Soil-Free Farming Grows Vegetables in the Desert

  1. Technology (

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.


  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.




Agricel, Why Film Farming:

Appropedia, Film Farming:

Hydrate Life, Water Saving Technologies: Film Farming:

Your Culinary World, Amazing New Farming Technique Could Make Food Available Almost Everywhere for Everyone:

Connecting Consumers with Discounts to Reduce Food Waste

  1. Technology (

Zéro Gâchis, a French web and mobile application, provides a platform for businesses to inform consumers in real-time when those businesses have food reaching expiration. This food can then be purchased by app users at discounted prices. It uses geo-location to connect users with the discounts in their area. App users can also gain points on the site each time they take advantage of discounts. These points can be converted into cash and directed towards food waste charities such as Banque Alimentaire.

  1. Sustainability Problem

This technology aims to close the information gap between consumers and food providers, producing a win-win solution for both. Consumers will be able to purchase soon-to-expire food at discounted rates while supermarkets can reduce the amount of food that goes to waste if not sold. France throws away approximately 750, 000 tonnes of perishable food annually. This app has been able to successfully decrease food waste by 50% in some of its participating supermarkets.
As such reducing the amount of food wasted translates into a reducing the environmental footprint associated with food production. In France, it is estimated that food alone is responsible for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions everyday. This app will help decrease the waste of food and resources that go into its production.


  1. Stakeholders
  • Supermarkets and Food providers
  • Food waste charities
  • Consumers
  1. Implementation Process

Launched in 2011, the startup has grown since and are now also operating in Spain. Their business model has evolved to become more economically sustainable after engaging with various mentors and joining “Le Camping”, a French business incubator. They kept the service free for consumers but began to charge participating supermarkets a monthly subscription. Despite the fee, Zéro Gâchis has been able to engage with more supermarkets who understand the value of the application – it allows them to better manage and clear their inventory, reducing the amount of food that goes to waste due to expiration. This money allows the startup to continue to develop and improve existing services. With a bigger network, the startup can aim to expand their reach in France, Spain and consider moving into other countries.



Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneur Awards 2014, Zero Gachis: Solutions to help supermarkets reduce food wastage:

Netexplo Forum 2013, ZERO GACHIS (France) ENGLISH:

Going back to your roots with Electricity-free Groundfridge

  1. Technology (

The Groundfridge created by Floris Schoonderbeek (the founder of Weltevree) is an innovative take on a traditional root cellar. The technology uses the insulating effect of soil and the cooling effect of groundwater. The temperature in the fridge remains stable year-round between 10 and 12° C (50 to 54° F). This is the ideal temperature for storing fruits, vegetables, wine and cheese. The unit has a storage capacity of 3,000 litres, which can hold the contents of 20 (European) refrigerators, that store 500 kg of food. This is equivalent to the harvest of a 250 m2 vegetable garden, which is enough to prepare 350 meals to feed a family of 5.


  1. Sustainability Problem

With excess consumption and waste plaguing the food industry, this technology is part of a concept meant to encourage the modern homeowner to grow and store their own produce for a modern self-sufficient existence. It meets the requirements of people with their own vegetable garden, who choose to live in a modern and self-sustaining way.

Furthermore, the unit is electricity-free – another element of the Groundfridge which helps consumers reduce their impact on the environment. On average, 20 A grade EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) Refrigerators combined, use 6,620 kWh annually. The Groundfridge performs the same feat completely without any electricity.

  1. Stakeholders
  • Urban farmers
  • Community garden owners
  • Consumers
  • Restaurant Industry
  1. Implementation Process

This product has a relatively exclusive reach due to its high cost (approximately $10, 000). It is currently being released to early-adopters in Belgium and the Netherlands and plan to go abroad by the end of 2016. I feel that the restaurant industry with larger budgets (especially the farm-to-table concept) may also be a viable avenue for the creators to explore, combining their sustainable approach to food storage with the idea of local sourcing and environmentally-conscious food consumption.

However the cost-savings associated with reduced electricity-use may eventually be able to offset the high upfront cost of the unit. The creators could also look into certain financing options which take into account the payback time.

As far as the technology is concerned, the feasibility of operations should also be explored in other climates. This, as well as high costs are some of the barriers to implementation.



Off Grid World, Electricity-free Groundfridge Lets You Store Produce Without Traditional Refrigeration:

Weltevree, Groundfridge:

Treehugger, Get back to your roots with the Groundfridge prefab root cellar:

Hong Kong’s In-town Baggage Check-in

  1. Technology (

This technology allows travelers to check in at the Central Hong Kong or Kowloon station, between 24 hours and 90 minutes before their flight. With either a single ticket for the Airport Express or using their existing Octopus card (daily electronic contactless payment card for commuting around HK) travelers can access the check-in area.

The process is similar to that at a typical airport check-in; At the airline desk, travelers collect their boarding card and deposit any luggage. The check-in agent should also provide information about the last Airport Express train for them to connect with their flight at the airport. Once at the airport travelers can proceed straight to security and immigration.

  1. Sustainability Problem

This check-in baggage service helps reduce the trouble of getting from the city center to the airport, located 40km away. The usual options travelers can use to commute to the airport include going by car and traveling by train (e.g. Airport Express).
Often with the burden of multiple pieces of luggage, travelers with the means might choose the convenience of going by car. This comes with its own problems of traffic and high cab fares or parking fees.
The alternative of taking public transportation can be a daunting task, especially when certain stations are crowded or not equipped with escalators or elevators, and luggage is bulky and heavy. For some travelers, this task may be physically impossible, leaving no other option but to pay for private transportation.

