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Agri-Cube grows mass quantities of vegetables in a one-car parking spot

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August 14, 2012

Bountiful harvest fills the trays of a Daiwa Agri-Cube prefab garden factory

Bountiful harvest fills the trays of a Daiwa Agri-Cube prefab garden factory

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Daiwa House, Japan's largest homebuilder, has introduced a line of prefabricated hydroponic vegetable factories, aimed at housing complexes, hotels, and top-end restaurants. Called the Agri-Cube, these units are touted by Daiwa as the first step in the industrialization of agriculture, to be located in and amongst the places where people live, work, and play.

More and more people desire sustainable, organic produce for their own use, and are turning to urban farming in an effort to insure the highest degree of freshness. However, some municipalities, neighborhoods, and homeowners associations have rules that effectively block such endeavors in areas under their sway. Add drought and pest control to the picture, and suddenly urban farming may seem more trouble than it is worth. There is a growing need for local supplies of freshly grown produce that avoids the difficulties presented by conventional small farms and gardens.

External view of the 11.7 square meter Agri-Cube E garden factory

External view of the 11.7 square meter Agri-Cube E garden factory

This is where the Agri-Cube comes in. Measuring less than five meters (about 16 feet) in length and 2.5 meters (about 8 feet) wide, Daiwa's Agri-Cubes are smaller than a twenty-foot equivalent shipping container. An Agri-Cube can be brought to an installation site on the bed of a light heavy-duty truck. A concrete foundation about 10 square meters (108 square feet) in size must be prepared before delivery, along with plumbing and electrical utility hookups. Daiwa claims each Agri-Unit can grow about ten thousand servings of fruits and vegetables each year at an operations cost of about US$4,500, which corresponds to only 45 US cents per head of lettuce.

An Agri-Cube is designed to require little maintenance or attention to the hydroponic and lighting systems. It is delivered ready to use, with all the hydroponic equipment, air conditioning to maintain ideal growing temperatures, a heat-exchanging ventilation system, and special growth lights to encourage faster plant growth installed and functioning. The basic structure is a steel frame building, with anti-rust treatment and floor, wall, and ceiling insulation. Solar panels and air curtains (to better maintain the controlled environment) are available as options.

Community member tending the Agri-Cube's crops

Community member tending the Agri-Cube's crops

Initially, Agri-Cubes will be marketed to the food service industry. Daiwa intends to extend that focused niche market to include apartment houses and other housing complexes, neighborhood co-ops of perhaps ten households, small-scale stores, and local organic food suppliers.

A video from DigInfo TV appears below that will give a clear overview of the makeup of an Agri-Cube.

Beginning at a price of $70,000, the Agri-Cube may soon be dispensing fresh fruit and vegetables in your neighborhood.

Source: Daiwa House (Google translation), DigInfo TV

About the Author
Brian Dodson From an early age Brian wanted to become a scientist. He did, earning a Ph.D. in physics and embarking on an R&D career which has recently broken the 40th anniversary. What he didn't expect was that along the way he would become a patent agent, a rocket scientist, a gourmet cook, a biotech entrepreneur, an opera tenor and a science writer.   All articles by Brian Dodson
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30 Comments

$70k seriously? you could build the same thing out of wood for 3k with the ac and lights. The solar panels are simply stupid, why not just put a sky light in. The solar panels system most likely ads 5k to the price.

Michael Mantion
14th August, 2012 @ 07:15 pm PDT

A skylight is thermally inefficient, leaks, doesn't illuminate the bottom shelf, and makes for an easier route for unlawful entry.

Slowburn
14th August, 2012 @ 08:12 pm PDT

$70,000 buys a lot of lettuce.

DemonDuck
14th August, 2012 @ 08:14 pm PDT

@ Michael Mantion

A second power supply for your refrigerator is not a bad thing.

L1ma
15th August, 2012 @ 02:52 am PDT

Might make sense in Japanese cities, but would be uneconomic in most other parts of the world.

Martinkudu
15th August, 2012 @ 03:15 am PDT

1) $70,000 for one unit?!

2) operations cost 45 US cents per head of lettuce?! Not quite cost effective either...

Rasto Ha
15th August, 2012 @ 03:34 am PDT

An inefficient greenhouse. The nice-looking, white, sunlit wall should be glass. The solar panels on the roof are for looks. Sunlight coming in through glass is at least five times as efficient as running lights with solar panels.

MBadgero
15th August, 2012 @ 04:04 am PDT

Plant density is well below that of commercial greenhouses. Capital cost is stupidly expensive. MBadgero is correct; this is an inefficient greenhouse. Yeah, it'll grow vegetables but not many and they will be affordable only by NBA stars.

Guy Macher
15th August, 2012 @ 04:19 am PDT

We already have our own home grown Valcent or as now, Alterrus quoted on the Toronto Stock Exchange and here in the US. They explored doing vertical trays and discovered they could produce about 20 times what a farmer can produce in a given area and only use a fraction of the water. The economics are astounding which explains why these things are beginning to expand as fast as they are.

Markcox
15th August, 2012 @ 09:19 am PDT

Come on! This is sooo silly! what are the operating costs, what is the equivalent land use, what are the spring/summer/winter/fall factors...

There is a HUGE space for people! how silly is that.. how much lost production might that account for! damn.

oh boy, a box! an expensive one. with vegetables! like the staff of life: lettuce.

ought to print an apology for this one.

gberke
15th August, 2012 @ 09:53 am PDT

Agree with MB and Guy. This is a 30 year old growing system and about as inefficient as you can get. :) Lame and he gets and F for the assignment.

Andrew Anderson
15th August, 2012 @ 10:31 am PDT

Take a look at similar concept - podponics:

http://www.podponics.com

https://www.facebook.com/podponics

and boxcargrocer:

http://www.boxcargrocer.com

https://www.facebook.com/boxcargrocer

Don Clark
15th August, 2012 @ 10:33 am PDT

All preceding comments are not just valid but actually pale in comparison to Japan's giant energy shortcomings. They already have a huge shortfall with the demise of the Fukushima reactor complex. New cool ways to wastefully misuse electricity they do not have and cannot afford is not an innovation that Japan, or anyone else, really needs. A modest box with a $70K starting pricetag just the list of problems.

StWils
15th August, 2012 @ 10:37 am PDT

Love it: This is where it begins. With the invention. Then all the people with comments like those above tweak it. And down the road a little way someday each of us may have our very own Gizmo-Cube only built & powered cost effectively. Even If Michael Jordan is the only human who can afford the first 2012 model......they say the first computer filled up a huge building.....

Richtor J Reynolds
15th August, 2012 @ 11:43 am PDT

In the UK if you tried to use this system you'd most likely be subject to an early morning visit by some smartly dressed gentlemen and a dog.

Hydroponics here tends to be the preserve of cannabis growers. The Police regularly use heat-sensing cameras on helicopters to detect areas (typically people's lofts) that have been adapted to grow the plant- as the use of powerful lights will usually create a tell-tale heat signature.

It is perfectly legal to buy and use hydroponics, and, (if the law hasn't yet been changed) to buy seed to grow the drugs, but not to actually grow them.

As far as this grossly overpriced system goes, it is hardly worth having the Police kicking in your door at the crack of dawn for the sake of some fresh lettuce.

bergamot69
15th August, 2012 @ 12:19 pm PDT

Many problems with this thing.

1) Low plant density

2) White light instead of red (red LEDs are extremely cheap & more efficiently deliver light energy to plants)

3) High cost of entry (70k? why?!)

4) Unnecessary windows

Joel Detrow
15th August, 2012 @ 12:29 pm PDT

If you have followed this web site for awhile, you have seen some really good concepts for growing plants. For those new here, check these out:

http://www.gizmag.com/volet-vegetal-hanging-garden/23014/

http://www.gizmag.com/click-and-grow-pots/14274/

You could even combine these two.

