Swedish industry has always been at the forefront of innovation, from steel to industrial robots and cars. This time it's salad that's on the menu as ABB helps farmer Ljusgårda to grow its plans for sustainable year-round production of 7,000 m2 of leafy greens.
In a small town in Sweden, called Tibro, local company Ljusgårda has just started the large-scale, fully automated indoor cultivation of lettuce.
“Our vision is to deliver locally grown Swedish vegetables so that consumers can eat salad with a clear conscience all year round”, says CEO Andreas Wilhelmsson.
Their journey has been intense. In early 2017, a couple of young local entrepreneurs came up with the idea to vertically grow lettuce in a garage lit by LED lights. In January 2018, they won the contract for the old furniture factory and started test cultivation in a fraction of the premises. Later, in 2020, they began a complete renovation, and by the start of 2021, the entire area, 7,000 square meters, was taken into use. During that time they expanded their workforce from 10 to 60 employees.
“Everyone told us that you couldn’t rebuild a factory in nine months, but we did it anyway”, says Andreas Wilhelmsson.
Inside, gray industrial floors shine, and the walls are painted white. Lettuce plants grow in tubes that hang in scaffolding from the ceiling, illuminated by LED lights with a pink glow that is calculated to give maximum crunchiness and taste. At regular intervals, another batch of lettuce quietly slides by, hanging from a rail in the ceiling, on its way to its growing site.
By the summer, the entire plant will be fully automated, from sowing to packaged product. In total, it is expected to deliver 60 tons of lettuce per month. “Ljusgårda exists because Swedish consumers want to eat Swedish food”, says Andreas Wilhelmsson. “By growing indoors, we can supply the market with fresh, Swedish salad all year round, and the demand is very high. We sell just about everything we can grow.”
Vertical farming is sustainable and cost effective in many ways. It is grown locally, transports are short, food waste is minimal, the water is reused, and no pesticides are required. But they require a lot of electricity. To support their sustainability credentials and rapid expansion Ljusgårda turned to ABB to provide its electrification infrastructure.
“Indoor cultivation of lettuce requires a lot of energy because the plants grow in intense lighting almost around the clock”, says Niklas Lindblom, responsible for the Food & Beverage segment at ABB in Sweden. “The crops also require a constant correct indoor climate and moisture level, something that also consumes a lot of energy.”
This meant that the old electrification in the factory was not sufficient and needed to be replaced. Since Ljusgårda had worked with ABB before, they asked the company to see if they could design a solution.
“Based on their requirements, we designed a solution which met the space requirements of the factory and Ljusgårda’s energy needs”, says Jan Finsbäck, sales engineer at ABB.
Ljusgårda needed products with high level of reliability as well as personnel safety, but the space in the factory was limited. To meet those needs, ABB installed a compact solution including medium-voltage switchgear SafeRing Air / SafePlus Air with Relion® 611 series protection relays for feeder protection, and low-voltage switchgear MNS 3.0 with Emax 2 circuit breaker as well as new transformers. The solution is also in line with Ljusgårda’s sustainable vision on contributing to emission reduction. The medium-voltage switchgear is not only fully recyclable but also free from the greenhouse gas SF6.
Perfect for a vertical farmer like Ljusgårda. The project also required fast installation. The first contact with ABB was in spring 2020, in August the order was booked, and installation started in December 2020.
“To concentrate on our core business, we want to work with suppliers that we can trust. ABB took care of the electrification so that we didn’t have to worry about it”, says Mats Hellman at Ljusgårda, project manager for the renovation.
ABB offers a broad portfolio of solutions for vertical farmers to produce larger and faster-growing crops, with higher quality, and at the lowest possible cost.
“The advantage of ABB is that we can take care of and optimize the entire chain when it comes to electrification, digitalization and automation of plant cultivation”, says Niklas Lindblom. “When you combine our components for energy distribution in greenhouses together with our digital offer, customers have the tools to analyze and optimize their energy performance. We also offer service and maintenance in real time.”