6 places where soil-less farming is revolutionizing how we grow food

January 12, 2018 by  
Filed under Business, Eco, Green, Recycle

If it seems like “ hydroponics ” is everywhere, that’s because it is. Hydroponic farming is one efficient way to grow fruits and vegetables in small spaces without the use of soil. Instead of dirt, plants grow down into water to which farmers have added the necessary nutrients for plant growth. These are then absorbed, along with water, through a plant’s roots. Light is provided either by the sun or specially designed grow lights, with many sustainable systems powered from renewable energy sources. Aquaponic farming, also known as “ aquaponics ,” incorporates fish into the soil-less system, using the closed-loop nutrient cycle from fish digestion to their advantage. Some systems even feed nutrients to plants through the air! From water-less deserts to the sun-less underground, soil-less farming is offering new possibilities to feed an increasingly urban, growing global population in a more Earth-friendly way. 1. Stores With consumers increasingly conscious of their environmental impact, many stores have realized that going green is good for business. Big-box store Target began a series of trials in spring 2017 in which vertical, hydroponic gardens were installed in various Target locations to provide customers with the freshest possible produce. In collaboration with MIT Media Lab and Ideo, Target designed a system that is capable of growing leafy greens and herbs with minimal water usage. The company hopes to someday branch out into other crops, such as potatoes, zucchini and beets. MIT may even offer Target use of rare heirloom tomato seeds for its project. Meanwhile, IKEA has teamed up with Denmark-based SPACE10 to design high-tech hydroponics systems in-stores and in homes. 2. Deserts In preparation for a future dominated by climate change, in which oil becomes a lesser part of the world’s energy diet, Saudi Arabia has taken several major steps to build a more sustainable system in its challenging desert region. One such move is the rethinking of many traditional farming practices, especially focused on reducing water usage. A farm in the town of Jeddah uses neither water nor soil, rooting plants in mid-air while providing their nutrients through a mist. Designed by AeroFarms , the system is the first aeroponic farm in the Middle East and hopes to someday acquire all its water needs through capturing humidity in the air. Related: The future of food: how dry farming could save the world If a desert farm chooses to go hydroponic, there are ways to grow without draining freshwater supplies. In arid South Australia, SunDrops Farms grows 15% of the country’s tomato crop through a solar-powered hydroponic system. To eliminate the use of precious freshwater, SunDrops sources its water from the nearby saltwater gulf, which is then desalinated through the reflected heat of the sun. In a very different kind of desert, soil-less farming helps growers from the Arctic to Antarctica make the most of a short growing season. 3. Cities As the global population becomes more urban, cities are investing in more local food production systems that offer economic development opportunities and reduce a city’s carbon footprint. In a warehouse on the Near East Side of Indianapolis, Farm 360 are growing vegetables on a hydroponic system that is exclusively powered by renewable energy and uses 90 percent less water than traditional farming methods. The harvest is sold in local grocery stores while the farm supports dozens of living-wage jobs to residents of the neighborhood. In even the most isolated urban areas, soil-less farming finds a home. With its ability to receive vital supplies and support a functioning economy severely restricted by the Israeli blockade, Gaza has stepped out onto the rooftops to grow its own food. Beginning in 2010, a United Nations-funded urban agriculture program equipped over 200 female-headed households with fish tanks, equipment, and supplies to build and maintain an aquaponics growing system. This initial spark has encouraged others to create their own and to teach others of this valuable skill. 4. The Underground Farming without soil can often take place beneath the soil. In Paris, Cycloponics  runs La Caverne, a unique urban farm that grows mushrooms and vegetables in an underground, formerly abandoned parking garage . The farm’s hydroponics system uses special grow lights to ensure the vegetables have what they need to survive. The mushrooms grow in a special medium and, through their respiration, provide valuable CO2 for the plants to thrive. La Caverne may have found inspiration from Growing Underground , London’s first underground farm . On 2.5 acres of unused World War II-era tunnels, Growing Underground produces pea shoots, several varieties of radish, mustard, cilantro, Red Amaranth, celery, parsley, and arugula. Related: 7 agricultural innovations that could save the world Honorable mention: shipping container farms. Although these may be mobilized on the surface, they may as well be underground due to the closed roof of most shipping containers. The solar-powered hydroponicsLA-based Local Roots  can grow the same amount of vegetables, at cost parity, with 99 percent less water than traditional farming. 5. On the Water Some soil-less growing operations take it a step further, leaving the ground behind entirely and opting for a farm floating on water. Barcelona-based design group  Forward Thinking Architecture  has proposed a progressive solution to the decreasing availability of arable land by creating floating, solar-powered farms . Using modules that measure 200 meters by 350 meters, Forward Thinking’s design allows for expansion and custom configuration of farms. Each module has three levels: a desalinization and aquaculture level at the bottom, then a hydroponic farming level, topped off by a level of solar panels and rainwater collection. The company estimates that each module would produce 8,152 tons of vegetables a year and 1,703 tons of fish annually. Related: NexLoop unveils water management system inspired by spiders, fungi, bees and plants Greenwave takes an alternative approach to soil-less, floating farming by combining the cultivation of shellfish and seaweed , both profitable crops that also help to clean the aquatic environment and absorb greenhouse gases. The farm requires little external input, pulls carbon dioxide from the air and water, and consumes excess nitrogen that could otherwise result in algal blooms and dead zones. 6. Your Home Yes, you too could get in on the soil-less action. Whether you prefer to DIY or you’d rather something more straightforward , there are options for every style . Lead image via Depositphotos , others via MIT OpenAg , Sundrop Farms , Esther Boston ,  Cycloponics , GreenWave , and Urban Leaf

