Category Archives: Global Warming

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink

I moved to San Francisco six months ago and my umbrella hasn’t left its dusty sleeve yet. Scientists and politicians, everyone agrees. California is in deep trouble. We enter the fourth year of drought and the soil has never been drier. Some look at the sky with hope that El Niño will bring much needed rain. But most are starting to wonder if  this is just the beginning. Are we entering a mega-drought that could last for more than a decade?

Map of California Drought

California Drought Monitor

Agriculture, one of California’s strongest pillars has taken the biggest hit. The Drought will cost at least $2.2 billion in agricultural losses this year. Fields of dead almond trees and dried-out crops are a common sight in central California these days. Central Valley towns are also growing desperate. Many have been forced to install porta-potties in their backyards or even steal water from fire hydrants.

Dead Almond Trees

Dead Almond Trees near Ripon, CA

But even if everyone knows about how dangerous a drought can be, and despite the tremendous efforts for saving water, most Californians are still not aware of the magnitude of the problem.

Many believe that the drought can’t be that bad if water still comes out of everyone’s tap, right?

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park enjoys a vast sprinkler system necessary to keep it alive. But the park’s green grass is nothing more than a mirage.

Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Sprinkler system in Golden Gate Park

We are borrowing most of this water; either from neighboring states or depleting ground water reservoirs. This will come back to get us. Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, told the Time that our current ground water withdrawal levels are so dangerous that “We are essentially borrowing on tomorrow’s future. We’ll pay that price over time”.

A recent study headed by climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University linked the drought with human-made global warming and climate change. The paper concludes that “extreme atmospheric high pressure in this region-which is strongly linked to unusually low precipitation in California-is much more likely to occur today than prior to the emission of greenhouse gases that began during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s”.

Diffenbaugh and his colleagues used computer simulations and statistical analysis to show that “a persistent region of high atmospheric pressure over the Pacific Ocean–one that diverted storms away from California–was much more likely to form in the presence of modern greenhouse gas concentrations”.

Mega-droughts are what Cornell University scientist Toby Ault calls the “great white sharks of climate: powerful, dangerous and hard to detect before it’s too late. Ault call mega-droughts “a threat to civilization”.

University of Arizona climate scientist Gregg Garfin said that “If California suffered something like a multi-decade drought, the best-case scenario would be some combination of conservation, technological improvements (such as desalinization plants), multi-state cooperation on the drought, economic-based water transfers from agriculture to urban areas and other things like that to get humans through the drought”.

Ault said that “For the Southwestern U.S., I’m not optimistic about avoiding real mega-droughts. As we add greenhouse gases into the atmosphere -and we haven’t put the brakes on stopping this – we are weighting the dice for mega-drought conditions”.

Ault said that mega-droughts could possibly be the worst threat to a civilization, even worse than anything experienced by any humans who have lived in that part of the world for the last few thousand years.

If we continue on this path, California might be headed for a drought-induced collapse.

California Central Valley

California Central Valley

What can the state of California do to prepare?

First, we must reduce our carbon emissions and try to reverse climate change. And while water conservation is important, it won’t be enough. We must invest in new technologies like water desalinization plants. It’s the only way to prepare for what’s likely to come.

The county’s largest water desalination plant is being built in San Diego. It’s expected to provide clean water to its residents by 2016. Some argue that the plant’s $1 billion price tag is to high, and that its technology is not advanced enough to be cost efficient.

But there are many companies out there perfecting water desalination technologies, and one that stands out is WaterFX.

WaterFX states in their website that “Unlike conventional desalination, which uses a high-pressure reverse osmosis  that forces salt and other solids through a membrane, WaterFX cleans water with a special Concentrated Solar Still. Solar thermal energy is used to evaporate and distill water at 30 times the efficiency of natural evaporation”.

 WaterFX’s test facility is successfully producing up to 14,000 gallons of fresh water a day. Plans are now under way to expand the demonstration project, which will push up its capacity to 65,000 gallons a day over the same 6,500 sq ft area.

Mandell insists that the technology promises to become more price-competitive as production increases. “If 70% of your cost is fuel production for traditional desalination and you want to scale up, the cost goes up significantly, unlike solar desalination,” he says.

With no rain, depleted reservoirs and dried up ground water wells, the only place left for California to look for water is the ocean.

