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Iceland: Growing barley in the middle of nowhere

In the middle of a moon-like volcanic landscape a modern greenhouse shines its yellow light. The greenhouse in Grindavík, Iceland is attention grabbing for sure. Those who take a look inside, won’t see tomatoes or cucumbers growing, products with which Iceland is trying to be self-sufficient. Instead the 2,000 square meter greenhouse is filled with barley, grown in an hydroponic system.

Volcanic ash
In the greenhouse they don’t use soil, but volcanic ash as a growing matrix. “It is inert so it makes it more easier to control nutrition to the plants. The barley grows in a controlled climate under SON-T lamps, but we are experimenting with LED to make the production even more sustainable.” Dr. Björn Lárus Örvar is one of the founders and CSO of ORF Genetics, the company that owns the photogenic greenhouse.

He explains: “This barley is bio-engineered to produce different kinds of what we call human growth factors. These are tiny proteins in our body that control the way our cells communicate with each other. We use these growth factors for two purposes. Firstly for our skincare line BIOEFFECT that we sell worldwide, and secondly they are used for stem cell research around the world.”

Unique technology
The company started in 2001. The first six years they focused on the development of the technology, which is quite special. “I don’t think many are growing barley in a greenhouse in a hydroponic system. But the technology how we could bioengineer barley plants to produce a replica of a human protein, is particularly unique.”

The greenhouse in Grindavík was built in 2008. We used to have a small facility near Reykjavik. But when we were ready to scale up our production of human growth factors we decided to build a brand new greenhouse.”

Geothermal energy
“This remote location fits our company very well”, Björn says. “This area is known as a geopark. It consist of companies in the green industry that are all about sustainable and environment friendly operations. We use geothermal energy from a power station three kilometers away from us for heating and electricity.”

Most of the company’s activities takes place in Reykjavik, where the research is done and where the growth factors are processed and the skincare products are being produced, packed and shipped around the world. The greenhouse, however, remains the icon for ORF Genetics. “We get a lot of attention from around the world. I think it must be the most photographed greenhouse in the world”, Björn laughs.

For more information:
Björn Lárus Örvar
ORF Genetics
Vikurhvarf 7
IS-203 Kopavogur
tel: +354 591 1570
fax: +354 591 1580

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