Where to go for sustainable and feasible vertical farming? A journey through resource use, environmental performances and viability indicators

F. Orsini, I. Zauli
Food systems are responsible for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions and high water, soil and mineral nutrient consumption. Therefore, the study of innovative production techniques resilient to climate change and efficient in the use of resources assume considerable relevance. Vertical farming uses cultivation systems with high technological content. It takes place in climatic cells isolated from the external environment, where artificial lighting is used. The potential of these systems is often associated with the considerable saving of water and mineral resources, the reduced phytosanitary requirements or the reduced land use for agriculture. Major issues to be addressed mainly concern the high installation costs, the elevate energy requirements and environmental impacts associated with lighting. While we are witnessing a rapid development of these technologies in North America, Asia and Northern Europe, applications in the Mediterranean remain limited. Nonetheless, literature shows that main advantages of vertical farming may be observed in warmer climates, in which traditional greenhouse production techniques have to deal with limited water availability and higher energy costs for cooling. Therefore, there is the need for validating vertical farming technologies in experimental conditions. Within the European project H2020 “Food Systems in European Cities (www.foode.eu)” at the University of Bologna the first experimental vertical farm in Italy (AlmaVFarm) has been recently created. AlmaVFarm integrates vertical cultivation systems and energy-efficient lighting technologies aimed at identifying sustainable management protocols and genotypes most adapted to vertical farming conditions, identifying the main sources of impact and develop sustainable management technologies and protocols in both economic and environmental terms. Although the large-scale application of vertical farming is still to be validated in terms of environmental efficiency and productivity it appears that this technology can effectively integrate traditional agriculture, especially where the consequences of climate change will be more pronounced.
Orsini, F. and Zauli, I. (2023). Where to go for sustainable and feasible vertical farming? A journey through resource use, environmental performances and viability indicators. Acta Hortic. 1369, 117-124
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2023.1369.14
energy use efficiency (EUE), land surface use efficiency (SUE), water use efficiency (WUE), indoor farming, plant factories with artificial lighting (PFALs), sustainability assessment

Acta Horticulturae