 

Sources:

http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=132709&WT.mc_id=USNSF_52&WT.mc_ev=click

http://online.wsj.com/articles/drought-will-cost-california-2-2-billion-in-losses-costs-this-year-1405452120

http://www.weather.com/news/drought/california-wells-dry-drought-20140922

http://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2014/09/02/california-megadrought/14446195/

http://carlsbaddesal.com/

http://www.mercurynews.com/science/ci_25859513/nations-largest-ocean-desalination-plant-goes-up-near

http://www.sfgate.com/science/article/California-drought-Solar-desalination-plant-5326024.php

http://waterfx.co/

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Al Gore: “Our Democracy has been hacked”.

algoreAl Gore gave an inspiring talk last night at Harvard University titled “Healthy Planet, Healthy People” in honor of the late Dr. Paul R. Epstein, the brilliant scientist who shared the Nobel Peace prize with him in 2007.

Gore started the night by acknowledging Dr. Epstein’s work in connecting the dots between climate change and its impact on global human health.

Warming temperatures will allow disease carrying mosquitoes to spread out of the tropics, bringing malaria, dengue fever, and other currently tropical diseases to higher latitudes. “Global warming will also prolong mosquitoes reproductive and life cycles, and enable deadly viruses to survive in places that were too hostile for them before” Gore explained.

Gore also mentioned the connection between the uprising of diseases like cholera and global warming. “Communities have learned to deal with cholera by investing in infrastructure and building better sewer systems. The last thing they would have done is turn their streets into an open sewer. But that is exactly what we are doing to our atmosphere. We are using it as an open dumping ground, dumping over 35 billion metric tones of carbon per year”.

Gore quoted James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute to illustrate the severity of the situation “the amount of extra heat being trapped in our atmosphere is like exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day 365 days per year, that is insane”.

He continued by explaining how the weather patterns are also being severely disrupted by global warming. “We will have more floods, stronger hurricanes, and more intense droughts in the upcoming years. Communities all around the world are experiencing one in a hundred, one in a thousand events every two or three years. Extreme weather will become the new normal.”

The audience broke into laughter when Gore mentioned that “When Inconvenient truth came out I repeatedly heard from my detractors that I was exaggerating when I talked about water flooding the World Trade Center memorial site. After Sandy, I don’t get that anymore”.

Gore explained how democracy and capitalism, the two pillars supporting the weight of our society have been degraded over time and turned into a corrupted and intertwined mess.

“Our democracy has been hacked, our operating system has been turned into something very different our founders intended. What our founders gave us was amazing, and I’ve watched it degrade over time.” Gore said.

Gore also said that “our elected representatives today are not worried about their constituents, they spend their time begging for money, it’s a race of who can put more ads on TV. This deeply affects the way they think and make decisions.”

Even if corruption is evident, Gore remains optimistic in our democratic system. “I am hopeful because of the internet. Not today, not tomorrow but soon the internet will replace TV and people will have an open space for debate and conversation, internet is the public square for democracy”.

Gore also explained that our economic system needs to be redefined. One of the main problems our current system faces is our definition of growth. “The definition we are using for growth is literally insane” Gore said.

Gore argued that GDP, the main tool for measuring a country’s economy is terribly flawed.

Simon Kuznets, the economist who first developed GDP in 1934 warned that it should not be used to measure a country’s wealth. But of course, nobody listened.

Since GDP was implemented in 1937, almost 95% of the US income goes to the top 1% of the country.

Gore, like Kuznets and many others believe that GDP fails to take into account major aspects of a country’s economy, such as externalities, depreciation of resources, positive externalities or distribution of income.

Costs related to pollution or environmental degradation are not accounted for (externalities), and contributions to science, mental health or arts (positive externalities) are also ignored in this economic model.

“Our GDP tells us, hey we are doing great, the US is just fine, but in reality we are not. Only the top 1% is doing well. We must be more accurate, or this economic model will drive us over the edge of the cliff.” Gore said.

But despite all this, Al Gore remains hopeful. “I am optimistic because President Obama in his acceptance speech addressed Global warming in an urgent manner, more than any other president before him. Obama now has no choice but to address global warming and act. And I know he welcomes this challenge”.

Al Gore is hopeful that renewable energies will pick up soon as the cost reduction and increased implementation will make them more accessible. He also recommends putting a price on carbon and regulating CO2 emissions from power plants.

Gore ended his talk praising young people’s passion and desire for change. “Young people that don’t succumb to the temptation of being cynical, and are passionate about what they do is what gives me hope for the future”.

Lessons from Sandy: extreme weather will be the new normal

In a recent forum held at the Harvard School of Public Health four expert panelists discussed the most important lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy.

