Montreal-based Sollum Technologies is fast becoming a leader in the field of greenhouse lighting solutions. Armed with $30 million of fresh capital following a recent financing round, the company is poised to spread its innovative smart lighting agri-tech solutions across North America.
Sollum is aiming to revolutionize the way growers produce fruits and vegetables, particularly during the winter months when sunlight is limited.
By means of its patented, programmable LED lighting technology, Sollum is transforming 21st century horticulture by turning the greenhouse into a sustainable means of growing produce by artificial light alone.
"In a short period of time, Sollum has demonstrated that the unparalleled precision of light generated by its smart LED grow light solution optimizes crop productivity and quality while maximizing energy efficiency," Louis Brun, president and CEO of Sollum, said in remarks accompanying the funding announcement.
Sollum's technical approach can be deployed in large-scale greenhouses, he added. Brun said the funding will accelerate its penetration of the market by "enhancing the competitiveness of our solution, and its flexibility through the addition of a multitude of spectral recipes."
How Sollum's greenhouse LED lighting works
Sollum enables growers to produce food year-round by installing banks of specialized LED lighting panels inside greenhouses that replicate the sun's natural light cycle and growing properties.
This is accomplished by using programmable AI technology to precisely calibrate the amount, intensity, cycle and spectrum of light to deliver maximum indoor crop yield for a wide variety of produce.
To date, Sollum has been responsible for helping growers in Quebec and Ontario branch out into large-scale production of peppers and strawberries, while conducting advanced research into the possibility of cultivating other crops which would normally need to be imported during the winter months, or would otherwise be unavailable according to growing season variations.
"Our vision is that of a sophisticated, technologically advanced lighting provider," said Brun. The company provides an energy-efficient tool that can improve crop yield and quality while being scalable for small, medium and large greenhouses, he said.
Sollum offers savings in energy consumption
Sollum is the outgrowth of an innovative lighting system developed by François Roy-Moisan, Gabriel Dupras and Jacques Poirier while studying at École de technologie supérieure university in Montréal.
They originally designed the lighting tech for the restoration of paintings, but then had an Eureka moment when they discovered their LED technology could stimulate the growth of house plants.
This is where Brun, an engineer by training who enjoyed considerable success in tech startups and the venture capital field, saw
the promise of the LED system. He decided to launch Sollum in partnership with his fellow Montrealers.
Today, Sollum lighting allows greenhouse growers to produce food with 40 per cent less energy usage compared to sodium fixture lights.
In addition, the proprietary LED system delivers a 40 per cent improvement over traditional LED performance and "long food shelf life," Jenny Zammit, Sollum's vice president of marketing and operations, said.
"Finally, the food is three times less polluting to produce and comes from Québec. In fact, the whole supply chain benefits . . . Our technology responds to major challenges such as the disappearance of arable land, and climate and demographic changes."
Of the $30 million in new financing, $25 million was provided by Idealist Capital, a private equity fund that supports entrepreneurs involved with energy transition and decarbonization. The remaining $5 million came from the Quebec Fondaction fund.
Pierre Larochelle, co-managing partner at Idealist Capital, believes his group's investment will take Sollum to the next level: "We trust Sollum's team and high-performance technology, which increases the energy efficiency of greenhouse operations and positively impacts crops throughout their growth cycle. We are excited to support the Sollum team for the next phase of its growth in Canada and internationally."
Producing Jaffa oranges and Tuscan tomatoes in Chicoutimi or Medicine Hat
One of the most fascinating aspects to Sollum's LED technology is its ability to replicate the sun's light spectrum as well as its intensity, so that a farmer in Chicoutimi, Saskatoon, Medicine Hat, or Whitehorse can in theory produce California-style almonds, Jaffa oranges, or tomatoes that taste identical to those farmed in Tuscany.
"We're still at the early stages of our capacity to fine-tune our LED system to create the identical lighting conditions found elsewhere around the world," Brun explained.
"With our system, we use sensors that measure the precise amount of natural sunlight streaming into the greenhouse, which is free, and also calculate the amount and nature of the sunlight found in Tuscany. We can then calculate the gap between what the amount of natural sunlight and the amount missing from your ideal Tuscan target quantity and quality of sunlight."
Furthermore, Sollum's lighting tech also enables growers to adjust the amount of light to the optimal level required at each individual stage in the growth of fruits or vegetables, from seed to flowering to fully grown.
By providing the grower with data regarding the best level of light for each stage of the artificially replicated indoor growing season, Sollum can improve yields and profits by avoiding the kinds of severe weather events that often damage crops or otherwise result in inferior quantity and quality of produce.
"We can digitally adjust the LED output to create the ideal lighting conditions to develop the strongest roots, produce the right number of leaves, and the best time for the flowering and harvesting."
Spectral light recipes and therapies for crops
Sollum has also been researching how specific portions of the sun's light spectrum (i.e. red, green, yellow, blue) affect growth patterns in individual crops.
"We're working with growers to enhance our database and better understand how to improve yields and the quality of produce," Brun said.
Certain ranges in the colour spectrum can help a plant elongate, for example. So if desired growth was not met, Sollum can adjust the light spectrum for a specific effect. Brun described it as a form of crop therapy to improve produce quality.
"You can apply different kinds of light treatment as a temporary therapeutic solution and then once the crop is where you want it to be you can go back to the standard light recipe," he said.
Sollum offers pathway to fully sustainable agriculture
Global climate change is creating havoc in agriculture around the world. During the past year, Western economies have seen food prices skyrocket in many sectors, partly as a result of drought and floods.
Although greenhouse growers are nowhere near being able to adequately compensate for severe weather events that wipe out crops on a mass scale, the promise of Sollum's LED technology lies in allowing farmers to grow an increasing quantity of fruits and vegetables indoors and during winter months.
Sollum is deployed in over 30 locations in Quebec and Ontario, and its greenhouse clients grow over 70 different varieties of fruits and vegetables.
"We're finding more and more growers that are increasingly receptive to our vision," Brun said. "We believe like there's a revolution that is needed in agriculture and horticulture if we truly want to address the challenge of food sustainability at the global level, and do so in an energy efficient way.
"We now have the technology and solutions to adapt to any kind of crop, whether its peppers, lettuce, or cucumbers. That's how we see our mission."