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Drinking water for 170 million Americans tainted by radiation

January 12, 2018 by  
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Up to 170 million Americans in all fifty states may be exposed to radiation-tainted drinking water . Using data from 50,000 public water systems, the Environmental Working Group found that more than 22,000 utilities reported the presence of radium in treated drinking water between 2010 and 2015. Although only a small number of these systems had radium levels that exceeded the legal limits put in place by the EPA in 1976, these guidelines are in need of an update to ensure the public is aware of potential risks — which should be minimized. Perhaps unsurprisingly, President Trump ‘s nominee to be the White House environmental czar, Kathleen Hartnett White, does not even believe in the science behind the EPA’s current, insufficient standard for radium monitoring. Although the amount of radiation in the drinking water is minimal, there is a risk to public health, particularly if standards and policy are not based on the latest science. “Most radioactive elements in tap water come from natural sources, but that doesn’t take away the need to protect people through stronger standards and better water treatment,” said Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., EWG’s senior science advisor for children’s environmental health. “Millions of Americans are drinking water with potentially harmful levels of radioactive elements, but the outdated federal standards mean many people don’t know about the risk they face when they turn on the tap.” In Texas, about 80 percent of the water tested contained detectable levels of two radium isotopes. While Trump nominee Kathleen Hartnett White was the Lone Star State’s top environmental regulator, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality would alter the numbers to make it seem that tap water in Texas met federal standards. Related: “Raw water” craze draws concern from health professionals During an 2011 investigation, Hartnett White admitted that she did not believe in the science that supported the EPA guidelines. When asked by a reporter what would come if Harnett White was wrong and the EPA was right, she simply said that “it would be regrettable.” After Harnett White admitted to the United States Senate that Texas did indeed alter data, her nomination was rejected. Nonetheless, the Trump White House decided to renominate her in hopes that senators would let her negligence slide. “Putting someone in charge of CEQ who deliberately falsified data to get around federal regulations is outrageous, and the fact that her deception left people at serious risk of cancer is even more alarming,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s vice president of government affairs. “The Senate should reject this radioactive nominee.” Via EWG Images via Depositphotos (1)

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Drinking water for 170 million Americans tainted by radiation

Tetra is a brilliant see-through dishwasher that fits in even the tiniest apartments

