Aeroponics – Water-saving Agriculture
Soil-free farming gets its first real shot, thanks to cheap LEDs.
AeroFarms, a US startup focuses on aeroponics, a kind of soil-free vertical farming. After completing initial tests at an unlikely site in a former nightclub in downtown Newark, N.J. it has chosen to build an urban farm on the site of a former steel factory (6,410 m2 in size). Here thanks to cheaper, more advanced equipment, from software to lights to fabric, they can produce enough vegetables (680 tonnes) to supply about 60,000 people without digging any earth or shoveling any manure. “We got into this because we didn’t want to work as hard as regular farmers do.” says its founder Ed Harwood.
Essentially, an aeroponic farmer sprays a mist of a high-nutrient solution on plants to make them grow, thereby saving considerably on space and water compared to field farming, and equally important – zero pesticides. The idea has been around for decades and until recently, technological limits kept true aeroponics largely beyond the reach of commercial growers.
Agriculture sops up 70 percent of freshwater supplies, which are getting scarcer due to climate change. (Ask California.) Harwood says his setup can grow plants faster with as little as 10 percent of the water normally required.
Lighting is an important element in aeroponics and recent developments have reduced considerably the cost of the system’s expensive and sophisticated equipment. AeroFarms has recently benefited from these reduced costs and according to Chief Executive Officer David Rosenberg, these radically cheaper growing costs means that produce prices will be similar to those of typical large field growers.
A larger problem with aeroponics is the pollution from its outsize electricity use, but Harwood disputes this fact. “I spent a decade working on this, and it’s really great to move forward. The economics make sense at this point,” he says. Rosenberg is more blunt: “I’m concerned about the environment,” he says. “But I want to make money, too.”
Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, published on November 5, 2014.