Bright Agrotech has secured a patent on a vertical hydroponic tower that could one day be in grocery stores across the United States. Nate Storey, who runs the company with his partner, Paul Bennick, developed the technology while working on his doctorate in agronomy at UW.
His towers, which his company also manufactures, allow fruits and vegetables to be grown vertically. This allows a lot more to be grown in a lot less space, saving money when it comes to heating a greenhouse in the winter, he said.
His method also allows the produce to be taken to market live, which saves money when it comes to harvesting and labor, Storey said, adding,"We eliminate 60 percent of the costs in the producer's budget."
The towers, which are about 5 feet tall, can be taken into the grocery store and plugged into an irrigating display that he has also patented.
“The consumer cuts their own greens and herbs live at market," Storey said.
Moreover, the towers can result in a fresher and healthier product, he said. For instance, when a head of lettuce is harvested it begins losing a chemical than makes it healthy, he said. Since his method allows the customers to harvest the product right at the store, they take home a healthier vegetable, he said.
"It's much fresher; it tastes better," Storey said, adding that it is also a fun experience for the customers to clip their own vegetables.
The idea that the customer cuts their own produce at the grocery store can also cut down on contamination that could occur during shipping and handling, Storey said. The store also cuts down on waste since the produce is alive, meaning no refrigerator is needed to keep the vegetables cool.
"There's no spoilage at the store," he said."Everyone makes more money and gets a better-valued product."
A prototype display is being used at a Laramie health food store, and Storey hopes to one day see it in supermarkets across the United States.
“We see this technology as essentially supporting local farmers who want to grow greens and vegetables and herbs in their community," he said.
Christine Langley, chief operating officer of the Wyoming Technology Business Center, said the company has a bright future."They are a young company with a tremendous amount of potential," she said. "We expect them to be a very large business in the next three to five years."
Bright Agrotech has office space in the Wyoming Technology Business Center incubator on the UW campus.