January 11, 2018 by  
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Most people living in tiny apartments are resigned to the fact that their kitchens will never have space for a dishwasher – but that’s no longer the case. Heatworks just unveiled Tetra – a new compact, tankless dishwasher that’s sure to make apartment dwellers jump for joy. According to the Heatworks team, if a two-person household were to switch from handwashing to the Tetra, they could save a whopping 1500 gallons of water every year. The Tetra, which will cost under $300, is the size of a small microwave, and it not only reduces water waste , but in fact, requires no plumbing connection at all. Since there are no faucet connections, water is loaded by hand. This simple design is a big asset, because it lets users know exactly how much water is being used. A typical Tetra load lasts just a few minutes and it uses about half a gallon of water. Detergent use is also reduced with small loads – the internal detergent reservoir will last dozens of cycles. Another cool feature is the machine’s transparency, which lets you keep track of the wash cycle. Related: Hand-powered Circo dishwasher saves time, space, money and water Standard dishwashers are designed to fit up to 13 place settings, which is great for large families. By contrast, the Tetra is designed for small households of two or three people who lack space for a full-size dishwasher and are looking to conserve water . Although compact, the Tetra can fit up to 2 place settings or 10 plates or 10 pint glass. Jerry Callahan, CEO and founder of Heatworks, revealed that the Tetra was inspired by the need to provide more efficient options to smaller households: “Our research indicates that although the average household is comprised of 2.58 people, the modern dishwasher holds place settings for 13 or more. This makes people believe that they either need to handwash their few dirty dishes — which wastes 10 times more water than using a dishwasher — or wait for a fill load to run a cycle. With Tetra, we hope to change people’s mindset.” + Heatworks Images via Heatworks

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Tetra is a brilliant see-through dishwasher that fits in even the tiniest apartments

Scientists made the coldest liquid water ever – and it’s crazy weird

January 9, 2018 by  
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Water freezes at zero degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit, right? While that’s water’s freezing point, under certain conditions liquid water can be supercooled – and still be liquid . Two groups of scientists recently uncovered new details about supercooled water, showing there could still be a lot we don’t know about this fairly common substance. Water just got weirder. We know supercooled water drops can exist naturally in the planet’s atmosphere , at temperatures as low as negative 35 degrees Celsius, according to Gizmodo . It isn’t easy for scientists to measure the temperature of supercooled water droplets, but a team led by Goethe University Frankfurt pioneered a new technique – for drops as small as a micrometer – that shows liquid water can exist at negative 42.55 degrees Celsius. Their research was published in Physical Review Letters earlier this month, with scientists at institutions in Germany, Italy, France, and Spain contributing. Related: Scientists discover water has not one, but two liquid phases Meanwhile, Stockholm University published other groundbreaking research on supercooled water last month in Science – and here’s where things get really weird. The scientists found that at normal pressure and a temperature of negative 44 degrees Celsius, water “can exist as two distinct liquids with different ways to bind the water molecules. The water can not decide what shape to be in without fluctuating between these two,” per the university’s press release . They explained it’s similar to how we may be unable to make up our minds on a decision and go back and forth over different options. They discovered many of water’s weird properties “reach a maximum at negative 44 degrees Celsius.” Supercooled water may be a cool topic, but why should you care? Physics said in their synopsis of the Goethe University Frankfurt research, “Knowing when water freezes and when it stays liquid at these low temperatures could improve understanding of atmospheric ice formation and help researchers develop more reliable climate models.” Via Stockholm University , Physics , and Gizmodo Images via chuttersnap on Unsplash and Stockholm University

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Scientists made the coldest liquid water ever – and it’s crazy weird

London architects infuse dated Victorian townhouse with tons of modern personality

January 9, 2018 by  
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This refurbishment project in North London emphasizes the home’s history while infusing it with modern personality. Architecture firm LLI Design enhanced and restored features of the Victorian townhouse to honor its past, and completely redesigned the rear kitchen extension with a new contemporary aesthetic. The original layout of the house had nicely proportioned rooms, a delightful garden and a handsome exterior which the design team enhanced by stripping out some of the dated features and reinstating others to bring out more of the Victorian feel of the property. Related: Jewel-like glass box deftly extends a Victorian house in London’s Mile End The ground floor of the 2500 square-foot house has a generous hall leading to 2 connecting reception rooms. At the end of the hall sits an extended kitchen that juts out into the garden. The team decided to leave the cellar as it was and use it for additional storage and reinstate the stained glass in the fanlight window above the front door and side window. They re-tiled the entrance hall in crisp black and white period tiles with a border pattern, which lightened and visually expanded the space. A dramatic copper and glass pendant light by designer Nigel Tyas now hangs from the top floor ceiling down to the ground floor. The living and dining rooms were refreshed with bespoke pale grey lacquer joinery and asymmetrical shelving lit with individual accent spotlights. The designers installed folding sliding doors in dark grey aluminium in the kitchen extension in order to give it a stronger connection to the garden. Upstairs, re-designed dressing room and master suite feature elegant new finishing and fixtures with delicate lighting solutions. The nursery suite was redesigned, with playfully illustrated roman blinds and colorful watercolor dot wallpaper. + LLI Design

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London architects infuse dated Victorian townhouse with tons of modern personality

