Can vertical farming feed the world and change the agriculture industry?

May 18, 2018 by  
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Year after year, cities expand and pristine natural habitats are turned into farms and pastures to support the world’s growing population . But despite our encroachment into the environment, we still struggle to feed everyone. Vertical farms could offer a solution by producing higher crop yields year-round in less space than conventional agriculture. What is vertical farming? With land for crops and pastures growing scarce — plus the threat of pesticides and herbicides taking a toll on our health and the environment — people are exploring new ways to grow food, such as urban agriculture. In general, this is the process of growing food within city limits – whether on rooftops, in backyards or on balconies. The goal is to provide families with fresh, healthy food that isn’t laced with chemicals — and when you grow your own crops, you can control these elements. Vertical farming is a type of urban agriculture – but vertical farms are often constructed indoors in extremely controlled environments. Crops are grown on shelves that extend upward instead of outward, and the environment is carefully monitored, so crops grow year-round. In addition to growing crops, some vertical farmers have developed ways to grow fish in a self-sustaining system. Water from the plants is recycled into fish tanks, and the waste from the fish becomes fertilizer for the plants. Then, both the plants and fish can be harvested for food. The benefits of vertical farming The benefits of vertical farming are numerous. Farmers can control the crops’ environment in vertical farms, so the plants aren’t subjected to nasty weather conditions or droughts . Humidity, nutrients and water are administered to growing plants to achieve optimum growing conditions. Because of the controlled environment, crops can be harvested more than once a year, resulting in higher yields than traditional farming. Related: The GCC’s first commercial vertical farm launches in Dubai Vertical farms are more sustainable than conventional farms because they use less water (which is often recycled through the system), they take up less space and they use less fossil fuels because they don’t rely on heavy machinery such as tractors and harvesters. Technology helps vertical farmers get the best output from the farm. Tailored lamps help plants get more light exposure, which encourages them to grow faster than crops that rely on the sun. Vertical farms also provide greater protection from insects, thus decreasing the need for harmful chemical products. Downsides to vertical farming While vertical farms can help with local hunger issues and sustainability, there are some barriers that may keep them from gaining worldwide traction. The cost of setting up a vertical farm can be prohibitive. Conservative estimates put the initial start-up cost at around $110,000 , but there are estimates upward of millions of dollars. Finding an abandoned warehouse or building in an urban setting for a reasonable price might be difficult. Since vertical farms rely on electricity for growing lamps and strict environmental controls, the location has to have reliable power — not just any old abandoned building will do. Vertical farms also depend heavily on technology, which can be costly. Keeping the lights on and the environmental controls running will impact energy use — and your budget. Related: The “most technologically-sophisticated commercial indoor farm in the world” will grow 30X more produce Not every crop that is grown traditionally can be raised successfully in a vertical farm. Leafy greens and herbs do the best in an indoor environment, while staple crops like wheat and potatoes are difficult to grow indoors, as are some fruits and vegetables. The crops that can be harvested from a vertical garden are limited. Growing food to feed the hungry is a noble gesture, but it also has to be profitable, especially when the initial cost to set up a vertical farm is so high. If there isn’t a market in your area, it’s a waste of time to grow large amounts of food that you won’t be able to sell. The verdict Despite the downsides, the positives are plentiful. In addition to embracing sustainability and helping combat hunger , vertical farms can also encourage support for local economies. These farms can create jobs, turn a profit and provide a healthy source of food for locals. As technology continues to advance, new approaches will improve the efficiency and productivity of vertical farms. If nothing else, the idea sparks the conversation about changing the agricultural industry and gives us a place to start for finding better, more sustainable ways to grow food. Images via Depositphotos , Aqua Mechanical and Mike Chino for Inhabitat

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Can vertical farming feed the world and change the agriculture industry?

