Green Technology: what is a vertical farm?

The urgent need to convert everything we can into something more sustainable is leading to several innovations in every field, including technology, where we talk about green technology. This term indicates all those technologies that are aimed at reducing, or even eliminating, emissions of carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases and the use of pollutants. One of the most interesting inventions that arise precisely from the encounter between technology and the theme of sustainability is that of vertical farms.

The idea of creating vertical farms first came to Dickson Despommier, professor of Microbiology and Public Health at Columbia University in New York, who began designing them as early as the 1990s. His intention was to find a solution to the growing global demand for food as a consequence of natural demographic growth which, however, is in contrast with the ever more limited resources available. But what do vertical farms involve and how could they be useful in this regard?

Vertical farms (also called skyfarms) are self-production centers for food. They are real farms that develop in height, inside buildings and skyscrapers that can either be used entirely for this purpose, or they can be partly used as houses and partly as farms. Inside them, thanks to the use of technologies, the environmental conditions suitable for growing different types of plants and vegetables are recreated. Compared to traditional agriculture, this innovative form of cultivation requires much lower quantities of water, fertilizer and, of course, space.

Since they come as closed environments, a fundamental element is artificial lighting, through LED lamps. These are powered either by renewable energy systems, such as solar panels positioned on the roof or wind turbines, or by systems that convert vegetable waste from the harvest into energy. The water used to irrigate plants is waste water which, through a natural process, is purified by the plants and then transformed into drinking water. This method is called hydroponic cultivation.

In some of the latest vertical farms, such as the one built in Copenhagen by Nordic Harvest and YesHealth Group, (and which among other things is likely to become the largest vertical farm in Europe), they have implemented even more the use of technologies. Plants’ seeds are in fact planted by small robots on wheels, while several parameters, such as the required light intensity, are controlled and monitored by intelligent softwares connected to sensors.

What are the pros?

In addition to the reduced amount of water already mentioned (we are talking of saving about 90% of water), vertical farms are developed in controlled environments and equipped with air purifiers which therefore prevent the pollutants normally present in the air to contaminate food. Furthermore, there is no need to use pesticides or herbicides, completely eliminating the possibility of finding harmful substances within the cultivated products. Lastly, they make zero point foods.

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