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UK tech pioneer conjures new future for farming out of thin air

It can also involve lower carbon emissions compared to other soil-free systems such as hydroponics where plants are dipped enriched water. LettUs’s patent-pending technology introduces more simplicity and consistency to aeroponics while maintaining yields, explains managing director Charlie Guy. “We have developed a very efficient way of growing plants, from leafy vegetables to soft fruits, in completely controlled environments.

“Our aeroponic systems are easier to use than others on the market where water is pushed through nozzles to create an aerosol that can get clogged.

“Ours just needs a wipe down and is modular so can work with operations of all sizes, from a single layer to an entire controlled environment farm unit.

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“Ostara, our software management can automate, control and collect data from the operation. That integrated licensed approach makes aeroponics accessible to anyone enabling farmers around the world to benefit from this game-changing technology.”

The clock is ticking and on LettUs’s side – by 2050 it is estimated the world must increase food production by 70 per cent to feed more than nine billion people.

The Bristol-based firm was founded in 2015 by Guy, and fellow graduates of the city’s university Ben Crowther and Jack Farmer.

Their mission to tackle food waste and supply chain inefficiency “has always been to reduce the environmental impact of fresh produce by allowing anyone to grow food near its point of consumption,” says Guy.

“The past decade has been defined by the environmental crisis, but now food can be grown in the most unstable of climates. Any building can be converted and millions of transport miles saved.”

Two big tech changes paved the way for LettUs: cheaper, more efficient LED lighting and cloud computing enabling the harvesting of big data.

The company’s technology can match lighting to roots to optimise growth and precise delivery of the nutrients tailored to plant variety and stage of life. 

Systems are assembled in Bristol and pay back for growers estimated to be under five years. Overseas interest from the Middle East, Europe, Africa and US is accelerating. 

More than £1million of funding, both in grants from government-backed Innovate UK and private investment, has gone into LettUs which sees potential further applications for its technology contributing to the likes of reforestation programmes. 

The Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Hub, geared to maximise the potential of next-generation entrepreneurs, also played a crucial role in helping LettUs commercialise its innovation. 

Crowther took its SME Leaders Programme, a grant-aided, coaching and mentoring support scheme for early stage engineering and technology firms with high growth potential and “that has been invaluable in accelerating our development”, says Guy.

After starting with laboratory projects such as research into plant-based proteins and pharmaceuticals, LettUs’s sales are increasing to growers and the business has plans to raise more investment this year.    

The team, now 15, “is very plant-focused but diverse,” says Guy. “Not just engineers but ex-farmers and plant scientists. All our kit is made by growers for growers.”

raeng.org.uk 

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