Trump’s border wall threatens Texas plants and wildlife

March 30, 2018 by  
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If it is ever built, Trump’s US-Mexico border wall would pose a threat to vulnerable wildlife and plants, as well as to the growing ecotourism industry in the border regions of Texas . Norma Fowler and Tim Keitt, scientists at the University of Texas at Austin, have published a letter that outlines the potential ecological damage from such a major project. Currently, Texas has walls along approximately 100 miles of its border with Mexico. “Up to now, the wall has either gone through cities or deserts,” said Fowler . “This is the Rio Grande we’re talking about here. It’s totally different.” The proposed wall is set to cut through hundreds of miles of protected federal land, including much of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. “We have high biodiversity because of the river and because Texas extends so far south,” explained Fowler. “I and other Texas biologists are very concerned about the impact this will have on our rich natural heritage.” Fowler and Keitt conducted a scientific literature review of 14 other publications to support the concerns outlined in the letter. The authors express particular interest in the protection of the threatened Tamaulipan thornscrub ecosystem , which once covered much of South Texas. Related: Leaked memo shows that EPA staffers were told to downplay the reliability of climate science The wall could also divide breeding populations of vulnerable animals, such as the ocelot. With only 120 left in the Lone Star State, ocelots could suffer from decreased reproduction and eventually disappear completely from Texas. “Even small segments of new wall on federal lands will devastate habitats and local recreation and ecotourism,” said Keitt. The authors suggested alternatives if the United States does ultimately go forward in its efforts to strengthen the border. According to Keitt and Fowler, “Negative impacts could be lessened by limiting the extent of physical barriers and associated roads, designing barriers to permit animal passage and substituting less biologically harmful methods, such as electronic sensors, for physical barriers.” Via Phys.org Images via  Alejandro Santillana/University of Texas at Austin Insects Unlocked Project and  Andrew Morffew

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This plant-based spray makes fruits and veggies last up to four times longer

March 23, 2018 by  
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How do you preserve fruits and vegetables after harvest? Generally, you need cold temperatures. But what if there were an alternative to refrigeration ? That question inspired Santa Barbara-based Apeel Sciences  to create  Edipeel , a post-harvest protection product made with edible extracts from plants . Inhabitat spoke with CEO and founder James Rogers about the product, which forms a micro-climate around each piece of food so it lasts around double the amount of time it would untreated — at least. Hunger continues to be a pressing problem, and as the population grows, humanity must figure out how to feed 10 billion people. This issue formed the basis of a podcast Rogers was listening to while driving through the Salinas Valley. He looked out the window at the greenery of the valley, dubbed the “Salad Bowl of the World,” and wondered how people could go hungry if we were growing so much food. Digging into the issue, he discovered it’s not so much about growing enough calories to feed the planet as it is about keeping what we do grow from perishing. Related: This company wants to turn food waste into building materials — here’s how Rogers found out fruits and vegetables rot through water loss and oxidation. “As a materials scientist, immediately this rang a bell with how people solve this problem for steel ,” he told Inhabitat. “Most people don’t think about it, but steel is highly perishable. It rusts. Metallurgists solved this problem in creating stainless steel, and the way that they did that was by adding additional elements, like chromium or nickel.” Edipeel creates an invisible, edible barrier to keep oxygen out and water in. Apeel recombines edible oils from plants in blends tailored for different kinds of food; think citrus or avocados. The result is a powder that Apeel mixes with water and sprays on the surface of food. It dries into a thin added peel, creating a micro-climate for each piece of produce. “The result is that it can last two, three, four times longer, even without refrigeration,” said Rogers. Worried about harmful chemicals on your food? So were Rogers’ friends. “They said, ‘Hey, sounds like a cool idea, bro, but we don’t want any chemicals,’” Rogers said. Although food is technically comprised of chemicals, some people don’t always think about it that way, so he wondered, “What if we could relegate ourselves only to using those materials that are found in high concentrations in the fruits and vegetables we eat every day to make formulations to use food to preserve food?” Apeel has been developing Edipeel for around six years now with that goal in mind. “We’re not a large chemical manufacturing company saying ‘let’s manufacture a new chemical to solve this problem.’ We’re looking at it from this perspective of: how do we work with nature to solve this problem the right way — not the fast way, not the cheap way, not the way that sacrifices the long-term health of the planet, but how do we solve this with the tool set nature has provided us?” Rogers told Inhabitat. The extracts for Edipeel can come from any vegetable or fruit. “We’re not looking for any weird botanical extract from some crazy flower in the Amazon,” Rogers said. “The materials we need are ubiquitous. If it grows above the surface of the earth, basically we can use it to create our formulations. The materials we’re using are all inert materials. They don’t have any action in and of themselves; they’re just structural. We recompose that structure on the outside of produce. “ Since spoilage is so significant, the way Apeel prices Edipeel means it’s more expensive for retailers not to have it. According to Rogers, “If you’re a retailer and you’re throwing away eight percent of your avocados, we’re able to price our product such that by paying us, you’re still going to save enough money to pay us for the product.” Edipeel is designated “Generally Recognized As Safe” by the Food and Drug Administration and can be used on organic produce. “As soon as you see how it works, you know that this is going to be a thing in the world,” Rogers told Inhabitat. “Seeing it work, even at a small scale, it was like, ‘This is the future.’ It just feels like an eventuality.” This year, Apeel is gearing up to offer Edipeel to commercial partners. Rogers couldn’t say who those partners might be quite yet, but he did say they are premier retailers. + Apeel Sciences Images courtesy of Apeel

