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Solving the global food crisis: vertical aeroponic farm grows food out of thin air

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February 17, 2009

Eric Vergne's Dystopian Farm concept

Eric Vergne's Dystopian Farm concept

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February 17, 2009 More than 50% of our planet's massive human population is concentrated into urban centres - and on current estimates, that's likely to be as high as 80% by the year 2050, a year many of us will be around to see. So the challenge facing today's forward-thinking architects is how to create positive outcomes out of a crushing space constraint. Going upwards, in projects like Eugene Tsui's Ultima Tower and the London Vertical Village concept, seems to offer some practical solutions to the living space conundrum - but what about feeding all those people? Vertical Aeroponic Farming seems to be an idea whose time has come - it will let us use land, nutrients, power and water much more efficiently than ever before, while delivering a quality-controllable, year-round and emissions-positive food source for urban communities. Eric Vergne's Dystopian Farm is a design study that examines how a vertical farm might use the latest in agricultural and architectural technology to feed the cities of the future.

A looming global food crisis

For all our many advancements and civil societies, modern humanity is a ticking time-bomb of violence and destruction if certain key criteria aren't met. The most telling is food - Britain's MI5 security agency operates on the famous maxim that any society is only four missed meals away from complete anarchy - if some catastrophe interrupts the supply of food, widespread looting and rioting will quickly follow.

That catastrophe is becoming easier and easier to imagine, with vastly overcrowded and growing cities becoming ever more separate from their food sources. And consider this: with the population continuing to grow pretty much everywhere in the world except Western Europe, we're already farming more than 80% of the land that's suitable for crops - arable land which is disappearing at a rate of more than 100,000 square kilometres per year due to poor land management and deforestation.

Much of the third world is already in a serious food crisis - but with global food prices jumping a massive 75% since 2000, the developed world, its cities and urban areas are being affected for the first time. This is not a problem that will go away - the World Bank estimates that global food demand will *double* by 2030. It seems clear that some radical thinking is needed in the short-term to avert a global hunger epidemic in our lifetime, and the social upheaval that will go with it.

But how do we create food out of thin air?

Perhaps by growing it *in* thin air. Growing plants in soil may be the most obvious and 'natural' way to produce food crops, but it's by no means the most efficient, and the vast spread of variables in any patch of natural dirt makes for a poorly controlled production environment.

All plants really need to grow and thrive is light, water, nutrients, oxygen at the roots and carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. Dirt can be a supplier of nutrients, but isn't necessary in and of itself - hence the effectiveness of hydroponic plant growth, in which the plant's roots are submerged in nutrient-rich water.

But water in itself is becoming more and more scarce a commodity - and the more recent technology of aeroponics has proven itself to be a significantly more water- and energy-efficient means for food production.

Aeroponic plant growth basically suspends the plant in midair, while a mist of water combined with nutrients is sprayed over the root structure. As such, it requires vastly less water than hydroponic or soil growth, and also significantly less of the nutrient substances. Plant growth is excellent, waste is minimal and the planting and harvesting processes are exceptionally simple.

Because the roots aren't constantly surrounded by dirt or water, the plant's environment is much easier to control. Different nutrient solutions can be substituted at will with no wastage, and the entire nutrition and water programme can be managed with absolute control. Plants can be kept separate to control diseases and pests, and different optimal environments can be created for the roots and "above-ground" sections of each plant.

The results? Up to 98% less water usage, 60% less fertiliser, big, healthy plant growth and no need for pesticides. Impressive.

NASA has been examining aeroponics as a promising candidate for a "space food" program suitable for food production on other planets or long space journeys - but its more immediate Earthbound applications may prove far more urgent.

Vertical farm concept for Manhattan

Eric Vergne's Dystopian Farm concept is a design study examining how an advanced aeroponic farming system could operate in a vertical, urban environment.

