Hydoponics for on-site agriculture

Over five years ago now I was on top of a brand new high school in Southern Minnesota looking over the barren roof. Modern HVAC equipment has been centralized leaving roofs pretty much empty. One option to cover the rooftops is Solar PV, but for organizations that serve food, such as schools, the best option may be to grow the food for their cafeterias on-site utilizing hydroponics.

Hydroponics allow for growing without soil, meaning crops can grow virtually anywhere, provided water, nutrients, and light. Plants get exactly the right amount of water and nutrients and, since the growing season is year-round if placed in a greenhouse, yields can be 10-20 times the amount per land area depending on the crop. Again depending on the crop, 60-90% less water is used.

Growing on-site reduces the food-mileage to zero, however that doesn’t necessarily remove the carbon-footprint. A lot of electricity is used to grow the crops and depending on distance from the normal source of food and source of electricity GHG emissions could go up, or they could go down significantly. Typically, areas in the Northeast would see a dramatic decrease in carbon-footprint.

While a school was the initial inspiration of the idea, there are a lot of vertical markets that could use hydroponics: healthcare, K-12, Universities, Stadiums, and any other vertical market served by the food service industry.

I actually started a company to do this, but didn’t have much success selling the idea. Mostly the problem was the business skills and financial backing I lacked. From trying to sell this idea for a year or so, though, there’s lots of obstacles to maneuver from the customer side. First is finding a customer that will like to be the first to do this. Next is to find one that is willing to invest immediately. I didn’t want to deal with the growing of the food, just selling the development and installation of the hydroponic systems. The payback for the customer can range from 1 to 5 years depending on the crop, location, size of system, etc. There’s other business plans that might work, though, such as leasing the system or installing on-site and contracting the food.

For me, personally, this is a dream and I took a job where I still have the possibility of promoting this idea. It’s going to be a long winding road, though!

For more reading on hydroponics, this is a great article in this months National Geographic on the tremendous work being done by the Dutch. “This Tiny Country Feeds the World.”

UNI: #bmb2189

Tags: #agriculture

Comment on “Connected Rooftop Units Learn to Maintain and Monitor Indoor Air Quality.”

Great Find! From my perspective, as an Energy Engineer that worked with RTUs for several years, there’s a lot of opportunity for improvement in RTU technology. Also, these units cover virtually all vertical markets and this technology can be marketed to those. The best opportunity would be to retrofit existing units with IoT controls. Again, great find!

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DRONE INSPECTION + AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY – Week 2

Drone1drone2drone3

 

Sustainable Problem: Agriculture/Infrastructure/Public Safety Solutions by Drones with sensors part of the Energy and Waste, and Agricultural sectors

Technology:

  • Sentera drone sensors deliver unrivaled performance and consistently beat competitors in price, quality and function. Sensors produce high-quality, context-rich color and near-infrared (NIR) image data to deliver unsurpassed NDVI data to growers.
  • The Sentera Double 4K is a small, fully customizable twin-imager sensor that is universally compatible with any UAV. Fitting in the footprint of a GoPro® HERO 4, the rugged, high-throughput Double 4K Sensor is designed for use in harsh environments with configuration options that make it ideal for use in agriculture and infrastructure inspection applications. Both cameras are capable of capturing high-megapixel color stills, near-infrared (NIR), and normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) data, and 4K video.
  • The intelligence provided by this sensor makes it ideal for Universities, researchers, large growers, and advisors to provide high-precision, low-distortion vegetative health data tailored for unique applications.
  • Use the mobile app to document + precisely locate weeds, compaction, growth stages + more. Photos live with aerial data to give you a complete picture of your operation, top to bottom. Our iOS mobile app also allows you to autonomously fly a host of DJI products!

Stakeholder:

  • Sentera Company
  • Farmers/Agriculture sectors
  • Energy Companies/Sector
  • Universities
  • Community

Deployment/Implementation

  • Attract more investors for the drones and sensors from different sectors
  • Advertise all the different capabilities across all sectors of the drones and sensors emphasizing agriculture and infrastructure inspection applications
  • Train buyers in implementing the most sustainable solutions tailored to their needs

Sources:
https://sentera.com/
http://www.precisionag.com/specialty-crops/ag-drone-update-the-chase-for-1000-opinion/

 

UNI: AV2698

RIPE: Genetic Engineering and Future Food Shortages

The United Nations estimates the world population will increase to 9.6 billion people by 2050. A population rise is be accompanied with growing concerns about resource usage such as water, food, energy, and housing. The RIPE Project is sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

1.  Sustainability Problem: Health & Water

2. The following bullet points summarizes sustainability technology that addresses health and water:

  • A project called Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) is a team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • The team is using genetic engineering technology to maximize the photosynthetic capabilities of tobacco
  • Their goal is to increase crop yields and efficiency by targeting inefficiencies in the plant metabolism
  • RIPE is engineering three genes that express how light is processed
  • Thus far, they have increased tobacco yields in a greenhouse by 20%

3. Organizational Stakeholders: Once the RIPE team assembles a procedure that can be reproduced in mass with different plant species, a number of stakeholders will be necessary to implement this technology.

