Harnessing Space Agriculture for Sustainable Earth-Based Controlled Environment Agriculture

June 29, 2023 | Nature Food |

A collaborative research effort led by the University of Sheffield, University of Manchester, and Cranfield University in the UK has explored the potential of space controlled environment agriculture (SpaCEA) to revolutionize terrestrial controlled environment agriculture (CEA). The study focuses on the need for more sustainable and resource-efficient CEA systems on Earth, which play an increasingly vital role in food production.

At present, terrestrial CEA systems often face challenges such as high energy consumption and resource demands, making them less economically viable. The study argues that SpaCEA, which operates in the resource-constrained and circular environment of space, offers a unique opportunity to develop intrinsically circular CEA systems.

The key to this transformation lies in life-cycle analysis tools, which should be employed to optimize resource utilization in both terrestrial CEA and SpaCEA systems. These tools help fine-tune the provision and consumption of natural and electrical light, power, nutrients, and infrastructure in these environments. By focusing research and development efforts on subsystems with strong environmental advantages, the path to more sustainable CEA systems can be paved.

The study also highlights the potential of SpaCEA for public outreach. Space serves as a captivating gateway for showcasing advanced CEA food growing technologies to the public, which can improve the perception of terrestrial CEA on Earth.

In conclusion, this research encourages a substantial focus on the development of SpaCEA as an efficient strategy for addressing the major sustainability challenges faced by current CEA systems. By drawing inspiration from space agriculture, the future of controlled environment agriculture on our planet could become more resource-efficient and sustainable.

Read more: Space controlled environment agriculture offers pathways to improve the sustainability of controlled environmental agriculture on Earth


Fig. | Technical framework for the design of a CEA or SpaCEA system.