Everyone is talking about sustainability and ways to reduce operating costs by possibly doing more. One growing method that addresses all of this is aeroponics. At the same time, setting up a large-scale aeroponic greenhouse is a huge task. This is where the Swiss company CleanGreens Solutions comes into play. “We design mobile aeroponic systems for greenhouse leafy green production and the associated app,” says Bernhard Baumgartner, Commercial Director of CleanGreens Solutions. “This places us in a unique market position, as there are very few suppliers like us globally.”
The CleanGreens system consists of a conveyor system, an infeed and outfeed conveyor and modules. Underneath it all, a moving robot sprays the roots with a nourishing mist. “This robot allows homogeneous and above all uniform irrigation throughout the greenhouse but also allows you to change the irrigation parameters during the growth cycle. Most importantly, we’ve eliminated the risk of nozzle clogging by design. In fact, the robot has a reduced number of nozzles, i.e. 72 for an area of up to 1,000 m2, with a special shape that prevents them from clogging”. Furthermore, the robot can be easily pulled out of the cultivation line. “This greatly facilitates maintenance, which is usually a big deal when it comes to aeroponic systems.” In fact, Bernhard points out that none of the growers he worked with ever had blockages.
Greenova system installed with ‘Les Crudettes’ in France in a 8’000 m2 greenhouse
Fixed systems vs. moving robots
Bernhard says he designed such a mobile robot because of the inherent problem of stationary aeroponic systems. “In a stationary aeroponic system, you have several nozzles per square meter. This means that if you have a 10,000m2 greenhouse, you potentially have tens of thousands of nozzles. This not only puts a strain on CAPEX, but it’s additional maintenance as well. So, a grower would pay someone to check and maintain their nozzles regularly. Operationally speaking, it’s a nightmare to make. In addition, it is very difficult to uniformly water plants with a large-scale fixed system, mainly because the droplet quality is very pressure sensitive and would require a complex piping layout. With our system, we ensure that irrigation droplets remain high quality no matter where they are delivered to the roots. The mobility of our robot saves farmers from this burden. This is because it sprays at regular intervals. There are fewer nozzles, which has a positive impact on maintenance costs. The robot would not solve the manpower problem, but it would certainly save a farmer from requiring more.”
Support is key
CleanGreens Solutions also closely follows its customers. “We sell the equipment and install it for our customer. And then, we have designed a “care package” to help the grower throughout the cultivation, but also if he wants to increase production. We have agronomists who would be in direct contact with the growers and would make site visits during the first production cycles. We have created this service because we want our customers to be successful, for one simple reason: our system is super technological and very modern. The growers who opt for this are visionaries and early adopters. We have to offer them the peace of mind of operating with such a unique technology. This is something about us, not the cultivator.
Just for ease of use, the system comes bundled with software that allows a grower to easily manage every aspect of the operation. “The software has two main functions,” explains Bernhard. “It can do everything in the greenhouse and keep track of what is happening in the crop and who is doing that specific job. So, for example, it would know what each operator does on a daily basis, but it would also know that certain forms need to be collected and others need to be washed and sanitized. Indeed, one of the features of the software is an alert system that warns a grower when action is needed.”
The close attention to detail that CleanGreens Solutions has put into the design of its large-scale aeroponics is delivering good results to the companies. “We’re shifting gears right now,” he says. “We will be commissioning two large-scale projects in Europe and the Middle East, with more to come soon. At the same time, we’re looking at different markets. Besides Europe, the Middle East is a large area that we want to cover, and our system fits perfectly with that region’s strategy for food security. North America, of course, is also a market we want to enter. However, no matter where we go first, our primary driver will always be to continue to improve our system to lower OPEX and improve yield even more.