Daniel Schrag, climate scientist and Director of the Harvard Center for the Environment said that “Hurricane Sandy has been connected by the public to climate change in a way that other storms have not.”

This storm has brought the conversation of our vulnerability and need for adaptation to climate change back to the table.

Schrag explained that even if Sandy was thought to be an unusual event, storms like this one will become more frequent due to global warming and climate change. “Sandy got stronger as it moved from the Carolinas up to New Jersey, when it should have been the opposite”. Normally storms weaken when they move north. Water at that time of year is usually pretty cold and storms should disperse when coming into contact with the chilly waters. But the water temperature off the coast of New Jersey on October 29th was 4C warmer than normal. This pool of warm water gave the storm and extra kick bringing it from 75 mph to 90mph.

Hurricane Sandy's Path

Hurricane Sandy’s Path

The panel also explained that super storms like Sandy might hit the Northeastern US more frequently that before due to increased melting of the Greenland ice caps.

The hurricane took a left turn at the Jersey shore, which is quite rare. Less than 10% of storms move from east to west, normally they would head north and move eastwardly out to the sea. The hypothesis is that the retreat of Arctic sea ice and melting of Greenland are in fact steering storms towards the Northeastern coast of the US.

“If this proves to be the case, if  we really are starting to steer storms towards the East coast, that’s a much bigger deal than any kind of intensification. We have a lot of storms per year, so this could be really bad.”  Schrag said.

Jerold Hayden, professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University agreed with Schrag that after natural disasters “we rebuild, but we don’t necessarily rebuild better”. We need to start spending money today if we want to prepare for the next storms and sea level rise of the future, and we need to tell people not to develop where they where developing before.

The panel agreed that “immediate post Sandy is an incredible opportunity in terms of thinking of what kind of investments to make in order to make our systems more robust.”  Many of these measures can be simple and localized. Rising power supplies to higher floors, or adding pumps in place so that we can pump out water from flooded areas in a day or two after a storm are local ways to achieve more resilience.

Schrag warned to those relying too much on technology and predictions that “however good our models are in predicting storms, I promise there will be surprises. No matter how well prepare, there are going to be brakes”.

Sandy is just the beginning of a new climate era. Extreme weather is going to be the new normal, and we must adapt to this new reality if we don’t want to end up with water up our necks.

Move over palm oil, make room for the vegetable oil of the future: Algae oil.

If we open our fridge, bathroom cabinet or laundry room, and take a close look at the products we keep in there, we have a very high chance of finding palm oil in at least half of them. In most ingredient lists, palm oil often hides behind the “vegetable oil” pseudonym, which makes it hard to identify.

Palm oil has taken over most of our every day products. It’s in our shampoos and soaps, cleaning agents, in our chocolate, margarine, spreads, soft drinks, baked goods, ice creams, chips and potato fries, and even in our powder milk.

PalmOilProducts

OK, so what is so bad about Palm oil?

The problem is that it comes with a side of deforestation.

In a previous article linking palm oil and deforestation, I explained how huge palm oil mono-cultures are rapidly substituting Indonesia’s old growth forests, pushing some of the last Orangutans, and countless of other species to the brink of extinction. Deforestation is also placing Indonesia as one of the top CO2 emitters in the world -not from burning fossil fuels, but from the massive CO2 levels released from deforestation-.

The last orangutan populations in the world are found in Indonesia and Malaysia, the two largest producers of palm oil in the world. Over 80% of the palm oil produced in the world comes from Indonesia, and the vast majority has been produced at the expense of some of some of the last old growth tropical rain forest in the world.

Despite this gloomy future, our thirst for vegetable oil is just going to increase.

But maybe we can feed it with a different and more sustainable type of oil. And here is where Solazyme, a San Francisco based biotech company comes into play. Solazyme produces high quality algae oil that is not only much more sustainable but also healthier than palm oil.

As stated in Solazyme’s website:

“Solazyme has pioneered an industrial biotechnology platform that harnesses the prolific oil-producing ability of microalgae. We use standard industrial fermentation equipment to efficiently scale and accelerate the microalgae’s natural oil production time to just a few days. Our platform is feedstock flexible and can utilize a wide variety of plant-based sugars, such as sugarcane-based sucrose, corn-based dextrose, and sugar from other biomass sources including cellulosics. By growing our proprietary microalgae in the absence of light using fermentation tanks to convert photosynthetic plant sugars into oil, we are in effect utilizing “indirect photosynthesis.”

solazyme

In March of 2010, Solazyme entered into a research and development agreement with Unilever, the world’s largest consumer of palm oil, to develop oil derived from algae for use in soaps and other personal care products. The agreement followed the culmination of a yearlong collaboration between Solazyme and Unilever, in which Solazyme’s renewable algal oils were tested successfully in Unilever product formulations.