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This plant-based spray makes fruits and veggies last up to four times longer

Simple genetic modification causes crops to need 25% less water

March 9, 2018 by  
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Scientists have discovered that a simple genetic modification may result in crops needing up to 25 percent less water than unaltered plants to produce the same yield. An international team led by scientists at the University of Illinois identified a specific protein called Photosystem II Subunit S (PsbS), which can be altered to encourage a plant to partially close its stomata, the small pores that facilitate gas exchange between plants and their environment. The scientists hypothesized that the closing of stomata would allow plants to retain more water without sacrificing its need for carbon dioxide, the atmospheric concentration of which has increased by 25 percent in less than a century. Stephen Long, study co-author and director of Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE), the international research project behind the study, said in a statement: “Evolution has not kept pace with this rapid change, so scientists have given it a helping hand”. As the world adapts to climate change , less water-intensive crops could be a game changer. “This is a major breakthrough,” explained Long. “Crop yields have steadily improved over the past 60 years, but the amount of water required to produce one ton of grain remains unchanged—which led most to assume that this factor could not change. Proving that our theory works in practice should open the door to much more research and development to achieve this all-important goal for the future.” Related: How fungi made Earth’s atmosphere livable – new study Approximately 90 percent of the world’s freshwater supply is used for agricultural purposes. As populations grow and resources become strained, more efficient plants could be a simple yet effective tool to sustain healthy communities. The research team published their positive results on the modification of a tobacco plant; their next step is to do the same for food crops. “Making crop plants more water-use efficient is arguably the greatest challenge for current and future plant scientists,” said study co-author Johannes Kromdijk in a statement . “Our results show that increased PsbS expression allows crop plants to be more conservative with water use, which we think will help to better distribute available water resources over the duration of the growing season and keep the crop more productive during dry spells .” Via New Atlas Images via University of Illinois

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World’s first rechargeable proton battery requires zero lithium

March 9, 2018 by  
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Scientists have created the world’s first working rechargeable proton battery . Designed as an environmentally friendly alternative to lithium ion batteries , it could even store more energy — with further development. Lead researcher John Andrews, professor at RMIT University , said in a statement , “Our latest advance is a crucial step towards cheap, sustainable proton batteries that can help meet our future energy needs without further damaging our already fragile environment .” The proton battery relies on water and carbon, instead of lithium. According to The Guardian , it’s a small-scale prototype that has potential to compete with lithium ion batteries that help us use renewable energy to power homes and cars. RMIT also said when scaled up, proton battery technology could be utilized for “medium-scale storage on electricity grids ,” pointing specifically to the giant South Australia energy storage project as an example. Related: New paper batteries can be discarded with zero ecological impact The working prototype utilizes “a carbon electrode as a hydrogen store, coupled with a reversible fuel cell to produce electricity ,” according to RMIT. Proton batteries could be more environmentally friendly, cheaper, and store more energy than lithium ion ones thanks to the carbon electrode and protons from water, according to Andrews. He told The Guardian this new technology, which could be commercially available in five to 10 years, would potentially compete with Tesla’s Powerwall . He said in the statement, “Future work will now focus on further improving performance and energy density through use of atomically-thin layered carbon-based materials such as graphene , with the target of a proton battery that is truly competitive with lithium ion batteries firmly in sight.” The International Journal of Hydrogen Energy made the corrected proof of an article on the research available online earlier this month. Along with three scientists from RMIT, an engineer from Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology in India contributed. + RMIT University + International Journal of Hydrogen Energy Via The Guardian Images via RMIT University

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World’s first rechargeable proton battery requires zero lithium

This Search Engine Plants Trees

February 21, 2018 by  
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If you’re like me, you spend a lot of time surfing the web. … The post This Search Engine Plants Trees appeared first on Earth911.com.