MBadgero
15th August, 2012 @ 12:45 pm PDT

I will go with "overpriced and not even very good" as well.

For a counterpoint, see the Growth Chamber at the US Antarctic Base at the South Pole:

http://photolibrary.usap.gov/Portscripts/PortWeb.dll?query&field1=Filename&op1=matches&value=SPFGC.JPG&catalog=Antarctica&template=USAPgovMidThumbs

Jon A.
15th August, 2012 @ 01:04 pm PDT

The only place this would be economically efficient is underground..... or under at least 50ft of water..... Hmmmmm.....

David Paul Gurtner
15th August, 2012 @ 01:27 pm PDT

Diawa seems to be headed in the right direction but fundamentally i think they have fallen short.

An Australian company, Vertical Farms Systems has come up with not just a containerised version, but a small domestic "fridge" unit for the house which is far more affordable ( and uses LED technology which makes it far more cost effective. Also, by using its various growing levels, it maximises floor/growing space which is great in such place like Japan, or big cities.

worth a look

www.verticalfarms.com.au

BQ
15th August, 2012 @ 02:56 pm PDT

Hmmmm....... I wonder what it takes to start a co-op. I wish I knew 45 people up this way that might be willing to go in on this at about $100 a pop.

Corinne Civish
15th August, 2012 @ 03:46 pm PDT

Hmmm. We're using solar -> electrical -> light losing over 80% of the energy which was originally the right form, at high expense.

'Skylights 'leak?' Not if done correctly. 'Allow illegal entry?' To steal my @ for a $1 heads of lettuce (which has almost no nutritive value anyway.)

The only thing this is economically suited for growing are illegal drug herbs. And frankly, you can convert a spare 8'x8' bedroom to grow $8,000 per year worth of marijuana for well under $3,000.

Now, build something that can do this for $1,000 and maybe it would be worth something for veggies, but only in the highest priced real estate areas, and even there, it's cheaper to ship stuff in...there's a reason major cities don't grow their own food.

Start with roof gardens, worry amount self-contained gardens when you run out of roofs.

Charles Barnard
15th August, 2012 @ 05:24 pm PDT

How is this new and newsworthy ? It is a bigger version of fodder solutions iGro.

Terry Colless
15th August, 2012 @ 06:10 pm PDT

It would be good for say a mission to Mars. You land on the planet and set up your base of operations. Locate a water source, pour a pad to set it on. When it lands in say about a month behind you, you then hook up the electricity to it and start growing your food. Should help to extend your stay for a while anyhow.

JMOdom
15th August, 2012 @ 06:29 pm PDT

looks like it'd be very easy to set a bunch of em in place on top of a skyscraper....

Kwazai
17th August, 2012 @ 05:54 am PDT

urban farming in a box

Eric Malatji
17th August, 2012 @ 10:08 pm PDT

DAIWA is a MORTGAGE company that needs to do a little green-washing, no wonder it sells 70K white elephants.

Spaghetti
21st August, 2012 @ 05:51 am PDT

This looks more like a novelty item than a real world solution. Check us out at http://www.facebook.com/indoorharvest We are developing a system that aeroponic farmers will actually be able to afford.

Chad Sykes
19th September, 2012 @ 08:51 am PDT

Come on people! So much negativity.. this is a phenomenal idea for a community association. The Japanese are all about community, we should try that in the U.S. $70,000 for a community to grow all your vegetables, fruit, etc.. rather than buying dyed, pesticide prone, bad fruit and vegetation at the grocery store.. this is a cost saving device, a community "builder," green living, sustainable, less carbon footprint efficient, etc.. What do you get when you pay your condo association fees (If you live in a condo association?) .. this would be a great idea if buying a home in a condo association, a little added perk - at least I get to see something tangible from my money...

Diezel73
18th October, 2012 @ 07:21 pm PDT
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