Thursday, August 23, 2012

40 Point Plan Film Points To Vertical Farming "Food Sky Towers" To End Hunger.

From a recent press release about the 40 Point Plan movie.
"You Are Invited To An Exclusive, Limited Time Only, Online Screening Of 40-Point Plan.
40-Point Plan is the First Film in History to Clearly and Wholly Address How the USA Can Again Lead the World For a Better Life" Go to

The 40 Point Plan film features several technologies, such as the Omega Garden rotary hydroponics plant growing technology to address many of the issues facing the world today. In the section regarding the Omega Growing System Dr. Dickson Despommier of Columbia University narrates over an animation of a vertical farming application utilizing the Omega Garden system.

- Pictured above is the base growing module, underpinning the system, which inventor Marchildon calls the Volksgarden. The cylinder body houses rows of plants growing towards the central lighting source. Roots are watered at the base as the drum slowly rotates -

- Pictured above a cutaway of a horizontal carousel carrying a plurality of Volksgarden modules -

- Above is an inside look at the center of a circular stack of carousels -

- Below is a cutaway of the view from the outside of the vertical farm -

Omega Garden developer Ted Marchildon calls the vertical farming design a "Farmdominium". "Like condominium without the con". "Dominium, a legal term meaning "Dominion; control; ownership," forms several related compounds in legal Latin:" - Wikipedia. So if the word dominium means control, or ownership, having the word 'con' as a prefix would seem to mean the opposite.

The Farmdominium is intended to be housed in a sealed, pressurized concrete dome or silo. This will eliminate contaminates as well as increase the growth rates of the plants. A sealed environment enables the 'plant transpiration' to be captured. According to Wikipedia - "Transpiration is a process similar to evaporation. It is a part of the water cycle, and it is the loss of water vapor from parts of plants (similar to sweating), especially in leaves but also in stems, flowers and roots." Also "A fully grown tree may lose several hundred gallons of water through its leaves on a hot, dry day. About 90% of the water that enters a plant's roots is used for this process. The transpiration ratio is the ratio of the mass of water transpired to the mass of dry matter produced; the transpiration ratio of crops tends to fall between 200 and 1000 (i.e., crop plants transpire 200 to 1000 kg of water for every kg of dry matter produced)"

By capturing the transpiration, the water efficiency of this system is 200 to 1,000 times more water efficient that a system not employing this technique, and this is only speaking to water that actually gets to the roots of the plants, and not water lost to the soil in irrigated field farming.

Water, and specifically liquid fresh water is key to life as we know it. NASA gets excited when it finds planets in what is called the "habitable zone" or "Goldilocks zone" of the star that planet orbits. The planetary "Goldilocks zone" is not too close (hot), and not too far (cold) from it's mother star, resulting in the right temperature to have liquid water, and life.

In the case of the Omega Garden system, the "Goldilocks zone" comes into play in a way that we can compare to another agricultural practice, that of modern greenhouse growing technologies. Anyone who has driven past, or flown over a modern greenhouse at night has seen the artificial lighting that is used to keep the plants 'fooled' into thinking that it's still the right time of year to keep growing. Without this additional lighting the short light hours would signal to the plants that it's time to go to seed, heading into autumn and winter. This artificial lighting in a greenhouse is quite high overhead of the plants, therefore, the plants are not in the "Goldilocks zone" of the greenhouse lighting. If the same artificial lighting were to be used to grow plants in a warehouse, where the plants did not get any help from sunlight, no usable plant material would result from this plant / lighting relationship, due to the distance separating the two. All this lighting energy is spent simply to keep the plants awake for up to eighteen hours per day so the plants do not go to seed. It is essentially an annoyance relationship, similar to how a light being left on down the hall can keep you from getting to sleep. You won't feel any radiant heat from the lamp down the hall because of the distance, but you will go turn it off in order to get quality rest.

