Alessandro Oliveri, Co-Founder at igrox is speaking at Indoor AgTech to discuss ‘Lighting // Tackling the Energy Challenge: Producing More Whilst Using Less.’ As we get closer to the summit, Alessandro shares his views about how LED technology is advancing the CEA space.

Alessandro Oliveri, Co-Founder, igrox

Tell us what inspired you to work in the indoor agtech industry?
I have been working in the lighting industry since 2006, experimenting with a wide variety of LED applications: general lighting, automotive, and medicals. During my adventure in the lighting industry, I have always been looking for new challenges and, when I came across the application of LEDs for horticulture, it seemed like a very exciting challenge. At that time LED applications for horticulture were starting to become an interesting and emerging trend, my wife was in the middle of her Ph.D. in biology and was working on related issues, so it was natural to start designing our personal controlled environment at home. It took a few months before I decided to turn that experiment into my new job. After an in-depth study of the Italian market, in collaboration with a friend and client of mine we founded Igrox.

In my mind, technology applied to the cultivation of photosynthetic organisms and microorganisms opens the doors of a new era, disrupting food and pharma industries. We are talking about food safety and security, reduction of water pollution and consumption, new drugs, carbon capture and so many other issues! Last but not least, for an aerospace engineer like me, controlled environment for cultivation is a key technology to enable space trips and new planets for colonization.

This vision gives me the enthusiasm to push forward, trying to solve a small problem every day, because after solving many, that’s the moment when you’ve got a big solution in your hands.

Igrox is basically a family business, not only my wife (she is the Chief Scientific Officer), the company is made up of friends who share the same vision, we want to be part of this innovation and make our contribution to advance day by day.

What are the biggest challenges in LED technology, and how you are working to solve these problems? What is needed from the entire industry to accelerate developments?
When you have to replace the sun with artificial lights, your first problem is the energy consumption. The average irradiation of the sun within our atmosphere is 1367 W/sqm, even if only a part is photosynthetically active, it’s not so easy to achieve results without a large consumption of energy. To be successful, the vertical farming industry must find a way to be sustainable in terms of energy balance. For the LED technology the real challenge is to achieve more using less. We need to lower the energy consumption per kilogram of edible biomass keeping a high-quality product.

Our approach has been creating partnerships with leading players in order to exploit the LED technology at its maximum. In 2020 TCI srl acquired an Igrox stake, TCI is a European leading company in LEDs PCB and electronic drivers production, they are innovators and we are very happy to be in their group. Thanks to TCI we can rely on more than 2000 collaborators, over 50 engineers and specific skills and production capability to internally design and manufacture all our PCBs and electronic drivers, maximizing system efficacy while controlling the final cost.

Another support comes from Samsung, our fixtures are equipped with Samsung LEDs, their support is fundamental in order to always use the best available LEDs selection.

Obviously, efficacy is one point, spectral composition of the emitted light is another one. R&D activities on specific spectra is something we need to constantly perform in order to advance. Our wireless control system LIGHTMESH has been designed just to elevate control over our LED fixtures and ensure the possibility to easily manage spectral composition of the emitted light.

Another important step we made is our new product for vertical farming, SCORPIO. Our light engines get to 3.6 umol/J efficacy with specific broad spectra studied for green and red salads. We hope to support many vertical farm projects with SCORPIO!

Talking about the entire industry at large, I think that integration and co-operation are the keys. We need to put together and integrate all the players and the technologies that can positively impact the energy balance of a vertical farm. For example, I believe that vertical farms must be integrated in circular economy projects where negative externalities can be reused and transformed, we need to integrate animal farms, vertical farms, microalgae cultivation, anaerobic digestion, green energy, and reuse of waste. This integration can have so many benefits on the energy balance and on the financial balance too, I think that only by improving these performances, the vertical farming industry can start the transformation from a niche market to a mass market.


Tell us more about your collaboration with the biggest Italian vertical farm?
I cannot disclose specific information now because the facility is being built, what I can say is that our customer has a strong presence in large-scale distribution of fresh salads and this approach of the vertical farm design is really smart and cost effective. We have been partners since the first R&D activity, and we are very proud to support them in this venture.

About Igrox I can say that we will deliver more than 30.000 SCORPIO fixtures only for this year.

You will deliver a standalone presentation at Indoor AgTech. Can you give us a snapshot about what you’ll be covering and what the audience will take away from it?
I’d like to share some of our experiences on vertical farm applications and the reasons why, having a partnership with a LED fixtures OEM like Igrox is an opportunity for a vertical farm project. Another issue I will discuss is how spectrum and efficacy impacts CAPEX and OPEX of a vertical farm. At the end of my presentation, I hope to have shared with the audience some useful information to approach LED products for vertical farming.

What is the roadmap for you and where do you want to be in the next 5-10 years?
Talking about roadmaps is very complicated, Igrox was born in 2018 and almost every year something globally has happened that messed up any schedule. Obviously, you must have a plan, because that is your North star, but you already know that the road you have imagined is not the one you will follow, and you have to be prepared for the “offroad”. Our North star is R&D to further increase efficacy of our LED fixtures and study specific spectra’s for vertical farming. I hope that, in five years, our efforts will take Igrox supporting many vertical farming projects.

In our ideal roadmap there is microalgae cultivation too. I firmly believe that microalgae can change the world. We only know a few of the thousand that exists, and we can make a difference. We are supporting R&D activity on microalgae cultivation to gain knowledge and open new market opportunities: integration with vertical farming, carbon capture, bio hydrogen production, new biomaterials, new active pharmaceutical ingredients and many other interesting things we may discover.

Microalgae cultivation is a new amazing world, and we are so fortunate to have the opportunity to be among the first explorers. Thinking about it, in 5-10 years, my roadmap is really easy: I’m going to remain an explorer.

What connections are important for you to make at the Indoor AgTech Innovation Summit, and how does connection and partnership benefit your own organisation and the industry at large?
Our main target is supporting new vertical farm projects with our technology, we want to help reducing energy consumption for a more and more sustainable business. So, we look forward to meeting people involved in new projects, listening to their needs, and proposing our solutions. This is what all of us and the industry at large need to advance.

Join Alessandro’s presentation on ‘Lighting // Tackling the Energy Challenge: Producing More Whilst Using Less’ at 1.05pm EST on June 23.

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