Vegetables from data centers increase sustainability

Containing Greens saw an opportunity to make Norrbotten more self-sufficient with vegetables, and a more sustainable region. In the summer of 2020 arose the idea to use heat from data centers to grow vegetables without soil, in subarctic climate. Now there’s an award-winning company run by entrepreneurs with big dreams for the future.

From the left: Adrian Arrosamena Mellgren, Ellinor Emilsson and Moa Johansson.

At the beginning of the summer, Moa Johansson and Adrian Arrosamena Mellgren found themselves in a virtual Zoom meeting room with a task at hand: To within minutes identify a problem with a connection to the Norrbotten region’s development strategy and the UN’s global goals. Later that day, there was not just an idea, but a vision and a plan for the summer that more people would join in on.

– Containing Greens is the result of those first minutes, and a summer of hard work. Ellinor Emilsson found us via Instagram and Andreas Eklund, our chairman of the board, got an interest in the idea in connection with our final pitch in Impact Lab, says CEO Moa Johansson.

The idea saw the light of day in the LTU Business summer program

The idea of Containing Greens and to grow vegetables without soil, also called hydroponic cultivation, using waste heat from data centers was born in the idea development program LTU Business Summer. The program grants students the opportunity to work with business development in cases from the industry and researchers, or with their own ideas as in the case of Containing Greens. The work is done in teams with other students and with the coaching of LTU Business’ experienced business developers.

“LTU Business and especially Johan Bergström, our supervisor, gave us the tools we needed to build our idea from the ground up.” – Moa Johansson, CEO

LTU Business’ support for Containing Greens then continued within the so-called “innovation support” where students and researchers at Luleå University of Technology are offered free and confidential support to develop their ideas and innovations, all year round, regardless of what stage the idea is in.

Johan Bergström at LTU Business is the one who still coaches Containing Greens.

– It has been a pleasure to support the students in Containing Greens, as they work hard, are goal-oriented but at the same time responsive. They have managed to grow in the team and attract interest from the data center industry, which means that they can now prove their concept in a real environment, says Johan.

Moa Johansson offers her view of the collaboration:

– LTU Business and especially Johan Bergström, our supervisor, gave us the tools we needed to build our idea from the ground up. We were helped to understand when it was time to go back one step, question the path we chose, and change lanes to a stronger and better direction. The phrase “kill your darling” was recurring!

Fresh vegetables and reduced climate footprint

According to Norrbotten’s food strategy, 91 percent of all vegetables consumed in Norrbotten are imported. The same source states that 60 percent of the regional population’s climate footprint can be traced to the food we consume and the transportation of food. Being able to produce more food locally will therefore be important in the pursuit of a reduced climate footprint and increased sustainability.

“The entire subarctic climate zone with 70 million inhabitants faces the same challenge in its food production and could constitute a potential market.”

At the same time, there is a strong establishment of data centers in the region, an activity that generates large amounts of heat that no one uses today. Containing Greens saw the opportunity to use the waste heat to grow vegetables all year round in container-sized hydroponic crops.

– We are developing a module based on shipping containers. It has room for 2.800 plants that can grow all year round with the waste heat from the data center. It reduces the climate footprint compared to the traditional greenhouses that are heated with diesel, Moa explains.

– Our goal is to offer the public sector our affordable vegetables as they have an incentive to serve local and sustainable food in their kitchens. We have validated the offer with a number of municipalities in Norrbotten and received good response. But the potential market is bigger. The entire subarctic climate zone with 70 million inhabitants faces the same challenge in its food production and could constitute a potential market.

Containing Greens has a pilot plant at RISE in Luleå where the cultivation technology is tested.

– During the winter of 2020, we had our first harvest of parsley and a number of other vegetables.

Won in Venture Cup IDEA

Containing Greens was one of the five best ideas among over 300 entries when Venture Cup named the top list in its IDEA competition for the northern region. A total of three out of five top-ranked ideas have received idea development support from LTU Business.

– It feels great to be on the Venture Cup top list. The award means a great deal, for us personally but even more for the company. We want to increase Norrbotten’s degree of self-sufficiency through our cultivation modules and we believe in our idea. Now we got confirmation that other people believe in it too, concludes Moa.