"Garbage emergency" declared in Bali as clean-up unfolds

December 28, 2017 by  
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The Indonesian island of Bali recently declared a “garbage emergency” in response to the overwhelming amount of plastic waste that has floated ashore and spoiled pristine beaches. “When I want to swim, it is not really nice. I see a lot of garbage here every day, every time,” said Vanessa Moonshine, a traveler from Australia told 24Matins . Although places in Indonesia have been described as “paradise on earth,” the nation of more than 17,000 islands has some work to do to reclaim its title and is mobilizing clean-up efforts to do so. Indonesia is the world’s second largest contributor to marine debris, outdone only by China , the most populous country in the world. In addition to degrading the beaches , plastic waste blocks waterways, impacting transportation and increasing flooding risk, while posing a risk to marine animals. The waste issue has become so debilitating that Bali officially declared a “garbage emergency” over a 3.7 mile segment of coastline last month, prompting the mobilization of resources. 700 cleaners with 35 trucks removed 100 tons of debris each day from the area, which includes the popular beaches of Jimbaran, Kuta and Seminyak. Related: Indonesia pledges $1 billion annually to tackle ocean pollution problem While economic concerns may have motivated this particular cleanup, the dangers of plastic waste are more insidious than loss of tourism. “Garbage is aesthetically disturbing to tourists, but plastic waste issue is way more serious,” I Gede Hendrawan, an environmental oceanography researcher from Bali’s Udayana University, told AFP . “Microplastics can contaminate fish which, if eaten by humans, could cause health problems including cancer.” Fortunately, Indonesia is taking action. The nation of 261 million has pledged to reduce marine plastic waste by 70 percent by 2025, in part by boosting recycling programs and reducing plastic bag usage. Local inventors have even created a type of biodegradable plastic made from seaweed , an abundant crop in Indonesia. Via 24Matins Images via Depositphotos (1)

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"Garbage emergency" declared in Bali as clean-up unfolds

The spinning house uses the force of hurricanes to anchor itself to the ground

December 28, 2017 by  
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This futuristic, hurricane-proof home is cleverly designed to use the force of storms to withstand extreme wind loads. Margot Krasojevi? Architects designed house to rotate around a helicoid retaining wall, burying itself into the land. The stronger the storm, the more tenaciously the home anchors itself to the earth. The Self-Excavation Hurricane House’s main living spaces are located in a precast reinforced concrete frame. This lightweight structure has a series of rubber-coated, concertina wall sections that provide the flexibility to adapt while the home rotates. Related: Floating, solar-powered ‘dragonfly’ bridge can sail to new locations The house is set upon an artificial island that is landscaped to flush flood water away from the main living areas. The surrounding topsoil directs water to deeper soil that functions as a bioswale . The wetland absorbs and temporarily stores floodwater, releasing it slowly into its surroundings. This part of the project helps with land reclamation and water purification . + Margot Krasojevi? Architects

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The spinning house uses the force of hurricanes to anchor itself to the ground

‘Great American Desert’ threatens to swallow eight US states as massive aquifer dries up

November 27, 2017 by  
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The Ogallala aquifer, one of the world’s largest underground bodies of water upon which many ecosystems and communities in the American West depend, is in rapid decline due to over-exploitation of its resources. According to the Denver Post , farmers in eight American states (Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming and South Dakota) are putting a particular strain on the aquifer by overdrawing water from beneath the soil they cultivate in a $35 billion dollar per year industry. If allowed to continue, this could threaten both the livelihood of farmers and the ecosystems of the West, which could be replaced by a ‘Great American Desert.’ Because of the region’s intensive farming practices , agricultural wells are extracting water from the Ogallala aquifer significantly faster than it is being replenished. This trend appears to have accelerated in recent years. Federal data indicates that the aquifer contracted twice as fast in the past six years as it had in the previous sixty, with a significant impact on everyday water use in the West. “Now I never know, from one minute to the next, when I turn on a faucet or hydrant, whether there will be water or not,” said Lois Scott, who lives on a family farm in Cope, Colorado , in an interview with the Denver Post . “The aquifer is being depleted. This will truly become the Great American Desert.” Related: Dead Sea salt reveals drought on a scale never recorded – and it could happen again As a result of the exploitation of the Ogallala, at least 358 miles of rivers and streams have dried up within a 200-square-mile area in Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska. If trends continued, an additional 177 miles of rivers and streams are expected to dry out by 2060. “We have almost completely changed the species of fish that can survive in those streams, compared with what was there historically,” said Keith Gido, author of a recent scientific report on the aquifer’s depletion, in an interview with the Denver Post . “We’re not living in as sustainable a fashion as we need to be. Much of the damage has been done.” The over-exploitation of the Ogallala aquifer and the plight of the American West is sadly not unique to the region. “It is happening all over the world in places such as Pakistan . It causes conflicts,” said Gido. “As human populations grow, the demand for water is going to be greater. Conflicts are going to increase—unless we become more efficient in using the water we have.” Via EcoWatch and the Denver Post Images via Depositphotos  and USGS/Flickr