What is more, Solazyme algae based oils have been proven to offer superior health benefits when used as substitutes for vegetable oils in food products. These benefits include reduced calories, saturated fat and cholesterol, and functional benefits such as enhanced taste and texture for low-fat formulations, while also providing lower cost handling and processing requirements.

Many experts regrettably say that orangutans and Sumatran tigers are walking extinctions. But if companies like Solazyme are able to turn sustainability into profit, they might still have a chance.

Will REDD help save our Forests?

REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation is a very controversial measure. Environmentalists don’t seem to agree if it’s a good idea due to its lack of clarity.

Deforestation and forest degradation account for 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That is more than the entire global transportation sector combined.

Deforestation in Amazon, Brazil

Rainforests provide essential ecosystem services; they absorb CO2, release oxygen, regulate global rain and humidity patterns and are home to most plants and animal species in the planet.

Therefore what REDD stands for is in theory wonderful. Reducing deforestation is key in order to fight global warming.

REDD’s basic premise is that if  industries in developed nations want to continue releasing large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere they would have to pay for parts of tropical rainforest or rainforest “regeneration projects” in other parts of the world such as Brazil or Indonesia.

REDD is presented as an “offset” scheme of the carbon market and will produce carbon credits. Carbon offsets are “emissions-saving projects” that in theory compensate for the polluters’ emissions.

REDD detractors state that offsets allow polluting governments and corporations -which have the historical responsibility to clean up the atmosphere- to buy their way out of the problem with cheap projects that exacerbate social and environmental conflicts in the South.

Other major concerns in the REED program are the lack of agreement on the definition of forest degradation, the specific factors causing deforestation, or the funding sources and administrators.

Most local NGO’s agree that indigenous people or local organizations  should be the ones involved in forest regeneration projects  instead of foreign organizations or centralized governments who are often out of touch or easily corrupted.

According to Greenpeace Forest campaigner ” The market oriented draft, which focuses more on investment rather that reducing deforestation, only benefits big companies which huge emissions”.

Greenpeace also explains that from an environmental perspective, REDD will not save the climate nor protect forests, nor will it stop dangerous emissions levels. In fact, they state that REDD will offer polluting industries a way to avoid emissions reduction through cheap offsets and allow them to actually increase pollution.

Orangutans face extinction due to deforestation. REDD could help save them if implemented correctly by preserving the last Indonesian rainforests and tackling the root of their habitat loss: expansion of palm oil plantations.

Jane Goodall is among one of the REDD supporters, and she believes REDD is a great idea because saving parts of rainforests will be able to promote conservation and biodiversity.

Many argue that she is just “desperate” and “naive” to think that REDD will work to save large areas of rainforests or promote forest regeneration in a sustainable and effective manner.

REDD could in fact be a wonderful measure. But all players need to agree on basic principles. Also funding sources and administration must be open.

REDD should never be used as a cheap way to pay off extra CO2 emissions. Fines should be much higher for corporations who pollute more than established. The fine money could in turn be used to buy land to be kept untouched by developers, or to promote sustainable forest regeneration projects where indigenous people should be heavily involved.

The Big Spill

In these last few months I’ve seen numerous images of dolphins, pelicans and turtles  floating in the deadly and unfortunately coveted oil that is now spilled all over the Gulf of Mexico. But despite the media “bombarding” I still didn’t quite have a complete picture on what went wrong.

 

Sea Turtle Conservancy

 

 

By Charlie Riedel

 

The BP Gulf spill is the “worst environmental disaster in U.S. history” and no one still knows the extent of this catastrophe or how many generations will witness its devastating consequences.

Let’s start by looking back a year before the explosion happened.

On April of 2009 the U.S. Mineral Management Service (MMS), the federal agency that regulates offshore drilling, gave BP a “categorical exclusion” from requirements to prepare a detailed environmental impact report because they thought a spill to be highly “unlikely”.

The MMS claimed that the likelihood of a spill was less than 1% and that if a spill were to happen it wouldn’t be significant or release much oil.

But on April 20th of 2010 BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, turning  one of the world’ s most advanced drill rigs into a pile of twisted metal and putting the MMS and BP to shame.

Initial reports estimated a flow of oil of 1000 barrels per day, a few days later it went up to 5000, and by the end of April it went up to 25,000 barrels per day.