As such, the in-town check-in service provides travelers with an attractive and flexible option to take public transportation once they have deposited the main burden of the journey at a convenient location, well connected within the city center. This can help reduce the number of individual car journeys and in turn hopefully ease the traffic as well as the associated greenhouse gas emissions.

  1. Stakeholders

  • Local Government
  • Transport planners and operators
  • Airlines operators
  • Commuters
  1. Implementation Process

The implementation of this technology requires the partnership between individual airline operators, local planners and the transport authority. To connect the new infrastructure with existing public transportation lines, this must be led by the public sector. At the same time, the technology’s success is also dependent on the private airlines to man the actual operation and logistical coordination between baggage checked in the city center, ensuring that it reaches the airport and gets on the correct out-bound flight. In order to ensure that the system is well-utilized, they must maintain a strict standard. Given the high upfront costs of installing the infrastructure, they must make sure that travelers feel secure and trust that their bags will be there when they arrive in their final destination.


About Travel, In Town Check in at Hong Kong Station and Instructions:

MTR, Services and Facilities:

SolarPuff: A Unique Little Solar Light

  1. Technology (

This inflatable personal solar lamp, was designed through the integration of photovoltaics with thin film substrates. Inspired by origami balloon this water-resistant light source offers people without direct access to electricity, the ability to become less reliant on traditional expensive and pollution-intensive kerosene lanterns.

The collapsible-cube shaped lamp consists of 10 LEDs with a lithium polymer battery. The small cube weighs on 2.6oz and is made from PET which is both water-resistant and recyclable. It offers 3 different light settings, operated by a push button: 1 push for low, 2 for high and 3 for blinking or distress setting. On average, the SolarPuff will be fully charged in 8 hours of bright sunlight, providing 8 to 12 hours of light.


  1. Sustainability Problem

Many communities without access to electricity (estimated 1.6 billion in the world) have to resort to the use of kerosene lanterns to light their homes. The lack of reliable lighting vastly limits their ability and options to carry out activities once the sun goes down. Furthermore, the burning of kerosene lanterns has severe knock on effects due to the toxic nature of the indoor air quality as a result – 2 million children reportedly die each year due to this. Not only an environmental problem, but also an economic one; these families spend 30% of their income on kerosene fuel. The SolarPuff can help alleviate these burdens by offering a free and safe alternative for lighting.

  1. Stakeholders
  • Partner NGOs
  • Community Leaders
  • Local Government
  • Development Aid donors
  • Consumers
  • Designers
  • Material researchers


  1. Implementation Process

Applicable in numerous different countries, across cultures and even income levels, the SolarPuff technology has huge potential as an innovative type of decentralized infrastructure. The clean design and flexible use options make it an attractive product to both the developed and developing world.

The organization has a website for online purchase of an individual or set of these solar lanterns. 10% of online sales goes to aid the mission. The products are also stocked in shops like the New York UN HQs gift store as well as the MoMA Design store. This entrepreneurial team works closely with local NGOs on the ground in places like Haiti, Ghana, Syria and Nepal, to distribute lights to refugees, disaster victims and communities disconnected from basic infrastructure. Appealing to both those who need them and those who want them, the design-oriented strategy of this technology allows it to maximize its reach.



Kickstarter, SolarPuff: A Unique Little Solar Light:

Inhabitat, The foldable Solight Solarpuff solar-powered lantern provides off-grid light where there is no electricity:

Inhabitat, Help kickstart this little SolarPuff lantern that could save the world:

MoMA store, SolarPuff:



Smart birdhouses give free WiFi with air quality improvements

1. Technology (

This Amsterdam-based startup has developed a low-cost TreeWiFi device, built within a special birdhouse with sensors that measure the surrounding air quality. This data is then collected and sent to a server for further analysis. After processing, the air quality data is made public for everyone to see, and the device displays the pollution level through an LED status light. When the device detects an improved air quality in that particular area, the LED light turns green, which communicates the fact that the birdhouse can now share WiFi internet connection. Furthermore, users that connect to the network get relevant tips & tricks on how to improve air quality locally before going online.

It aims to provide relevant stakeholders with a better understanding of the workings of air pollution. Through this device, air quality management can become more inclusive of local citizens, establishing a motivation to create effective change through their own actions.

TreeWiFi hopes to contribute a solution which fulfills the following goals:

  • Make air pollution visible to city residents
  • Measure on a hyper local scale
  • Make data visible and relevant to citizens
  • Involve local communities and neighbourhoods
  • Reward positive change and provide tools to negotiate with the government

2. Sustainability Problem

This technology aims to provide an incentive system for residents to take control and claim ownership over their local air quality. By offering both the incentive of free WiFi and the visualization of positive change, the technology can provide the motivation for people to use public transportation and their bikes more often by rewarding when the air quality improves in their street. Furthermore, it helps solve the disconnect between usual city-level air quality and specific geographic intricacies. It can allow patterns to be observed and data to be collected on a more granular level.
Issues: Air Pollution, Health, Citizen Science, Incentives

3. Stakeholders

  • Local participants and residents
  • Air quality researchers
  • Policy-makers
  • Environmental NGOs
  • Local area authorities
  • Investors and start-up community

4. Implementation Process

The startup was able to kickstart the project with funding from Awesome Foundation Amsterdam in March 2016. They are now in the process of crowdfunding through sites such as Heroes and Friends, with the aim of raising €6 500 to build and test a prototype. TreeWiFi are using the summer for product development, and are looking to begin sales in January 2017.

The startup is also working with local government and municipalities to ensure that the data collected is as valuable as possible. While this initial period is mainly private sector driven, the public sector could have a hand in rolling out this technology on a larger city-scale, provided that the technology proves itself effective during its test period.