths of light that they prefer (red, blue and some far-red), and combine this with sophisticated climate control and other insights from our mathematical models.
Our technology and knowledge of plant physiology allows us to grow any crop in a tremendously sustainable way. Crop production is no longer limited to large plots of land, nor does it require a lot of resources. We grow crops in buildings, without any natural sunlight, and using 90% less water than traditional agricultural practices.
We can control PPUs remotely by uploading growing recipes. These recipes specify the precise conditions required for each stage of plant growth, and are customized by crop. Our controlled growing environment allows us to produce consistently fresh and safe crops, irrespective of climate, location, season, or time of day.
A PPU can produce crop yields that are 2 to 3 times higher than the best greenhouse, and 30 to 40 times higher than an open crop field. Growing 7 ounces of fresh fruits and vegetables for one person every day for a year requires 10 square feet of space. To feed 100,000 people would therefore require a PPU with 10 growing levels (divided over 1 or more stories), each 330×330 feet in size. This is equivalent to the area of less than 2 adjacent soccer fields stacked 10 levels high. The convenient truth is that, unlike what some people have suggested, we do not need another planet to feed our growing population.
Plants can reach their full potential in a PPU. By optimizing the environment where plants live, we can enhance their beauty, nutritional value and taste, without changing their genetic makeup. Plants grown in a PPU are not susceptible to pests and diseases, therefore eliminating the need for pesticides.
Growing Locally: From Food Miles to Food Steps
PPUs allow for food to be grown locally, close to consumers, at a scale that matches local demand. Why, for example, grow thousands of acres of tomatoes in the south of Spain, if only to transport them to Moscow? These tomatoes must be harvested five days prior to consumption in order to be transported, but harvesting early significantly diminishes their taste and nutritional value.
Rather than growing food in particular regions and then transporting it over long distances, we can grow food right where consumers live. This reduces the amount of time between harvesting and consumption and environmental pollution caused by food-related transportation. It also eliminates waste, because the right quantity can be harvested to meet demand at the right time. Given that almost 50% of all produce is currently thrown away, this offers significant financial savings.
Our globally patented system can be used anywhere and on any scale. In the near future, PPUs will allow for fruits, vegetables and herbs to be grown in warehouses in cities, in the produce departments of local supermarkets, and in the kitchens of restaurants. It will even be possible to grow crops in microwave-sized PPUs in home kitchens, which has the added benefit of enabling children to be more connected with how food is grown.
Founded in 2010 by four engineers, our team has since expanded to over 35 people. We built our first PPU in March 2010, and are currently investing over $22 million in our 200,000 square–foot headquarters and research facility in the Netherlands, which will allow us to optimize crop production and further improve our technology and expertise.
We are on a mission to change the way we feed the world. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that plants can reach their full potential, so that we can have a world where everyone has access to a sustainable source of safe, affordable and nutritious food. Radically transforming traditional agricultural practices is an enormous challenge, and we need substantial support to do this. We invite you to join PlantLab and our network of supporters in changing the way the world is fed.