CleanGreens Solutions is expanding its soil-less crops to the Middle East. - An article by Alain Detraz, published on November 8, 2021.
The entrepreneurial prizes and the approximately 10 million raised in Switzerland by CleanGreens Solutions appear to be about to pay off. The small company that emerged from the Y-Parc in Yverdon-les-Bains and is based at the Agropole in Molondin is in the process of crossing the threshold of industrializing its patented high-tech crops. After France and Switzerland, mobile aeroponics is about to be introduced in Kuwait.
White coats and face masks are required to enter the Molondin above-ground greenhouse. This precaution is necessary to avoid contamination of the lettuce, whose roots grow in a vacuum. This is because the crop is not sprayed with any products, not even those used in organic plantations. But that is not where this greenhouse's originality lies.
Automated cultivation, without processing
This is the hidden part that constitutes the technological part of this cultivation method. An automated robot sprays the roots with nutrient-enriched water. Excess water drops are collected and returned to the small water treatment plant. Finally, and this is why it is called mobile aeroponics, the lettuces move around. They enter the circuit as seedlings, placed on white plates that move as the plants grow. At the end of the cycle, the ripe lettuces are ready to be picked, at human height, without having to bend down. By limiting human intervention, automation avoids contamination, which means that the foliage does not have to be treated.
«Après cinq ans de développement, nous sommes passés du concept de laboratoire à une réalité industrielle.»
Serge Gander, directeur général de CleanGreens Solutions
Managing Director Serge Gander, together with a group of investors, took over the start-up that was born under the name CombaGroup. This dynamic entrepreneur is leading the former start-up (born in 2012) to conquer the agri-food sector. After five years of development, we have gone from a laboratory concept to an industrial reality," he says. We have big ambitions, both in Switzerland and abroad, and we will reach the break-even point in the next eighteen months."
This crop automation is indeed promising. "Soil-less cultivation systems are set to multiply in the face of population growth and the lack of arable land," says Stéphane Carrichon, agronomist director of CleanGreens.
Not only is the system very economical in terms of water consumption thanks to its closed circuit, it also promises extraordinary yields. In Molondin, the 300 m2 experimental greenhouse is never empty. The moving plates of lettuce are constantly replenished. As soon as they are picked, they are replanted! And this is done throughout the year. This promises a yield 30 times higher than traditional crops.
Water-saving, profitable and sustainable due to the absence of treatment products: these arguments have convinced a Geneva-based market gardener, after having won over a French colleague who has already extended his first acquisition. And it is in Kuwait that CleanGreens will install some 7000 m2 of automated greenhouses next year.
Not just lettuce.
However, in the middle of the North Vaud countryside, one wonders where the taste of the terroir has gone in this business. The aim is not to reproduce the taste of a terroir, but to grow plants whose variety gives them flavour, such as salads or aromatic herbs," explains Stéphane Carrichon. On the other hand, we wouldn't grow carrots or potatoes in aeroponics.
It is true that salads are not the only plants that can be grown this way. CleanGreens is experimenting with a variety of plants, both aromatic and medicinal. And when Stéphane Carrichon picks a sprig of basil, followed by a bit of Moroccan mint, the scents that come through the sanitary mask leave no doubt about the success of these plantations.
But there is a flaw in this little miracle of technology. Depending on the location, it can consume a lot of energy because of the lighting, but also to maintain the right temperature in the greenhouse. The company could close this loophole by coupling the installation of the greenhouses with a neighbouring industry to recover energy.
Organic without a label
The Molondin greenhouse offers the possibility of producing locally species that are usually imported. This would call into question the import of foodstuffs produced thousands of kilometres away under the organic label. The fact remains that, in Europe, aeroponics is not entitled to the organic label, even though it does not use any phytosanitary products.
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