Indoor Biology Research Center
Our Research Center in Belgium contains 10 state-of-the-art climate chambers, which can mimic any climate on earth. To test yields and improve plant growth recipes in our commercial solutions, we also operate a full-scale FarmPro container farm and a ModuleX Plant Factory Grow Module.
Our main activities are crop variety screening, enhancing nutrient formulations, and perfecting plant cultivation techniques. We have developed our own LED light technology, and continue our experiments to enhance plant response to LED light spectrum and intensity.
Our Research Center Equipment Features
3D Virtual Tour
SpaceBakery Project (growing wheat on Mars)
The spacebakery project is a Belgian consortium led by Puratos, a global bakery and chocolate supply company, which has set our to research whether people could bake bread from wheat grown on Mars. Urban Crop Solutions developed and installed 2 FarmLab research farms at Puratos’ headquarters near Brussels, Belgium, and on 1 January 2020 researchers started working in the enclosed ecological plant cultivation system and bakery.
Using the plant cultivation infrastructure, researchers from the seven members of the consortium will learn how to create the ideal environment for the efficient production of wheat crops, as well as other plants that could be included in bread to increase its nutritional value. The consortium exists out of Urban Crop Solutions, Puratos Group, Magics Instruments, SCK•CEN, Ghent University, The University of Hasselt and Flanders’ Food.
Banana Tree Nursery (University of Leuven)
The climate of African highlands can be found in Belgium since 2017: in a FarmLab research farm at the Bioscience Engineering Faculty of the Catholic University of Leuven. Scientists are studying how well different banana cultivars grow in this climate. The researchers want to find the ideal banana plant for farmers in the African highlands. Prof. Sebastien Carpentier, the driving force behind the project: "At the moment, these farmers do not regard bananas as a profitable crop.
The plants are often seen just growing in back gardens. Currently, banana growers create ideal conditions in which to grow the bananas which we all know. This is mainly done by giving the plants a lot of water. Climate change will make this unfeasible. Our long-term goal is to find the most-suited bananas for each type of climate. In this way, we want to introduce a whole range of 'climate-smart' bananas."
Strawberry research (Urban Crop Solutions Research Center)
Indoor vertical farming is known as a breakthrough horticultural production system for the near future. While current commercial systems mainly focus on leafy greens, herbs, and microgreens, additional research is ongoing to secure large-scale implementation for fruit-bearing crops such as strawberries.
This fruit is known to be very sensitive to its environment and research focus lies on cultivar screening, light quality assessment, pollination and automated handling & processing. Initial trials have already shown promising results with BRIX values up to 14. As research continues, knowledge leaps are taken on identifying the various optimal cultivars to maximize the return on investment in controlled environment farming.
Controlled Environment Agriculture - CEA
Which variables define a Plant Growth Recipe?
They can include physiological aspects such as leaf size, weight or coloration, or the nutritional content, the required shelf life, crispness, or many other elements.
Each plant growth recipe our team of plant scientists develops starts from a specification sheet on which a design of experiments is set up and results in a specific yield and plant characteristics.
Based on the customer requirements, we start a screening process to identify the best-suited seed cultivar or seed variety.
Various breeders from different geographical locations can be analyzed to identify which specific seed has the best suited genetics and traits for the desired application.
Our Research Center allows our plant scientists to validate the best-suited irrigation and nutrient formulation settings during each stage of growth.
Parameters that can be controlled are duration, frequency, temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH & EC value, nutrient recipe, and beneficial microorganisms.
Our proprietary LED solutions allow us to test plants under various light spectra (UV/Blue/White1/White2/Red/farRed), different intensities, DLI (daylight integral), variable light treatments, and circadian rhythms.
During each stage of plant growth and photoperiod, we control temperature, relative humidity, ventilation speed and CO2 levels. To optimize the plant environment, we take measurements of photosynthesis, VPD (vapor pressure deficit) and transpiration.
Each plant has its own desires and various substrates are tested for each application. Ranging from peat to coco, textile to stone wool, synthetic to organic, and all in combination with the right formulation of macro- and micronutrients.
By using a network of IoT sensors, all aspects from the plant can be measured, such as real-time analysis of weight and size, infrared imaging, etc.
These various data points are analyzed and fed back into algorithms that adjust lighting, irrigation and climate according to the needs of the plant, and the customer.
Plant cultivation strategy
The planting strategy is fixed for each plant growth recipe and entails various parameters such as substrate size, seed density, DFS (days from seeding), DFT (days from transplanting) and plant spacing.
Our Grow-How so far: the Crop Guide
Indoor Biological Research and Consulting
Since 2014, our team of indoor plant scientists, with a combined 30+ years of experience, created the ideal controlled environment for plants to thrive. We now serve customers with 200+ plant growth recipes. We operate 10 controlled environment growth chambers for crop cultivar screening, nutrient formulations, plant cultivation techniques, LED light spectrum research, hydroponic irrigation, and cultivation development.
The seed genetics available today have been cross-bred for decades to optimize conditions in a traditional open field or greenhouse cultivation. The development has focused on disease resistance, drought resistance and yield. The maximum response to light was not a concern.
The reality of an indoor growing environment is that the requirements are the exact opposite: the plants get exactly what they need, protected from pests and weeds. So, our team has been looking for the plant genetics that maximizes biomass growth with a minimum LED light input.
In the early days, cultivar screening trials resulted in a success rate of only 15%. Sometimes certain seeds yielded less than half of others that were genetically almost identical. Only recently some large seed manufacturers have started to develop specific indoor seeds, which will take several years. So, for the foreseeable future, the best available technology is a crop recipe that has been proven in real-life trials.
Any crop under the sun
The Urban Crop Research Center has supported crop research for a wide range of applications and industries
For a client active in the green roof industry, our Indoor Plant Biologists have increased the growth speed of succulents by factor 3 compared to open field production.
Plant-based medicine is an important trend. We’ve researched the promotion of active compounds in plants such as: Valerian, Artemisia, Lemon balm, St John’s-wort and Coneflower.
Active compound optimization and yield increase for Stevia has been investigated. Our team also conducted environmental research for high-quality Saffron.
Multiple crop varieties have been trialed for yield analysis: Marigold, Nasturtium, Borage, Violet, Viola, Zucchini flower, Dandelion.
For a corporate research department, we’ve conducted plant growth recipe development for high-speed growth for dwarf wheat varieties.
Various fruiting crops such as mini-tomato, strawberries, mini-zucchini, peppers and eggplant have been assessed for their application in indoor farming.
We support your journey to ‘Grow-How’
Is your crop not in the Crop Guide?
●Understanding your objectives
●Determine the budget for Research Brief
●Desk research, Literature study
●Proposal for research approach
●If quote approved: Trials start
●Preparation, sourcing of consumables
●Monitoring of plant growth
●Final Report and research conclusions
●Presentation of results