50 Innovators of the Year 2022
According to the United Nations, food security is of utmost importance for humankind. Today, the UN estimates that nearly 50% of the world population does not have enough food to lead an active, healthy life. By 2050, the world’s population is expected to grow to 9.7 billion, and feeding it will be a considerable challenge. Due to urbanization and industrial development, we are losing arable land daily. In 2015, scientists reported that the Earth had lost a third of its arable lands over the previous 40 years.
We don’t know how much more we will lose in the next 40 years. Increasing food demand due to a growing population and ever-decreasing arable lands poses one of the most significant challenges. Many believe vertical farming can be the answer to this challenge.
Sprout AI is one of the most innovative firms tackling the challenge of growing food through vertical farming. Having combined the most favorable components in each vertical farming category, Sprout AI manufactures scalable AI-controlled grow “habitats” that can be installed in any existing or new indoor space worldwide. Working with a select group of vertical farming partners, Sprout AI is positioned to be a leader in the new generation vertical farming.
Utilizing advanced sensor controls, Sprout AI provides the ability to design specified feed and environmental parameters to allow all plant genetics to present its optimal phenotypical expression. The direct result is fewer lost batches, higher quality, consistency between batches, and crop biosecurity lending to a safer investment.
In conversation with Chris Bolton, Chairman of the Board, CEO, and Founder, and Carlos Zapata, COO of Sprout A.I., S.A.,
As a journalist, I find Sprout AI quite striking. From the emotional branding standpoint, it has that appeal. How did you come up with the brand name? And please brief us about the history so far.
The word sprout has multiple meanings, especially regarding our company. Just as all plant growth begins as a sprout from the seed and grows into something much more significant, all businesses begin with the sprout of an idea and grow from there. Sprout AI Inc. was formed to plan, design, manufacture, sell, operate and support vertical automated fogponic grow habitats designed to operate within high-density urban settings.
Sprout has since grown into a company that conducts agritech-research through its alignment with the Institute of Agricultural Innovation of Panama(IDIAP). It also grows food to support Panama’s less fortunate through its partnership with Activo 20-30 Las Cumbres. Furthermore, at Sprout AI, we are growing not only vegetables and fruit but also a business that will revolutionize traditional farming methods and change food insecurity globally.
Our vision is to continually innovate and provide the best vertical indoor farming technology to ensure that anyone, anywhere, at any time, can reliably produce high-quality, affordable produce.
Q. Can you explain your services in brief?
Sprout AI offers a turn-key solution that includes services and integrated cultivation technology. This technology’s core is Sprout AI’s sealed “habitat” that includes LED lighting to minimize power consumption, advanced air filtration, HVAC, and a water recycling system that recovers 100% of the water used in neutral. Each habitat is self-contained, allowing for staggered growth plans, which results in greater labor efficiency. Habitats are stacked onto rolling racks, three levels high, hosting 15 habitats per rack.
The distinct habitats also mitigate external and cross-contamination risks and allow for multi-crop farms, which can be scheduled to ensure daily harvests. What separates Sprout AI from the pack, aside from its optimal use of every cubic meter of cultivation space, is its use of fogponics. Fogponics uses little water for cultivation over traditional soil, aquaponic, hydroponic, or aeroponic systems.
In fogponics, plant roots are separated from the plant using self-contained root chambers. Inside those chambers, roots are suspended in the air and misted with purified, nutrient-rich water directly on the plant’s roots in the most optimal way to absorb nutrients and at a temperature optimal to the plant itself. By separating the plant root zone from the plat leaf zone, we can optimize plant cultivation and cultivate difficult-to-grow plants like wasabi that require a plant zone that is much warmer than the root zone.
Q. What are the problems and barriers that the vertical farming sector is facing? How does your company help to tackle them?
The most significant barrier to entry into vertical farming is the costs involved. Upfront costs can be exorbitant for the units and to build. For example, the contained farming solutions offered by many vertical farming providers begin at approx. $140,000 as of 2021; this is not including shipping. In comparison, our habitats retail for $20,000/each. Each shipping container is approximately 2,350 cubic
feet. Each of our habitats is 300 cubic feet. If we use an example of lettuce, a shipping container by one of our competitors can produce up to 1000 heads of lettuce. Within the same cubic footprint, our habitats can produce up to 1175 heads of lettuce. The COI of our habitats outpaces the majority of our competitors.
Q. With the world’s population rising and millions already facing food insecurity, how does your company make food security more sustainable?
We bring the farm back to the city. We believe that food needs to be produced within 1-2 kilometers of its end user. That ensures maximum freshness and reduces carbon emissions from transport. Our habitats are designed to be easily installed in existing buildings with minimal retrofitting or in the purpose-built Allied Steel Buildings that our parent company, TheraCann, had supported in their expansion to the vertical farming sector.
Q. What does the road ahead look like for Sprout AI? Do you have anything new coming up?
We are one of only a few companies with projects located in 4 hemispheres, which is expanding quickly. With our focus on delivering our turn-key solution globally, we will continue on our path of innovation, capitalization, and expansion to achieve our vision. To end this year, we will have new R&D projects and new project locations to announce, as well as status updates on our existing projects to showcase our ability to meet local demands for indoor urban cultivation.
Empowering a sustainable future with vertical fogponic farming
Chris Bolton is the Chairman of the Board, CEO, and Founder at Sprout A.I., S.A., and TheraCann International Benchmark Corp. Chris has for over 30 years served as a Senior Executive with a proven reputation for creating a corporate vision to maximize multi-stakeholder input and the knowledge and passion for implementing on that vision.
Carlos Zapata is the COO at Sprout A.I., S.A. Carlos has been with Sprout AI since October 2020 as the Assembly and Manufacturing Manager, has an extensive background in complex engineering operations, and boasts over 20 years of manufacturing experience.