Orlar was founded in Brisbane in 2014 by Dr Lyndal Hugo and Amanda Cornelissen. Their mission was to develop a new form of vertical farming to produce affordable, accessible, and contaminant-free organic produce.
Cornelissen’s experience as a horticulturist, in combination with Hugo’s experience in agriscience, a PhD in environmental chemistry and a post-doctoral fellowship on pesticide residues in South-East Asian food chains, were excellent foundations for reaching their agritech goals.
Having seen the impact of decades of industrialisation and poor agricultural practices contaminating the soil in which food is grown in Vietnam, the couple decided to move to Ho Chi Minh City in 2017 to continue developing their vertical pod technology there.
Two key components
Firstly, Orlar’s patented vertical pod technology is not a typical indoor or vertical agriculture system.
The carefully designed Orlar pods took 5 years of research to perfect. Each pod can reduce the energy use of traditional hydroponics by over 95%. Indoor agriculture normally requires energy-intensive inputs for temperature control and lighting, however Orlar utilises heat and light from the sun to grow 20-40 plants in each two-metre-high pod, so it is extremely space-efficient and energy-efficient.
Engineered to last at least 15 years, each pod has removable “wedges” that enable seedlings to be inserted and removed easily, with the majority of parts being made from recycled, food grade plastic that can be recycled again after use.
- Orlar’s fruit and vegetables are in high demand by restaurants and supermarkets across Vietnam.
- Women-led company, founded by Australians.
- In 2021, Orlar gained global exposure for sustainable farming at the The UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26).
The second key component to their innovative system is the very special Orlarock, which is imported from Australia.
Its surface chemistry, pH, water retention capabilities and ability to capture all nutrients added are just some of the properties which make the rock so unique. The thermal qualities of the rock also allow temperate vegetables to be grown in “hostile” climates such as the Mekong Delta, where Orlar operations are based.
The treatment of the Orlarock is where the magic happens – it is infused with trillions of microbes, from 81 different species, which are encouraged to form a biofilm. Hugo says “The trick is to keep the rock moist enough to carry a constant supply of nutrients while minimising leakage.”
Orlarock can be reused indefinitely, crop after crop (unlike vermiculite or rockwool), making it economical and sustainable. It also enables Orlar’s produce to be free from the contaminants often found in local soil.
Orlar has come a long way since the prototype of their system on a balcony of their Ho Chi Minh apartment in 2017, to their 1.1-hectare greenhouse.
As their crops and operations have grown, Orlar has sought patent protection in multiple jurisdictions. Andy Mukherji, Patent attorney has been assisting Orlar with their patent protection since 2018.
Orlar have started to export their produce and more plans to expand globally are on the horizon – watch this space!
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