If you add up the square foot surface floor area of the greenhouse, and divide it into the wattage used by the artificial lighting, it is approximately 15 watts per square foot surface area. In places like Holland where they have an estimated 150,000 acres of greenhouse growing, this is not an insignificant amount of energy used. The Omega Garden system however holds all of the plants in the cylinder in the "Goldilocks zone", and requires no sunlight. Depending on the lighting option used in the Omega system, abundant plant growth can result from less then ten (10) watts per square foot surface growing area. Each plant in the rotating cylinder is also equal distant to the central lighting source, and the rotational stress on the plants is a positive similar to exercise, as the plant attempts to right itself to the pull of gravity whenever the plants are not upright.

The above description of the plant to light relationship can not be over stated. Just about everyone on this planet knows, that unless you place the kettle over the fire, the water in the kettle is never going to boil, no matter how long you wait. The idea of stacking modern glass greenhouses on top of each other is not going to result in usable plant growth within the present glass house design, as the sunlight will only penetrate so far. The top floor of a multi floor glass greenhouse will do just as well as any greenhouse, but the next floor down is not going to get as much light, assuming glass floors without any plants being in the way. Even if the light loss through the glass was only 10% by the time you go through two, or three levels, it's game over, but if you have a hardy crop of plants on the top level, then expect very little light on the next level down, certainly not enough light to be useful growing plants in abundance. There will of course be some light coming in the sides when the sun is at the right angle, but this too will only be good for several feet, certainly no more then fifteen, or twenty feet. It's back to the water in a kettle analogy with the water not boiling unless it is held over the flame at the correct distance, or sitting on the right burner on your stove. This is just elemental.

Elementally speaking, we are in a liquid water economy. No liquid fresh water, no economy. Our monetary system is based on the harvest, and if you don't believe that, just think of what will happen if you can no longer trade money for food. All of the gold, silver, or toilet paper in the world is not going to help you if the harvest fails completely. According to United Nations figures 70% to 80% of our planets fresh water is used agriculturally, with 10% for commercial activity, and 10% for personal, or house hold use. United Nations figures also state that we are to expect an increase in the planet's population by something close to 40% in the next 25 years, or so. This is going to get ugly unless we tame agriculture's thirst, and all of the increased water efficiency gains at home or work are not going to stop this 'not so slow motion agricultural train wreck'.


According to the website "The daily drinking water requirement per person is 2-4 litres, but it takes 2,000 to 5,000 litres of water to produce one person's daily food."
It takes 1,000-3,000 litres of water to produce just one kilo of rice and 13,000 to 15,000 litres to produce one kilo of grain-fed beef.

Source: FAO

If the water needed to produce our daily food requirements can be reduced by 1,000-2,000 times via controlled agriculture, then the planets 'population carrying capacity' will have been increased many times over.

If we had to pay any kind of reasonable price for water, then we would tend to value it a way that might prevent us from using it at our present rate. At the gas station pump in Canada the price of gasoline is about $1.30 a liter, however if you buy a liter of water at the same outlet, the water is likely to cost more then the gas. If you are in Saudi Arabia the water is about four times the price of the gasoline. You can live without the gas, but not the water.

When we are facing a water shortage, and the price will start to reflect the true value. Even if we put a seemingly small price on the water, say 1 cent per liter for irrigation water, it will make the cost of water to produce the food requirements of one person between $20 to $50 per day, and several times that for a meat eater. However in a sealed growing environment, that is capturing the plant transpiration, the cost of the water required to produce the food for one person per day is reduced to something like $0.01 to $0.025. Even someone living on a dollar a day can handle these water costs.

Some searching on the Internet for "peak oil" will lead to the concept that we may be running out of oil, and the ramifications of it, and arguments on either side. I think that the thought of "peak agriculture" is far more troublesome. When I look at ruins scattered about the planet of ancient civilizations who seemed to have mysteriously disappeared, I don't think "peak oil" had anything to do with it. It seems likely some type of agriculture collapse either natural, or man made was likely the culprit in the majority of cases leading to direct collapse, and / or leading to resource conflict first followed by societal collapse. Either way, certainly not the best of times.

We have all of the technology needed to avoid peak agriculture, and it only requires recognizing the proper relationships so that the elements work in harmony for the good of all.

No comments: