Vertical Farms: Incorporating CO2 supply into life cycle assessments

Published on 
October 17, 2023

Controlled environment agriculture and vertical farming hold great promise for meeting the food needs of a rapidly expanding global population. By using less water and soil, fewer pesticides, and decreasing reliance on natural resources, vertical farming offers a more sustainable and efficient way to grow crops throughout the year. Land is conserved and dependence on climate is minimized, the latter of which is becoming more critical given the profound impacts of climate change.

With all the benefits outlined above, it’s no wonder the future for the vertical farming market is bright, with growth projected to extend from $5.6 billion in 2022 to over $35 billion by 2032.  

However, operating a vertical farm is not without challenges. There are significant costs, specialized equipment needs, and energy consumption requirements. Vertical farms also need access to a steady supply of carbon dioxide to enrich crops and expedite growth.

Unfortunately, many farms continue to source CO2 from the fossil fuel industry via harmful “point source capture” processes. By this method, CO2 is captured from a large emission source, such as an oil refinery, power plant, or any facility that burns fossil fuels. The captured emissions are separated from exhaust gasses, bottled in heavy cylinders, and transported by gas-guzzling trucks to the consumer. The entire process increases emissions, and quite dramatically so. Recent calculations reveal that for every 1 kg of CO2 generated via point source capture methods, due to the energy intensity and transport of CO2 up to 1.5 kg of emissions are released back into the air after use.

For vertical farms eager to have a positive overall impact, sourcing CO2 from the fossil fuel industry not only has the capacity to add to the climate change problem, it can also diminish the shine of a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).

What is a Life Cycle Assessment and why is it important?

Commercial farms conduct LCAs to analyze performance, compare environmental impact to traditional and conventional farming, and validate the ability to produce food in a more sustainable and eco-friendly manner. An LCA can help identify hotspots in production, use and disposal of a product and where to focus on improving its footprint. These analyses consider a wide range of factors including raw materials used, transportation needs, waste management and disposal, and energy requirements, to name a few. LCAs are important for securing grants and other forms of funding.  They can also be helpful in offsetting some of the skepticism the industry has drawn regarding the true positive environmental impacts of the practice.

With a DAC solution, any vertical farm can generate its own supply of CO2 onsite. At Skytree, we make it simple for any CEA business to successfully execute this transition.

Once installed, Skytree’s modular Cumulus unit captures CO2 from the ambient air, filters it, and stores it in pressurized buffer tanks where it can be accessed and deployed by any business in need of CO2 as part of their ongoing operations. With just one Cumulus DAC unit, indoor farmers and greenhouse growers can access an uninterrupted supply of up to 10 kg of clean and sustainable CO2 in a 24-hour period. Units can be stacked together to accommodate businesses with greater CO2 needs.

Skytree Cumulus Life Cycle Assessment

Skytree also provides an LCA for the use of the Skytree Cumulus  units, considering all factors in its operation including raw materials, components of the unit, distribution, assembly, electrical requirements, and ultimately disposal. As a result, CEA businesses can also have a more accurate accounting of their overall carbon footprint.

For vertical farms, moving away from the fossil fuel industry has never been easier. With DAC, the challenges of procuring CO2 from outside vendors, waiting on shipments, and navigating supply chain issues become frustrations of the past. As energy requirements for DAC units are optimized, the return on investment both financially and reputationally will only continue to grow.

Click here to learn more about Skytree and to understand how generating CO2 onsite with Skytree Cumulus DAC units can positively impact your vertical farm or greenhouse.

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