Its shape, inspired by the cell structure of ferns, might be a bit out there, but the structure is designed to provide a large, dense and efficient space in which aeroponic industry can produce a large volume of food all year round.

The building contains growing space, residential space and a series of markets which can sell the fresh produce with virtually no transport costs. Adjustable lighting takes care of the different needs of each stage of plant growth, from initial flowering to cloning and vegetative growth, and the building's spine-like curvature renders it strong and earthquake-resistant to let it reach higher.

The Dystopian Farm took out third prize out of 416 entrants in Evolo's 2009 Skyscraper Competition - and while it's by no means yet a practical solution, it highlights the potential of aeroponics in combination with high-density urban high-rise farming.

Where to from here?

Perhaps with the right sort of automation technology, aeroponic farms could be made even more vertically dense, with just a foot or two between matrix levels, automatic planting, care, harvesting and packaging, resulting in a super high-efficiency organic food factory.

With bumper crops year-round and high production from a tiny Earth footprint, surely these aeroponic vertical farms could become an economically attractive use of land. Government policy and assistance would surely reflect the efficiency of such a progressive solution as population concentration and food supply problems continue to increase.

We congratulate Vergne on his design's success, and look forward to seeing a growing focus on high-density, high-efficiency food production as aeroponic technology improves.

Loz Blain

Via Inhabitat.

About the Author
Loz Blain Loz has been one of Gizmag's most versatile contributors since 2007. Joining the team as a motorcycle specialist, he has since covered everything from medical and military technology to aeronautics, music gear and historical artefacts. Since 2010 he's branched out into photography, video and audio production, and he remains the only Gizmag contributor willing to put his name to a sex toy review. A singer by night, he's often on the road with his a cappella band Suade.   All articles by Loz Blain
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4 Comments

I think the major point of this design exercise is to educate people about the potential for 'urban farming'. I think its often overlooked that our cities could be more than simply heat islands. Simply considering the surface area wasted for aesthetics or for no other reason than its the way its always been. While reading this article I began to imagine a city that was built where pedestrian traffic walked across the roofs of buildings covered in agriculture and greenspace. Pedestrians would travel down to access rail or surface streets and their desired destination.

The one thing that bothered me about this article was that aeroponic farming is touted as such an efficient way of growing. This neglects the fact it is much more complicated than pushing a seed into dirt and occasionally watering it. Aeroponic is more work... the yield may be greater but the integrated systems that need to be in working order for the plants NOT TO DIE is immense. Would the energy cost of such a system outweigh the benefits? It might but you would have to consider the longevity of the structure, and energy costs to run such a system, nevermind the material and manufacturing/environmental costs. I would think that many smaller self contained systems would be more cost efficient to take advantage of existing structures. Don't get me wrong, I think these are great ideas... lets get farming into the city!

CreativeApex
17th February, 2009 @ 06:35 pm PST

Its almost like we are adopting the ways of the alien race in "The War of The Worlds"... I like it...

@tgmeob: The obvious advantage of Aeroponics is that the variety of plants that can be cultured is immense and they tend to be healthier due to the good supply of oxygen to their roots.. in the industrial scale it might actually be easier to use Aeroponics... additionally as opposed to the traditional methods, our requirement of water will be reduced as we will not need to wash the vegetables thoroughly... plus the chances of infection from dirt will be reduced and the whole setup may be even rendered automatic.

What I do object to is that if such towers are to provide food to so many, these will tend to be soft targets for anti-social elements or even natural outbreaks and we might need to scatter the facilities to reduce thier vulnerability...

Sougata Pahari
29th July, 2009 @ 08:24 am PDT

This is great idea if this is possible to farm vertical aeroponic will be the great achievement because it take less space. But i confused is this possible?

jimmy
10th December, 2009 @ 11:14 pm PST

Aquaponics is more efficient than aeroponic more cost effective!!!!!!!!!!!

German Feuchter
22nd December, 2009 @ 10:58 am PST
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