Growing Racks with lights shining over plants.

Revolutionising Agriculture: Exploring the Potential of Hydroponic Farms in the Middle East

World’s largest indoor hydroponic farm brings sustainable food production to the Middle East.

Producing food sustainably in the Middle East has always been a challenge due to the region’s predominant desert climate and limited freshwater supplies. With approximately 85% of food consumed in the United Arab Emirates being imported, HDR worked with a joint venture between Emirates Flight Catering, a subsidiary of the Emirates Group, and Crop One Holdings, Inc. to bring forward an imaginative and sustainable solution. HDR was commissioned to lead the design, provide site supervision and office support for construction of the world’s largest vertical farming facility in Dubai. 

The three-story, 330,000-square-foot facility provides a controlled environment for producing more than 6,500 pounds of leafy greens every day, unaffected by outside factors such as weather or pests. Using hydroponics technology, the vertical farm does not need soil, natural sunlight or pesticides.

Amid global food scarcity, a large share of the produce will be for the consumer retail market, meeting a valuable need in the region. Since July 2022, the produce is also being used as part of onboard catering by Emirates Airlines, the largest airline in the Middle East.

Finding Innovative Solutions 

As this facility is on a scale never seen before, our design team worked collaboratively with project leaders and plant scientists to carefully tackle a variety of new challenges. 

Typically, the biggest challenge may have seemed keeping heat outside the building, Dubai averages almost 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) in the summer. Interestingly, the climate inside posed the bigger challenge. To simulate daytime conditions, hundreds of LED lights sit above the crops, producing heat and evaporating water, causing a rise in humidity. Our team developed a design solution that achieved the required ambient temperature in the room while managing humidity at strict tolerance levels. 

Cleanliness is of the utmost importance to avoid microbes that could adversely affect the final product. We carefully selected building materials resistant to bacterial growth while still effective in sealing in optimal growing conditions. Filtration of outside air prevents insects and contamination from reaching the grow rooms, thus achieving optimal conditions for high yield plant growth.

Our design team created a total of 27 grow rooms into three stories to accommodate height restrictions. For easy maintenance throughout the building, the space between each floor is sized to allow access. The facility also has the flexibility for automation buildouts, which could improve the flow of goods from growing rooms to packing areas. 

There is no water evaporation into the atmosphere; hence vertical farming uses a fraction of the water required for traditional farming methods. The majority of water used is recovered, treated and recycled. Following strict quality requirements, our team designed a water treatment facility on site to facilitate this process. Water is treated close by, then recycled back to the grow rooms. The building is also capable of generating almost a third of its required energy from solar panels located on the roof, adding to the facility’s sustainability credentials. 

Collaborative working with the scientists enabled HDR to provide innovative engineering solutions to deliver this leading-edge building which is delivering in excess of 3,000 kilograms of leafy greens per day. Innovations include recovery of all water used, 85% saving over traditional greenhouse growing and no pesticides used thus creating a clean growing environment.

Bustanica Emirates Crop One Vertical Farming Facility is a blueprint for the future of agriculture in the region and will serve as a crucial source of food for decades to come.