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‘Great American Desert’ threatens to swallow eight US states as massive aquifer dries up

Evaporation energy could provide 2.85M megawatt hours of electricity each year

September 27, 2017 by  
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In a world where much energy is wasted, whether through food waste , poor insulation, or inefficient appliances, valuable renewable sources may be disappearing into thin air. Scientists at Columbia University and elsewhere seek to harness the potential power of energy generated from evaporating water. According to Ozgur Sahin of Columbia University, water evaporating from the United States (excluding the Great Lakes) could provide up to 2.85 million megawatt hours of electricity per year, enough energy to meet two-thirds of US electricity usage in 2015. Much as solar power potential differs from state-to-state, potential energy from evaporating water would exceed demand in 15 of the 47 states studied by researchers at Columbia. While the potential energy from evaporation is enormous, capturing this power remains an elusive challenge. Many potential designs for evaporation energy involve engines covering the surface of freshwater bodies, irrigated fields, greenhouses , or sheltered bays. The prototypes built by Sahin’s team at Columbia are all constructed of materials that shrink as they dry, including tape covered with bacterial spores. “They work like a muscle,” said Sahin. “They can push and pull with a lot of force.” The prototypes also take advantage of changes in humidity to achieve desired results. One prototype includes shutters on top, which close and shut based on the humidity within the engine. This system enables energy generation to occur even at night, when evaporation is naturally lower due to cooler temperatures. Related: Bowl-shaped roofs harvest rainwater and promote natural cooling in arid environments Renewable energy from evaporating water is still in the early stages of development and some scientists doubt that it can be cost effective. Evaporation energy would also have to contend with solar energy , which is much more advanced and increasingly affordable. However, Sahin suggests that evaporation energy engines could be constructed out of biological materials, which could be cheaper and more biodegradable than solar panels. Another factor to consider is the impact that a widespread application of evaporation engines might have; scientists at Columbia estimate that there would only be significant reduction of evaporation if an area of 250,000 square kilometers is covered by such engines. As some consider geoengineering as a potential response to climate change, evaporation energy engines may have some appeal. Via New Scientist Images via Xi Chen , Flickr , and Tim Geers

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Evaporation energy could provide 2.85M megawatt hours of electricity each year

Soaring timber tower could clean up contaminated water in NYC’s Central Park

September 22, 2017 by  
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New York-based DFA Studio has unveiled plans for a soaring wooden tower in Central Park that could actually purify the heavily contaminated Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. The proposed tower measures 712 feet tall with a 112-foot-tall spire – and if it comes to fruition, it will be the world’s tallest timber tower. The tower’s helix structure is wrapped with a lattice of curved timber beams . The building would be anchored securely to a pre-cast concrete base with tensile steel cables. A transparent material covers the tower’s exterior, providing 360-degree views as visitors climb up to the top. Related: LAVA breaks ground on sustainable energy tower in Heidelberg The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir currently contains an estimated one billion gallons of stagnant, contaminated water . The tower’s filtration system could potentially convert the body of water into a clean pond. “Aside from supplying water to the pool and Harlem Meer, the Reservoir sits stagnant and fenced off due to its current state as a health threat to millions of New Yorkers, tourists and animals,” said DFA studio founder Laith Sayigh. “DFA envisions a temporary landmark that is remarkably of its time to creatively transform the reservoir into one of New York’s boldest urban amenities.” The tower’s integrated filtration system (as well as the elevators) would be powered by a wind turbine installed at the top of the tower. Sayigh believes that the NYC project would serve as an example for urban design around the world, “The Central Park Tower has the potential to be a model project for other cities aiming to fix existing infrastructure, build tall to capture views and elevate the urban public realm.” + DFA Via Dezeen

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