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Amazon Takes Plants in the Office to the Next Level

January 29, 2018 by  
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It’s not surprising why our article on the best office … The post Amazon Takes Plants in the Office to the Next Level appeared first on Earth911.com.

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How fungi made Earth’s atmosphere livable – new study

December 19, 2017 by  
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It turns out mushrooms aren’t just great to eat, but played an essential role in creating an atmosphere suitable for animal life, according to a new study. The earliest plants to dwell on land did not have well developed roots or vascular systems. Fungi, among the earliest colonizers of land, helped facilitate the transfer of phosphorus from rocky soil to the primitive plants , which required the mineral to photosynthesize. “The results of including data on fungal interactions present a significant advance in our understanding of Earth’s early development,” said Benjamin Mills, co-author of a report on the research published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B . “Our work clearly shows the importance of fungi in the creation of an oxygenated atmosphere.” The recent research shines a light on a process that remains mysterious, even in modern times. “Photosynthesis by land plants is ultimately responsible for about half of the oxygen generation on Earth, and requires phosphorus, but we currently have a poor understanding of how the global supply of this nutrient to plants works,” said Mills. Without fungi helping them acquire their necessary phosphorus, the earliest land plants would not have been able to survive. The oldest fossil of a land-living organism is of a fungi species, one of many which moved on land and helped to break down the rocky mantle into soil, enabling plants with roots to more easily extract their minerals . Related: Paris has a new underground – a massive farm for mushrooms and veggies To test fungi’s symbiotic relationship with early plants, a research team at the University of Leeds incorporated computer modeling and laboratory experiments which involved ancient species of fungus that still endure today. The researchers observed the differing rates at which different species of fungi exchanged phosphorus and carbon, which indicated how quickly plants might have produced oxygen. “We used a computer model to simulate what might have happened to the climate throughout the Palaeozoic era if the different types of early plant-fungal symbioses were included in the global phosphorus and carbon cycles,” said Katie Field, study co-author and plant biologist. “We found the effect was potentially dramatic, with the differences in plant-fungal carbon-for-nutrient exchange greatly altering Earth’s climate through plant-powered drawdown of CO2 for photosynthesis , substantially changing the timing of the rise of oxygen in the atmosphere.” Via Science Alert Images via Depositphotos   (1)

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MIT engineers just unveiled living, glowing plants

December 13, 2017 by  
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Glowing plants might sound like the stuff of science fiction – but a team of MIT researchers just grew a crop of watercress that emits emit dim light for almost four hours. Postdoctoral researcher Seon-Yeong Kwak led a team of engineers and scientists to instill the plants with the same enzyme that makes fireflies sparkle. MIT chemical engineering professor Michael Strano said, “The vision is to make a plant that will function as a desk lamp – a lamp that you don’t have to plug in. The light is ultimately powered by the energy metabolism of the plant itself.” Plant lamps or even tree street lights could brighten our world in the future thanks to recent research on glowing plants. The plants are illuminated by luciferase – the same enzyme that helps fireflies shine. Luciferase acts on the molecule luciferin to give off light. The team put these three components into nanoparticle carriers to get them to the correct part of a plant. The scientists showed they can also turn off the light by adding nanoparticles with a luciferase inhibitor, so they think they could eventually create plants that stop emitting light in response to conditions like sunlight. Related: 5 Bioluminescent Species that Light Up the World Past experiments to create light-emitting plants attempted to genetically engineer plants to express the gene for luciferase, according to MIT . But it’s a process that takes a lot of work for very dim light – and it’s often limited to just one plant type. The new MIT process can work on any kind of plant; so far the scientists have demonstrated it with watercress, kale, arugula, and spinach. They hope to be able to spray or paint the nanoparticles on leaves with future iterations, so trees or large plants could serve as light sources. The journal Nano Letters published the research online in November. Scientists from the University of California, Riverside and the University of California, Berkeley contributed to the work. + Nano Letters + MIT News Images via Seon-Yeong Kwak

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15 Soothing Bedroom Plants to Help You Sleep

November 16, 2017 by  
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Sleep is an essential part of our well-being. The process … The post 15 Soothing Bedroom Plants to Help You Sleep appeared first on Earth911.com.

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