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.