Growing crops in Greenland is not easy. Conventional farming has no chance at temperatures ranging from 10 °C to -40 °C, winds reaching 250 kilometres per hour and ice masses covering more than 77% of the surface. The only alternative is greenhouses. But their high energy and water consumption costs compel local companies to find the most efficient solutions on the market.
The young Green Greenland, now ready to plant lettuce in the polar country, started this search. When it was already about to close a deal with an installer, they received a call from Spain. The founders took a flight to Pontevedra and returned home with a signed contract. The Galician firm H2hydroponics had managed to bring its technology to the most northerly food production facilities on the planet.
The origin of this start-up goes back to the sabbatical year that its co-founder Rafa Pereira took after working in marketing his whole life. He had always liked gardening, so when he discovered hydroponics in Costa Rica, he directly "fell in love" with it. This technique replaces the soil with nutrient solutions. No soil is needed. Moreover, it allows the reuse of water and fertilizers in a very efficient circular system. In fact, its main advantage is that it manages water savings of between 70% and 90%. You also gain in productivity. "For every litre of water, the soil yields 7 grams of tomato; with hydroponics, you obtain 35 grams," states Pereira. And it allows you to apply the exact proportion of nutrients and keep the final harvest under control.
Already in Galicia, the entrepreneur created his own company to implement this type of farming systems. It was 2014 and destiny led his future partner, Salvador Ruiz, to cross his path. This Mexican worked in a Korean company that had set up a greenhouse in Saudi Arabia. Incidentally, his partner was from Vigo. Pereira wanted to go one step further, to provide "real value", so he convinced Ruiz to start a new business venture together, which today is called H2hydroponics.
The flagship product of the company is its patented H2hibrid system, "the most effective farming and irrigation system on the market. We have hybridised the two most developed and economically viable hydroponics systems on the market, eliminating their drawbacks and making the most of their advantages," explains Pereira. The first of these techniques consists of the use of NFT tubes, through which a nutrient solution is made available to the plants for them to absorb. One of the problems is that the ducts are not particularly resistant to heat, so when the temperature rises, an oxygenation of the mixture can occur, which can lead to crop losses. Furthermore, a lot of energy is required to get the water flowing.
The second most widespread system consists of placing the vegetable on a kind of raft floating on 20-40 centimetre deep water. Its main drawback is that it produces constant moisture around the neck of the plant, "its weakest point", which in turn favours the appearance of a fungus that can cause rot. This technique also has an important energy and water volume cost.
H2hibrid solves these problems with a single solution that optimises the power consumption and helps obtain better quality plants in less time. To achieve this, the company has designed a bed that only needs four centimetre deep water, so it reduces the volume of water by 80%.
The nutrient solution reaches all plants in a homogeneous way, because in order to circulate the water, H2hydroponics has created points in the plates capable of generating currents that reach every root. The firm has also avoided the appearance of fungi in the crop beds simply by preventing the vegetable neck from getting moist. To achieve this, the plates create air chambers connected to each other that separate the plants from the water. Also, they allow air to be renewed and also reach the roots. It's a win win.
There is also no heat. The entire system, the beds and the tanks are isolated from light and the ambient temperature. Therefore, it reduces energy consumption and increases productivity.
"We are not technologists, but producers who rely on technology to offer solutions," affirms Pereira. That's why their solution is set up with ease and works almost automatically. The mixtures are prepared autonomously and the new electronic controller collects all the data in the cloud.
H2hydroponics has three types of customers: the producers themselves, the greenhouse installers and the big companies. In this last segment, H2hydroponics has been chosen this year, along with another 14 start-ups from across the globe, by the US agricultural technology accelerator Terra Accelerator. This program by RocketSpace and Rabobank, "the world's leading agricultural bank," brings together large corporations with start-ups. This is how H2hydroponics has come to work for a large Mexican food group in the implementation of new hydroponics solutions and in several R&D projects. The Spanish company is also about to close a contract with one of Saudi Arabia's main food producers.