Verticrop – growing crops downtown

The above image shows you the future in more ways than one. Firstly, what you see is algae being grown in a factory farming environment. Algae has great potential as eco-energy because it grows rapidly and up to 50% of its weight is lipid oil that can be used as a biofuel. More on this biofuel system (called the High Density Vertical Bioreactor) can be read here.

The second future this image hints at is the concept of the Verticrop, showcased recently at the Royal Show. Valcent is the company behind these technologies. It’s press release (pdf – 2 pages) for the show can be found here.

Verticrop is also known as the High Density Vertical Growth (HDVG) system and Valcent claim the following;

Developed over several years by Valcent’s research and development partner, Pagic Inc., the system is designed to grow vegetables and other foods much more efficiently and with greater food value than in agricultural field conditions. The HDVG system demonstrates the following characteristics:

  • Produces approximately 20 times the normal production volume for field crops
  • Requires 5% of the normal water requirements for field crops
  • Can be built on non arable lands and close to major city markets
  • Can work in a variety of environments: urban, suburban, countryside, desert etc.
  • Does not use herbicides or pesticides
  • Will have very significant operating and capital cost savings over field agriculture
  • Will drastically reduce transportation costs to market resulting in further savings, higher quality and fresher foods on delivery, and less transportation pollution
  • Will be easily scalable from small to very large food production situations

And this is how it works according to Valcent;

The HDVG system grows plants in closely spaced pockets on clear, vertical panels that are moving on an overhead conveyor system. The system is designed to provide maximum sunlight and precisely correct nutrients to each plant. Ultraviolet light and filter systems exclude the need for herbicides and pesticides. Sophisticated control systems gain optimum growth performance through the correct misting of nutrients, the accurate balancing of PH and the delivery of the correct amount of heat, light and water.

Why this technology?;

  • Reduced Global Transport and Associated Carbon Emissions
  • Food and Fuel Safety, Security and Sovereignty
  • Local Food is Better for Public Health
  • Building Local Economies
  • Control of Externalities and True Costs

Valcent conclude their push for urban agriculture with some pretty compelling arguments;

In a rapidly urbanizing world where the majority of people now live in cities, localization requires that food and fuel be produced in an urban context. At present, there are no examples of a locally sustained urban community anywhere in the world. Urban sustainability is yet to be realized primarily because urban agriculture presents a number of technological challenges. The main challenge is a lack of growing space.

Vertical growing is a new idea currently emerging in the sustainability discourse which offers great promise for increasing urban production. Vertical growing systems have been proposed as possible solutions for increasing urban food supplies while decreasing the ecological impact of farming. The primary advantage of vertical growing is the high density production it allows using a much reduced physical footprint and fewer resources relative to conventional agriculture. Vertical growing systems can be applied in combination with existing hydroponic, and greenhouse technologies which already address many aspects of the sustainable urban production challenge (i.e., soil-free, organic production, closed loop systems that maximize water and nutrient efficiencies, etc.). Vertical growing, hydroponics and greenhouse production have yet to be combined into an integrated commercial production system, but, such a system would have major potential for the realization of environmentally sustainable urban food and fuel production.

But is it real? And would you eat the produce from such a system?

Is it the future of agriculture, particularly of the growing local urban food dream? Quite possibly.

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7 Responses to Verticrop – growing crops downtown

  1. earthpal says:

    Interesting Matt. Some attractive looking structures there. Very contemporary.

    I found a good website here about vertical farming . . .

    Have you heard of SPIN farming? Apparently it’s complimentary to vertical farming:

    You asked, is it real and would you eat the produce? It does sound kind of clinical doesn’t it and I would like to know more but clearly there are many advantages to be gained.

  2. matt says:

    I think people would eat this food because generally most people don’t ask where their food comes from anyway. So there’s probably a market for it. I’d like to see a kind of peer review of the technology, costings and nutrition benefits though.

    What amazes me is their claim on such a huge increase in productivity and low water useage. Impressive if they’re not comparing it Outer Hebrides agriculture! The concept seems to be a variation of what desert agriculture has involved for years; stick crop in the sand & drip feed in the nutrients. Nice.

    Thanks for the links. I’ll check them out later … after I’ve done the weekly shop!

  3. matt says:

    OK, I’ve had a look at SPIN (S-mall P-lot IN-tensive) – ‘pay as you go’ farming. That is, you pay for their emailed pdf guides as and when you go through the different stages of farming your sub-acre. Wonderful way for them to make money!

    Good idea of theirs to concentrate on the sub-acre sized plots. I couldn’t see anything about vertical though, just plain old horizontal it appears. 🙂

  4. earthpal says:

    Yes, the eco-movement is big business for those with the savvy. I’d rather save my money and get stuck in myself . . . and learn by my mistakes along the way.

  5. matt says:

    Definitely the better way EP. A couple of good books only cost a tenner each after all.

  6. VanadiumJoe says:

    Valcent now has a Kennedy on their advisory board and are planning to open up 6 more VertiCrop systems in Jan/Feb 2010. Their system works, it’s profitable, ethical and higher in nutritional value, basically no reason why this wouldn’t be spreading around the world very fast now that their proof of concept phase is over and mass manufacturing is beginning.

    Good stuff. I want to be a farmer now – downtown that is. lol

  7. matt says:

    Thanks for the update.

    It would be great to see a Verticrop venture start up somewhere within the M25! (That’s London to those that don’t know).

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