  • Educational stakeholders must recruited trained scientists in genetic engineering.
  • The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization can use their involvement to bring policy to the mainstream regarding genetically engineered foods internationally.
  • Public Private Partnerships can be used to make technology more affordable.

4. The first step in deploying this technology can be deployed by bringing this to the UNFAO to encourage international acceptance of this technology as a solution to the food crisis as population rises. Following this, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation can create a protocol and continue their research with other essential food crops. A team of educational stakeholders should be assembled to encourage genetic engineering at universities.

Check out the link to the article below to check out more images and information.

https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608535/to-feed-the-world-improve-photosynthesis/

Designer Davorin Mesari turns city residents into farmers

Sustainability Technology: Designer Davorin Mesari has created an indoor garden made up of 16 individual growing pods, allowing city dwellers with minimal space to grow fruits and vegetable. The growing units are stackable, so output can be doubled without compromising precious urban space.

Sustainability Problem: Access to Healthy Foods

According to Harvard’s School of Public Health’s website, “A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can lower blood pressure, reduce risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar which can help keep appetite in check.”  They confirm that while all fruits and vegetables contribute to health benefits, “green leafy vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, and mustard greens” are some of the most important health contributors.  Despite these findings, many urban dwellers find themselves too busy to cook a healthy meal and rely instead on take out, delivery, or processed foods which are often unhealthy.  More often than not, these items are packaged in such a way that contribute to negative environmental impacts. Davorin Mesari’s innovative product, aptly named ‘Indoor Garden’  allows city residents to grow produce healthy food in the comfort of their apartments. This inventive technology creates an indoor modern garden that is powered by fluorescent lighting which mimics the natural solar spectrum allowing urban denizens to grow their own healthy vegetables and greens at home without creating unnecessary waste, and thus making the production of a healthy meal not only easy but more accessible.

Davorin Mesari’s state-of-the-art technology could be implemented in a central setting, such as a school or community center, as an urban agricultural project offering locally grown produce into a food desert, or area where there is limited access to healthy, fresh food. One issue with urban farming is finding the land on which to farm and ensuring that the soil is not contaminated.  With ‘Indoor Garden,’ you don’t need to find land on which to farm or worry about soil as the units come with growing pods and are stackable to maximize indoor space. Moreover, these units can serve as educational devices, and, once installed, can showcase the cultivation, harvesting, and the preparation of healthy meals.

Technology Stakeholders:

  • Urban Residents
  • Schools
  • Community Centers
  • Urban Farmers
  • Farm to Table Enthusiasts

Process of Implementation: 

Step 1: Introduce this new technology through an educational workshop to a community group or school and describe the feasibility of implementation.

Step 2: Based on local interest and available funding, establish a site for implementation.

Step 3: Work with local businesses to attract further financing (if necessary) by creating excitement around the new technology.

Step 4: Once funds are raised and site is established, buy 5 units for testing and establish a protocol to ensure maintenance of product.

Step 5: Collect feedback from community group/school and establish ways to enhance the next phase or implementation at a second site.

Source: 

Yanko Design’s ‘Cultivation in the City by Troy Turner

The Nutrition Source (Vegetables and Fruits)

Starting A City Farm

Soil-Free Farming Grows Vegetables in the Desert

  1. Technology (http://www.livescience.com/42835-soil-free-farming-grows-vegetables-in-the-desert.html)

Agricel is a Dubai-based venture which hopes to expand film farming technology across the U.A.E where water scarcity is a central problem. With the film farming system, plants are grown on a hydromembrane invented by Professor Dr Yuichi Mori of Waseda University in Japan which is made up of water-soluble polymer and hydrogel. Each internal cell within the film adsorbs and holds water and plant nutrients, preventing evaporation and surface loss.

The soil-free technology allows users to reap several benefits. Using Agricel’s technology, farms require 90% less water than traditional methods, while also using 80% less chemicals and producing 50% higher yields. The incidence of diseases by pathogens (bacteria, viruses, etc.) is also fully controlled even without chemicals, because the pathogens cannot penetrate the hydromembrane. The growing method causes the plants to increase their sugar production and amino acids in order to absorb the water. The byproduct of this is produce that is sweeter and more vitamin rich.

water2bsaving2bfilm

  1. Sustainability Problem

Agricel seeks to ease the daunting task of feeding future generations in an increasingly uncertain climate and world. By promoting film farming and the use of hydrophillic boosters, they have focused their efforts on more efficient water use and fighting world hunger.

This technology reduces the amount of water and fertilizer needed in plants which means crops can be grown in water scarce regions or regions with poor quality soil. The film is versatile and can be placed on nearly any surface such as concrete, bricks or even sand and greenhouse, and in nearly any climate. Hydrogel can be mixed into the local sandy soil, boosting water retention and nutrient distribution.

