A Scottish vertical farming specialist has penned a multi-million pound deal to become the tech provider for a sprawling new ‘gigafarm’ being built in Dubai.

Intelligent Growth Solutions, founded in Dundee, will deploy its technology to underpin the development of a 900,000 sq. ft. “game-changing gigafarm” in the Emirati state.

The company was selected by ReFarm, established in the UAE to focus on the circular economy and clean technologies, and signed the agreement yesterday at COP28.

The innovative waste-to-value farm will be capable of recycling more than 50,000 tonnes of food waste and growing two billion plants each year.

David Farquhar, CEO of IGS, said: “This is so much more than just another announcement about plans to build a large-scale vertical farm (albeit that with a growing area of more than 87,000 square metres it will be very large!). This site takes the concept of vertical farming as just one building block in a system that brings together technologies to solve multiple challenges simultaneously, all in one of the most extreme environments on the planet.

“We are delighted to have been selected by ReFarmTM as their vertical farm technology partner for this venture as they work to restore the balance and ensure that the UAE is driving an innovative approach to combatting food insecurity. This project is a very exciting step forward for IGS, and we are confident this innovative model has applications in many geographies across the globe.”

ReFarmTM was established in the UAE by SSK Enterprise and Christof Global Impact (CGI) as a group of companies with focus on projects with circularity and clean technologies. The brand chose vertical farming technology developed by infrastructure supplier Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) and is set to start construction in mid-2024 at Dubai’s Food Tech Valley, a master development launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and being led by major Dubai property developer, Wasl. ReFarmTM has engaged its lead bank to arrange support from UK Export Finance within the UK Government’s Department for Business & Trade.

In a global first, six complementary technologies will be co-located on the Dubai Food Tech Valley site as part of a closed-loop circular waste-to-value system, establishing a self-contained ecosystem designed to maximise resource efficiency and prevent any waste going to landfill.

Capable of growing more than three million kilos of produce annually, the site will support the UAE’s move towards decarbonising food production, replacing 1% of the country’s fresh produce imports. Construction is due to begin in mid-2024, with the site expected to be fully operational by 2026.

Food waste will be recycled on-site by black soldier fly larvae, with by-products including organic compost used in traditional agricultural practices, animal feed for replacing unsustainable fish meal and soy oil, and water for use in the vertical farming towers. The technologies on site will also recover up to 90% of ammonia sulphate from wastewater for use in plant fertilisers, and produce organic biodegradable polymers designed to gradually release water and nutrients to crops in arid regions. 

HE Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade, said: “The United Arab Emirates’ economic growth strategy has placed a strong emphasis on diversification and sustainability, which includes developing new knowledge and capabilities in high-impact industries. 

“Rethinking our food production systems is a clear priority, and the decision of ReFarm to launch a facility in Dubai’s Food Tech Valley is a significant step forwards for the development of a technologically advanced, low-carbon agricultural sector. ReFarm’s mission to make farming autonomous, self-sufficient and sustainable is very much in line with our goal to use innovative techniques to meet our food needs.”

Saeed Al Marri, Chairman at SSK Enterprises, said: “Our circular approach contributes to wider ambitions of food security and landscape regeneration, with the vertical farming towers capable of growing more than 250 varieties of plants, seedlings and saplings, from salads, herbs and leafy greens, through to fruiting crops and tree seedlings including native species such as Ghaf, Moringa and even Mangroves. Additionally, no mains or groundwater connection will be required to grow fresh produce since water will be recovered as a by-product from the organic-waste-to-value technology and fed into the vertical farm which is up to 98% more water efficient than growing in a field.”

UK Minister of State for Climate, Environment and Energy, Lord Benyon, said: “Agri-tech and innovation are key to driving a resilient, prosperous and sustainable agriculture sector that puts food on tables around the world while minimising waste. It is excellent to see a British company deploying vertical farming technology on this vast scale. I hope this UK-UAE partnership will continue to build our shared ambitions for global food security.”

ReFarmTM and IGS announced the partnership from their demonstration facility built in Dubai in celebration of COP28. The site features industrial replicas of five of the six complementary technologies that will be brought together at the Dubai Food Tech Valley, and fresh produce grown in the vertical farming Growth Towers has been provided to cloud kitchen business, Kitopi.