Indoor Vertical Farming

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Indoor vertical farming involves growing crops in vertically stacked layers within controlled environments, such as warehouses, shipping containers, or purpose-built structures. This technology utilizes artificial lighting, hydroponics or aeroponics, and climate control systems to optimize plant growth and enable year-round food production with minimal land and water usage.

Impact on climate action

Indoor Vertical Farming under Smart Farming amplifies climate action by maximizing resource efficiency and minimizing environmental impact. By reducing water usage, land requirements, and transportation emissions, this innovation promotes local food production, enhances resilience to climate change, and contributes to sustainable agriculture, mitigating carbon emissions.


  • Vertical Farming Systems: Vertical farms utilize stacked layers of growing trays, towers, or other structures to maximize space utilization. These systems often incorporate hydroponics or aeroponics, where plants are grown without soil, using nutrient-rich water or mist.
  • Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA): CEA encompasses various technologies and techniques for controlling environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, light, and CO2 levels, to optimize plant growth and maximize yields.
  • LED Lighting: LED lighting systems provide efficient and customizable lighting for plant growth, allowing for precise control of light spectrum and intensity to meet the specific needs of different crops.
  • Hydroponics and Aeroponics: These soilless growing techniques deliver nutrients directly to plant roots, reducing water usage and minimizing the risk of soil-borne diseases.
  • Automation and Robotics: Automation and robotics can be used to automate tasks such as planting, harvesting, and monitoring crop health, improving efficiency and reducing labor costs in vertical farms.

TRL : 7-8

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced LED Lighting Systems: Innovations in LED lighting technology are improving efficiency and spectral control, allowing for optimization of light conditions for specific crops and growth stages. This includes the development of LED lights that mimic sunlight and promote optimal plant growth.
  • Precision Climate Control: Advanced sensors and control systems enable precise control of temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels, creating optimal growing conditions for various crops. This allows for year-round production of high-quality produce regardless of external weather conditions.
  • AI-Powered Crop Management: AI and machine learning algorithms can analyze data from sensors and cameras to monitor crop health, predict yields, and optimize growing conditions. This data-driven approach helps to maximize productivity and resource efficiency.
  • Vertical Farm Automation and Robotics: Robots and automated systems are being developed to perform tasks such as planting, harvesting, and plant care, improving efficiency and reducing labor costs in vertical farms. This includes robotic arms for harvesting delicate crops and automated systems for transplanting and monitoring plant growth.
  • Integration with Renewable Energy Sources: Vertical farms can be powered by renewable energy sources, such as solar PV or wind power, to further reduce their environmental footprint and promote sustainable food production.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Advanced LED Lighting Solutions
  • Precision Climate Control Systems
  • AI-Driven Crop Management
  • Vertical Farming Automation Technologies
  • Modular Vertical Farming Units
  • Nutrient Delivery Innovations
  • Data Analytics for Yield Optimization
  • Robotics in Crop Cultivation
  • Multi-tiered Growing Systems
  • Disease and Pest Management Solutions
  • Vertical Farming in Urban Environments
  • Sustainable Water Management Techniques
  • Crop Diversity Expansion Strategies
  • Vertical Farming for Food Security
  • Soilless Growing Techniques Advancements
  • Smart Sensors for Crop Monitoring
  • Indoor Farming Supply Chain Optimization