  1. Stakeholders
  • Agriculture industry
  • Urban and traditional farmers
  • Material researchers
  1. Implementation Process

Launched in 2010, the Agricel network is primarily based in Japan but has since extended to China, Pakistan, Nigeria, the U.A.E, U.K. and Australia. The range of test pilots with successful results allow them to prove the technology’s adaptability.

They are now focusing on partnering with organizations which do not necessarily have the farming technologies or experience but have powerful distribution networks, negotiation capabilities and confidence in the technology to provide safe, reliable and highly nutritive produce. This will allow the technology to be implemented on a larger scale, leveraging partners’ existing network and Agricel’s technical expertise.

Despite the many benefits of film farming, the foremost barrier to implementation is the high cost. The hydrogel film is sold at around $2,000/ acre with a professional installation of about $2 million. However the company suggests that the initial investment will be returned between 18-24 months due to the low operational costs of the farm, in addition to the increased yield and improved quality of the produce.

For their next steps, the company hopes with their expanding scope and scale of technology implementation that continuous R&D could lead to the application of film farming in industrial production.

why-film-farming

 

Sources:

Agricel, Why Film Farming: http://www.agricel.co/why-film-farming.html

Appropedia, Film Farming: http://www.appropedia.org/Film_Farming

Hydrate Life, Water Saving Technologies: Film Farming: http://www.hydratelife.org/?p=360

Your Culinary World, Amazing New Farming Technique Could Make Food Available Almost Everywhere for Everyone: http://www.yourculinaryworld.com/leading-stories/2012/4/10/amazing-new-farming-technique-could-make-food-available-almo.html

Bio-mimic Islands Save Aquaculture

Sustainability Problem:

  • Nitrogen runoff from agricultural use, as well as other pollutants, is flooding major rivers and large bodies of water.
  • Pollution creates hypoxic conditions, which fosters algae blooms and further destroys the aquaculture.
  • This deadly combination impacts drinking water, recreational use of the shoreline, kills marine life and creates human health hazards.
  • South Florida has been in the news for toxic algae blooms that are causing health and environmental damage to coastal areas.

FAQs on Manmade Floating Islands:

  • Manmade floating islands are built using a recycled polymer mesh to support aquatic-friendly plant life. The roots are submerged in water to help filter pollution, cleanse toxins, and absorb the excess nitrogen before it can create algae blooms.
  • Local plants are selected to ensure viability and self-sustenance.
  • Floating islands are anchored in bodies of water, large rivers, and offshore to clean waterways and recreate wetland areas.
  • Mimicking mangrove forests, which are quickly disappearing due to habitat loss, rising water, and warming oceans, the islands create several solutions:
    • Micro-environments that support plant life used to clean the air and water through natural processes;
    • Above the waterline: a habitat for migrating birds, turtles, reptiles, and other species;
    • Below the waterline: a marine habitat supporting fish and related marine species.

Stakeholders:

  • Coastal and lakeside communities
  • Manufacturers of manmade islands
  • Agriculture
  • Marine life and aquaculture
  • Mammals who breathe air

Deployment:

  • The implementation of manmade floating islands is a global multi-million dollar industry. However, wider-scale use is required to have a more pronounced effect.
  • Cost and custom-build time are determined by size and complexity.
  • Islands can take only a few weeks to months to mature, and are self-sustaining.
  • Continued adoption of manmade islands to reduce water pollution, improve air quality, and create new habitats for birds and marine life.

Resources:

Military Spy Turned Sustainability Warrior

Sustainability Problem

It is estimated that 18 million acres of forest are permanently lost each year so the land can be used in other ways.

Technology Article

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/may/20/drone-technology-military-spy-turned-sustainability-warrior

  • Drones are now being used for many things other than military objectives that can be beneficial to all humans and the planet.
  • In 2015, Cargill, one of the world’s largest agricultural companies started using drones to help monitor its commitment to zero deforestation in its palm oil supply chains in Indonesia.
  • The drones help them map, identify, and monitor environmentally sensitive areas.
  • Drones will also allow Cargill to more quickly and accurately detect burning and illegal forest clearing.
  • As drones and sensors become more advanced they can be used by Cargill and other agricultural companies to make more important decisions pertaining to sustainability.

Stakeholders

  • Companies producing drones
  • Agricultural companies
  • Consumers of the agricultural companies products
  • Inhabitants of the countries where the drones are being used

Deployment

  • Other companies follow Cargill’s lead and use drones to monitor and eliminate deforestation
  • As drones and sensors become more advanced Cargill and other companies can use them to inform other decisions beneficial to their sustainability efforts
  • As mentioned in an earlier post, drones can and are being used to inform all sorts of decisions by people, governments, and companies. Continue to find innovative ways to use them that are beneficial to society and to sustainability.

Other sources: