Greenhouses In Skyscrapers
Vertical farms by Wikimedia
When we say “greenhouse”, we probably think of the image of a small, improvised structure in our grandparents’ garden. The picture invokes the delicate taste of a tomato that has just been picked. Erase your memories, please, for the future holds a different card called VERTICAL FARMING. It’s the concept of cultivating plant or animal life within skyscrapers or on vertically tilted surfaces. The phrase “vertical farming” was invented by Gilbert Ellis Bailey in 1915. Even though the concept isn’t new, experts claim that a commercial high-rise farm has never been built. Besides, many photographs and a few historical books suggest that research on the subject was not thoroughly pursued. New sources show that a tower greenhouse existed in Armenia before 1951.
Dickson Despommier, the man who stands behind the most recent concept of vertical farming, sees skyscrapers as giant spaceships. Plant and animal life are mass produced within isolated, artificial environments that have little in common with the outside world. Therefore, they could be built anywhere regardless of the surroundings. Using advanced greenhouse technology, such as hydroponics (a soil-less growing technique based on water) and aeroponics (a soil-less growing technique based on air or mist), the skyscrapers could produce fish, poultry, fruit, and vegetables for commercial purposes.
How it all started
Columbia University by Beraldo Leal
Despommier developed the idea in 1999 at Columbia University with his students. He had asked his class to feed the population of Manhattan (about 2 million people) using rooftop gardens in the size of approximately 8 football fields. The students found that only 2 per cent would be fed. Because the results were unsatisfactory according to Despommier, he immediately suggested growing plants indoors, vertically. The plan moved forward very quickly. By 2001, the first draft of a vertical farm was proposed, and these days, scientists, architects, and investors worldwide are working to make the concept a reality. Despommier also explained how vertical farms would function. Each floor will have its own watering and nutrient monitoring systems. Sensors will track how much and what kinds of nutrients the plant has received and what diseases endanger the plant. Furthermore, we will be informed if fruits are ripe for picking by a special analysis of flavonoids the produce contains. These flavonoids are what gives the food its characteristic flavours we love so much, particularly for more aromatic produce like tomatoes and peppers.
It’s estimated that by the year 2050, around 80 per cent of the world’s population will live in urban areas and the total population of the world will rise by 3 billion people. Vertical farms may eliminate the necessity of creating extra farmland and will help create a cleaner environment.
Permanent yield of crops
Unlike traditional farming in non-tropical areas, crops can be produced throughout the whole year when cultivated indoors. In addition, the crops will not need to be transported too far because they would be sold in the same region in which they are grown. Vertical farming will therefore lead to less spoilage and infestation and save more energy than conventional farming.
Protection from bad weather
Inconvenient geological and meteorological events make traditionally grown crops suffer. The protection of crops from inclement weather is becoming more important as global climate change occurs. The situation is especially critical in India, where agricultural output could be cut by 30 per cent by the end of the century. The productivity of vertical farms would be independent of weather conditions.
Preservation of natural resources
Deforestation by Recoverling
Vertical farming would lessen the need for new farmland, thus saving many natural resources currently threatened by deforestation or pollution. Deforestation and desertification caused by human intrusion in natural biomes would be avoided. Vertical farming would significantly limit the amount of fossil fuels currently used to transport and refrigerate farm produce. Plus, it would reduce conventional ploughing, planting, and harvesting by farm machinery powered by fossil fuels. Burning less fossil fuel would moderate air pollution, the cause of climate change.
The controlled growing environment reduces the need for herbicides and fungicides. Producing organic crops in vertical farms should be the most likely production and marketing strategy.
Prevention from the large-scale extinction of animals
Traditional agriculture is highly disruptive to wild animals that live in and around farmland. One study claimed that the number of wood mice dropped from 25 per hectare to 5 per hectare after harvest. In comparison, vertical farming would cause very little harm to wildlife.
Improvement in health quality
Labourers who work in the field of farming are often exposed to infectious diseases, poisonous substances, dangerous wildlife, and the serious injuries that can occur when handling large farming machinery. Vertical farming would reduce some of these risks. Another issue is the cost and availability of fresh produce, as vegetable prices are soaring all over the world. This trend is encouraging poor eating habits that lead to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems.
City growth and work opportunities
Vertical farming could enable the expansion of urban areas, which would remain mainly self-sufficient food-wise and provide food for its population. Moreover, the industry of vertical farming will provide employment to these widening centres. It’s very unlikely that traditional farms will disappear, as there are many crops that are not suited to vertical farming, and the production expenses are now much lower.
Ecological energy production
Vertical farms could convert the organic waste produced at the farm into biogas, which is normally composed of 65 per cent methane and other gases. This biogas could then be burned to generate electricity for the greenhouse.
Lighting by Whologwhy
Lighting, heating, and powering the vertical farm may be too costly to make the lower transportation expenses a benefit. Similarly, the environmental effect may be harmful if the vertical farm is run by fossil fuels; even low-carbon engines may not make as much sense as leaving the traditional farms in place and burning less coal. The initial building expenditures may be over $100 million for a 60-hectare vertical farm. Office occupancy costs can also be very high in major cities, ranging from $1850 to $880 per square metre.
Expensive supply of energy
When crops are planted on a vertical surface, they get much less sunshine than on flat land. Therefore, artificial light would be required for obtaining profitable yields. The power consumption of the vertical farm would be too expensive and uncompetitive with traditional farms using only free, natural light. Heating and cooling costs would be at least as costly as any other high-rise building. Complicated, if not more expensive, plumbing and elevator systems to carry food and water throughout remain a big issue as well. The heating cost can be over $200,000 per hectare even while using relatively cheap fossil fuels.
Vertical farms would require much greater energy per kilogram of produce (mostly through supplemental lighting) than ordinary greenhouses. Concerning vast amounts of light, they would not only present a waste of energy but would also be a problem during the night because of light pollution. Imagine a 30-storey vertical farm that is brightly lit when you’re trying to sleep. It would certainly pose a problem in a densely populated area. Besides, greenhouse growers commonly substitute the natural atmospheric rate of CO2 for three to four times higher levels to increase photosynthesis. Burning fossil fuels is the most likely way to achieve this effect, though the rest of the farm would be powered by green energy. Also, through the necessary ventilation, much CO2 will escape into the city’s atmosphere. If the future greenhouses function on a hydroponic basis (the soil-less growing technique based on water), large quantities of water containing fertilizers and pesticides will have to be disposed of. The most common procedure is to spread the mixture over an area of neighbouring farmland, which would be difficult to do in an urban environment.
The First Vertical Greenhouse Is Already On Its Way
Plantagon, a Stockholm-based firm, shook the world of agriculture in the beginning of February. This pioneer intends to create a large urban greenhouse that would produce food for Linköping, a city in south-central Sweden. The building will take about a year and a half to build. Engineers and designers who have been planning the structure say it is going to rise approximately 54 metres high. In cooperation with several partners, Plantagon plans to develop economical energy systems for the building as well as ways to capture and process a surplus of heat, CO2, and water. The Linköping greenhouse is supposed to eventually act as a showcase for urban agriculture. Platagon’s fresh fruits and vegetables will be sold directly to the citizens of Linköping, which is home to roughly 100,000 people.
Recipe for success
Let’s reveal the secret formula of this invention! The urban greenhouse encloses a vertical, rotating corkscrew platform that serves as a transport mechanism moving a few pots upwards as the plants flourish. At the top, the mature plants are harvested to make space for younger plants that join the cycle at the bottom. The building’s spherical shape maximizes potential light intensity. A number of green, leafy vegetables will be grown within the transparent shell because these species do not have to be bound or put in a darkened room for planting. Though the special form adds to construction costs, with a ground base of 10,000 square metres, a vertical greenhouse corresponds to 100,000 square metres of cultivated land.
Every coin has two sides
As Plantagon’s project is an innovative idea, it isn’t without opposition. Some feel that the design is too demanding in regard to resources and that everything will have to be delivered from elsewhere to maintain production. The building materials and their import are considered non-sustainable aspects of the farm. Furthermore, critics argue that crops would have to be manually harvested, thus reducing the actual productivity of the farm. That said, the company believes that the Plantagon® greenhouse design will make it economically possible to finance each greenhouse from its own profits. The company hopes to start building its first farm within three years.
The Unsolved Question Of Carbon Leakage
At present, a lot of vegetables that Europeans eat are grown in Dutch greenhouses that mainly depend on fossil fuel, natural gas, and carbon dioxide. The quantity of carbon residue of such products is almost countless. Swedish greenhouses rely more on renewable energy, which for example makes up about 70 per cent of the energy needed for tomato production. Heating accounts the most for CO2 emissions in Swedish greenhouses. If the heat and CO2 that is emitted into the air could be captured and stored, the environmental impact of greenhouse products would diminish massively. Similarly, heat and CO2 could be used for growing algae that can be transformed into biofuel and feed and replace fossil fuels. Plantagon is currently trying to turn these challenges into opportunities, so a promising future is awaiting environmental and economic performance.
How do you view the idea of vertical farming? Does it seem sensible to you, or will it cause more harm than good? Maybe you are aware of its flaws and know how an improvement could be made.