Vertical Farming and Controlled Environment Agriculture

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Vertical farming involves growing crops in stacked layers, often in controlled environments such as greenhouses or warehouses. This technology can produce food with minimal land and water use, offering sustainable solutions for urban areas and regions with harsh climates.

Impact on climate action

Vertical Farming and Controlled Environment Agriculture in regenerative agriculture revolutionize food production by reducing land use, minimizing water usage, and eliminating chemical runoff. These innovations offer climate-smart solutions, promoting year-round crop cultivation in urban areas while mitigating environmental impact and ensuring sustainable food production in a changing climate.


  • Vertical Farming Systems: Vertical farms use stacked layers to grow crops, maximizing space utilization and allowing for production in urban areas and other locations where land is limited.
  • Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA): CEA involves growing crops in controlled environments, such as greenhouses or warehouses, where environmental factors like temperature, humidity, and light can be optimized for plant growth.
  • Hydroponics and Aeroponics: These soilless cultivation methods use nutrient-rich water to grow plants. Hydroponics uses a liquid solution, while aeroponics uses a mist to deliver nutrients to plant roots.
  • LED Lighting: LED lighting systems can be used to provide crops with the specific wavelengths of light they need for photosynthesis, optimizing growth and resource use efficiency.

TRL : 7-8

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Advanced Vertical Farming Systems: Startups and researchers are developing new and improved vertical farming systems that are more efficient, scalable, and cost-effective. This includes innovations in lighting systems, irrigation systems, and automation technologies.
  • Data-Driven Crop Optimization: Data analytics and AI are being used to monitor and optimize growing conditions in vertical farms, leading to higher yields and improved crop quality.
  • Robotic Harvesting and Automation: Robotics and automation technologies are being developed to automate tasks like planting, harvesting, and monitoring crops in vertical farms, reducing labor costs and improving efficiency.
  • Integration with Renewable Energy: Vertical farms can be integrated with renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, to reduce their environmental footprint and become more sustainable.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Urban Food Security Solutions
  • Advanced Lighting Solutions
  • Data-Driven Agriculture
  • Labor-Saving Automation
  • Renewable Energy Integration
  • Year-Round Crop Production
  • Hydroponic Innovations
  • Climate-Responsive Farming
  • Crop Diversity Expansion

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  • AeroFarms:
    • Technology Enhancement: AeroFarms utilizes vertical farming technology to grow leafy greens and herbs in indoor environments using aeroponic systems. Their proprietary aeroponic growing systems optimize resource efficiency by delivering nutrients directly to plant roots in a misting environment, minimizing water usage and maximizing crop yield.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: AeroFarms stands out for its vertical farming expertise and focus on sustainability and scalability. They leverage data analytics, machine learning, and LED lighting technology to optimize plant growth conditions and produce high-quality, nutrient-dense crops year-round in urban locations.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: AeroFarms serves consumers, retailers, and foodservice providers seeking locally grown, sustainably produced produce. Their vertical farming technology enables them to supply fresh and nutritious greens to urban communities while reducing transportation emissions and water consumption.
  • Plenty:
    • Technology Enhancement: Plenty specializes in vertical farming systems that utilize hydroponic and aeroponic techniques to grow a variety of crops indoors. Their approach focuses on optimizing plant growth conditions, including light, temperature, humidity, and nutrient levels, to produce high-yield, high-quality produce with minimal environmental impact.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Plenty distinguishes itself through its emphasis on plant science, data-driven agriculture, and consumer preferences. They prioritize flavor, texture, and nutritional quality in their crops while utilizing advanced technology and automation to increase efficiency and reduce resource inputs.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Plenty caters to consumers, retailers, and foodservice providers seeking fresh, locally grown produce with superior taste and quality. Their vertical farming technology allows them to grow a wide range of crops, including leafy greens, berries, and herbs, closer to urban markets, reducing food miles and increasing freshness.
  • Bowery Farming:
    • Technology Enhancement: Bowery Farming specializes in indoor vertical farming systems that utilize proprietary software, LED lighting, and hydroponic growing techniques to optimize plant growth and productivity. Their modular farming units enable efficient use of space and resources, allowing for year-round production of fresh, pesticide-free greens.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Bowery Farming stands out for its data-driven approach to vertical farming and commitment to sustainability and transparency. They track every aspect of the growing process, from seed to harvest, using sensor technology and machine learning algorithms to continuously improve crop yields, flavor profiles, and nutritional content.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Bowery Farming serves urban consumers, retailers, and foodservice providers seeking high-quality, locally grown produce with minimal environmental impact. Their indoor vertical farms are located close to major cities, ensuring freshness and reducing transportation emissions.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  • University of California, Davis:
    • Research Focus: UC Davis conducts research on Vertical Farming and Controlled Environment Agriculture, focusing on optimizing indoor growing systems for sustainable and efficient production of food crops.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves studying the effects of light spectrum, temperature, humidity, and nutrient delivery on plant growth and development in vertical farming environments.
    • End-use Applications: Their work has applications in urban agriculture, food security, and resource efficiency. For example, they’re researching hydroponic and aeroponic systems for growing leafy greens and herbs in urban settings, developing automated monitoring and control systems for optimizing resource use and crop yields in indoor farms, and exploring novel crop varieties and breeding techniques for enhancing the resilience and nutritional quality of vertically grown crops.
  • Cornell University:
    • Research Focus: Cornell University is actively involved in research on Vertical Farming and Controlled Environment Agriculture, exploring innovative technologies and management practices for increasing productivity and sustainability in indoor farming systems.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves developing energy-efficient lighting systems, advanced sensors, and machine learning algorithms for optimizing plant growth and resource use efficiency in vertical farming environments.
    • End-use Applications: Their work finds applications in precision agriculture, climate resilience, and urban food production. For instance, they’re researching multi-tiered vertical farming systems that maximize space utilization and crop diversity, evaluating the potential of aquaponics and integrated pest management techniques for reducing environmental impact and enhancing system resilience, and collaborating with urban planners and policymakers to integrate indoor farming facilities into sustainable urban development strategies.
  • Wageningen University & Research:
    • Research Focus: Wageningen University & Research is a global leader in agricultural research, including Vertical Farming and Controlled Environment Agriculture, focusing on developing innovative solutions for meeting the growing demand for fresh and nutritious food in urban areas.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves combining insights from plant physiology, engineering, and economics to design efficient and scalable indoor farming systems that minimize resource use and environmental impact.
    • End-use Applications: Their work has applications in food sovereignty, circular economy, and smart cities. For example, they’re researching vertical hydroponic towers and modular farming units that can be deployed in vacant buildings and repurposed spaces, developing closed-loop nutrient cycling systems and waste-to-energy technologies for enhancing the sustainability and self-sufficiency of indoor farming operations, and collaborating with food entrepreneurs and community organizations to establish urban agriculture hubs and food distribution networks that promote local food production and consumption.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

Vertical farms are being implemented in commercial-scale projects around the world, providing fresh and sustainably produced food in urban areas and other locations where traditional farming is challenging.