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  1. AeroFarms:
    • Technology Enhancement: AeroFarms specializes in indoor vertical farming using aeroponic systems, where plants are grown in a misty environment without soil. They utilize a patented aeroponic growing system that delivers nutrients directly to the plant roots in a controlled environment, optimizing growth conditions for various crops.
    • Uniqueness: AeroFarms’ uniqueness lies in its advanced aeroponic technology, which allows for the efficient production of leafy greens and herbs with minimal water usage and no pesticides. Their vertical farming approach maximizes space utilization and enables year-round crop production, addressing the challenges of traditional agriculture.
    • End-User Segments: AeroFarms primarily targets urban areas where access to fresh produce is limited. Their technology caters to retailers, restaurants, and consumers seeking locally grown, sustainably produced greens and herbs.
  2. Plenty:
    • Technology Enhancement: Plenty specializes in vertical farming using hydroponic systems, where plants are grown in nutrient-rich water without soil. They employ advanced lighting, climate control, and automation technologies to optimize plant growth and maximize yield in indoor environments.
    • Uniqueness: Plenty distinguishes itself through its focus on data-driven farming practices and the use of machine learning algorithms to continuously optimize growing conditions for each plant variety. Their vertically integrated approach, from seed to harvest, ensures consistent quality and flavor in their produce.
    • End-User Segments: Plenty targets both consumers and retailers with their high-quality, locally grown produce. They aim to disrupt traditional supply chains by offering fresh, flavorful fruits and vegetables that are grown sustainably and harvested at peak ripeness.
  3. Infarm:
    • Technology Enhancement: Infarm specializes in modular indoor vertical farming systems that can be installed in various urban locations, including supermarkets, restaurants, and schools. Their hydroponic farming units are equipped with LED lighting, climate control, and smart sensors to monitor and adjust growing conditions in real-time.
    • Uniqueness: Infarm’s uniqueness lies in its modular farming approach, which allows for scalability and flexibility in indoor farming operations. Their compact farming units can be easily integrated into existing infrastructure, enabling on-site production of fresh herbs, leafy greens, and microgreens.
    • End-User Segments: Infarm targets retailers, food service providers, and consumers interested in hyper-local, ultra-fresh produce. Their in-store farming units not only provide access to a wide variety of herbs and greens but also enhance the shopping experience by offering transparency and sustainability in food production.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  1. Wageningen University & Research:
    • Research Focus: Wageningen University & Research is a leader in research on Indoor Vertical Farming, focusing on sustainable and efficient cultivation methods for producing food crops in controlled indoor environments.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses plant physiology, horticultural science, and agricultural engineering to optimize lighting, temperature, humidity, and nutrient delivery systems in vertical farming systems. They also explore novel cultivation techniques, such as hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics, to maximize resource use efficiency and crop yield in indoor environments.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in urban agriculture, food security, and local food production. By enabling year-round cultivation of high-value crops in urban areas, Wageningen’s research contributes to reducing food miles, minimizing environmental impact, and increasing resilience to climate change and resource constraints.
  2. Cornell University:
    • Research Focus: Cornell University conducts innovative research on Indoor Vertical Farming, leveraging its expertise in plant breeding, genetics, and controlled environment agriculture to address key challenges in indoor crop production.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves developing crop varieties tailored for vertical farming conditions, with traits such as compact growth habits, high yields, and resistance to environmental stresses. They also explore advanced lighting technologies, spectral manipulation, and automation systems to optimize crop growth, quality, and resource use efficiency in vertical farming environments.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work find applications in urban agriculture, rooftop farming, and specialty crop production. By breeding crops specifically for indoor cultivation and developing tailored agronomic practices, Cornell’s research supports the scalability and commercial viability of indoor vertical farming as a sustainable food production system.
  3. University of California, Davis:
    • Research Focus: UC Davis is engaged in cutting-edge research on Indoor Vertical Farming, focusing on the integration of data science, robotics, and artificial intelligence to optimize crop management and production workflows in indoor growing facilities.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses the development of sensor networks, imaging technologies, and machine learning algorithms for real-time monitoring and control of environmental conditions, crop growth, and pest/disease management in vertical farming systems. They also explore the use of robotic platforms, automated harvesting systems, and predictive analytics to streamline operations and improve productivity in indoor agriculture.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in commercial vertical farms, research greenhouses, and urban food hubs. By leveraging advanced technologies and data-driven approaches, UC Davis’s research enables growers to achieve higher yields, lower operating costs, and greater consistency in crop quality and quantity, driving the adoption and scalability of indoor vertical farming as a sustainable food production solution.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Vertical farms and CEA facilities are being implemented in various locations around the world, including urban areas, regions with limited arable land, and areas with harsh climates. For example, AeroFarms operates a large-scale vertical farm in Newark, New Jersey, while Plenty has facilities in the United States and the Middle East. Additionally, several supermarkets and restaurants are incorporating smaller-scale vertical farming units to provide fresh and locally grown produce to their customers.