CleanGreens Solutions SA, Switzerland

This interview details CleanGreens Solutions SA, an indoor farming company based in Switzerland. The interview is with Bruno Cheval, CEO of CleanGreens.

Source: CleanGreens

What is the Origin of CleanGreens?

CleanGreens was founded 10 years ago, I am not the founder however. Our original founder identified that there are a lot of issues with traditional agriculture, he was an engineer by training, and he wanted to find a solution to reduce waste.

The first 5 years of the company, the company worked on R&D, figuring out, what is the best way to grow leafy greens indoors.

The company identified aeroponics technology as the best technology. Aeroponics was popular in the 90’s because NASA was researching it in order to grow vegetables in space, but it did not get a lot of attention in agriculture because of the high maintenance that was required to grow aeroponically at a large scale.

Source: CleanGreens

The vision of the company became to industrialize aeroponics. The goal was a solution that could be implemented in greenhouses at a large scale because we believe this is the best environment for the plant to grow with sound economics.

Today, the company is based in Switzerland, near Lausanne, and we’ve been here for almost 10 years, since inception. The company's previous name was CombaGroup, but the name changed about two years ago.

Source: CleanGreens

What Makes CleanGreens Unique?

As many know, there are 2 main technologies in CEA - hydroponics and aeroponics. Those 2 types of tech, can be implemented in different settings: greenhouse or vertical farms, or in container farms.

The difference with CleanGreens is that we have developed an aeroponics technology that works in a greenhouse with an irrigation system that does not require a lot of maintenance. We use a mobile irrigation robot that moves underneath the plant to spray the nutritive solution directly to the root. No other company is doing this.

Source: CleanGreens

CleanGreens competes with companies that develop hydroponics for greenhouses. Our big advantage of aeroponics, is that it gives the best growing condition for the plant because the roots need oxygen and our system provides much more oxygen to roots than other technologies, which enables more productivity and better plant quality.

Aeroponics also uses much less water than hydroponics, and therefore provides unique growing conditions: benefits include higher yield, and lower phytosanitary risk than hydroponics.

Source: CleanGreens

What are Some of the Unique Metrics of the Company?

We have observed about 100 kilos of leafy green production per square meter, per year, with our system. For aromatic herbs, this figure is closer to 40 - 50 kilos / per square meter per year.  

Regarding water usage, we have seen 10 - 15 liters of water/kilo of leafy greens produced. For reference, hydroponics system are about 20 - 50 liters/kilo of leafy greens, and open field production is about 200 - 250 liters/kilo of leafy greens.

This type of performance is very interesting in areas such as France and Spain, which have large greenhouse production but also severe drought problems. We also implemented our first system outside Europe in Kuwait, addressing the challenges of water scarcity in extreme climate. 

Source: CleanGreens

The technology works because there is less evaporation than hydroponics since irrigation is done in a closed environment in our aeroponic system. The only significant water loss is due to transpiration of the plant, which is not the case in any other system with evaporation also from the irrigation system.

We are working with five primary clients, located across Switzerland, France, and Kuwait in the Middle East.

In the future, we are looking at the US market, because we have a version of our technology which performs very well producing spinach. Hydroponics systems have many challenges growing spinach regarding roots contamination that do not happen with our system, so we see a huge opportunity here. 

Source: CleanGreens

What are the Challenges?

We have several challenges ahead of us just like any startup. The economic environment is difficult for many small companies globally. Also, the bad press around vertical farming - everyone is saying CEA is not working, affects us as well, despite the fact that I view CleanGreens as in a different category than vertical farms.

Source: CleanGreens

It has been a challenge to convince people that we are doing things differently. This is a disruptive technology, so there is resistance always, especially in a traditional industry like agriculture.

Finally, the usual startup challenges also exist: finding talent, proving your technology, finding commercial customers, and funding.

Source: CleanGreens

What have you learned since starting the company?

Lessons learned include: 

  • Projects always take longer than you think. We are talking about industrial size projects, so it takes a lot of time. There is the client, the greenhouse provider, and a lot of people involved. 
  • Secondly, not coming from an agronomy background, I did not realize the capabilities of the technology to grow plants in air and not in soil, so seeing this technology and its performance first hand has been a major lesson learned!

Source: CleanGreens

How can somone reach CleanGreens? 

Follow our website and LinkedIn page, we will also have a booth at the Indoor Agtech show in New York in June, and also the Green Tech in Amsterdam in June as well, if people want to find more, we’ll be available to meet in person.

Source: CleanGreens

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