By the beginning of  May the  realization that this spill was the worst in U.S. history was undeniable, the final estimates went up to 100,000 barrels per day!

BP’s Response

Before the spill, BP had an environmental response plan which claimed that the company could recover 500,000 barrels per day using current technology, and therefore the worst case scenario spill would not pose any danger. In this report BP also claimed that a worst case scenario spill would not harm any of the fisheries or marine life of the Gulf of Mexico, including walruses, sea otters and sea lions.

As you are probably thinking, there are no sea otters, sea lions or walruses in the Gulf. We later learned that BP copied and pasted word by word an old environmental response plan prepared for the arctic. They obviously did not take preventing an environmental disaster seriously and as a consequence they have endangered our finite and valuable resources with their carelessness and incompetence.

So what did BP do in order to “try” to clean up their mess?

Mainly two things: Burn the spilled oil and pour chemicals (dispersants) into the water.

These two methods were used to cover their “backs” in the easiest and cheapest way without taking the long-term consequences into consideration. BP priorities are clear, economic profits before people or the environment.

 

NOAA

 

By burning tons of oil, not only did they release massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, but also sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and volatile organic compounds.

And they were not just burning oil, countless turtles and other marine animals like dolphins and whales were also burnt alive as shown in the picture below.

According to the NY times, the dispersant used by BP (Corexit) was banned in the UK over a decade ago even though it’s EPA approved.

Corexit was also used in the Exxon-Valdez spill and has been linked to human health problems including respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney, blood disorders and reproductive  problems.

Dispersants like Corexit break up oil into droplets that linger longer in the water instead of collecting at the surface.  Their use in the Gulf spill has limited the instances (and images) of oil-covered seabirds, but has kept the effects of the spill mostly underwater.

Dispersants have mostly moved the oil from the surface to the deep waters of the Gulf. What is now feared is that these deep-sea pockets of oil are fastly approaching the gulf loop current which could spread the oil into the Atlantic Ocean.

The most conservative figures estimate a total of 5 million barrels of oil spilled to the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists and government officials estimate that BP burned  less than 1/4 of the spill,  another quarter had dispersed into scattered molecules, 1/4 has dispersed into small droplets which are extremely toxic to animals, and the last quarter (five times the size of the Exxon-Valdez spill) remains as sheens on the water or tall balls in beaches.

Environmental and Social Impact

The long-term consequences of this tremendous disaster is still unknown. The oil spill’s impact on the environment and socio-economics of the region will continue for decades to come.

In the first four weeks after the explosion that killed 11 workers and started the massive leak, wildlife officials say at least 500 birds, 250 turtles and 50 mammals, were found dead along the US Gulf coast.  In the following months after the explosion, thousands of fishes, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles were killed by the oil, and  their eggs and offspring poisoned.

Most scientists agree that the damage to the Gulf wildlife will last for many generations due to the high toxicity of the area.

Louisiana, the nearest state to the leaking well, around 42 miles offshore, has been the most impacted. The state’s governor stated in May that almost 200 of its 400-mile coast had been polluted at that time.

The U.S. government has declared a “fishery disaster” in the seafood-producing states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama due to the oil spill. A quarter of US waters in the Gulf of Mexico are closed to fishing, hitting the livelihoods of shrimpers, oyster-catchers and charter boat operators.  Marine biologists agree that “every fish and invertebrate contacting the oil is probably dying”.

Following is a map showing the fishery closure boundary (as of June 2010):

Most government officials said the impacts could take years to unfold. Scientists from the US Fish and Wildlife Service stated that “this is just a giant experiment going on and we’re trying to understand scientifically what this means”.

One of the marine species that has been mostly affected are sea turtles. Their range is shown in the map below.

View (courtesy of NASA) of the spill from space:

Looking forward

The Deepwater Horizon explosion is a direct consequence of our addiction to oil. The most important conclusion we should take from this disaster is the urgent need to shift towards clean renewable energies.

The prize of oil becomes way too expensive if we take all its externalities into consideration. The clean up, environmental and health costs and impact on the local economy are all externalities that should be considered when paying for oil.  In the long run green energy is not only cleaner and safer but also much cheaper!

We only have a few more years of oil left before we exhaust the last reserves on earth, and we should be moving towards renewables at a much higher speed.

President Obama just lifted the moratorium on deep water drilling, so unfortunately it looks like we will continue to drill until the last drop of oil, no matter how many more accidents, spills or deaths this may cause.

Instead, we should be focusing in investing more into clean renewable energies, that is the only way to ensure an accident free and clean future for us and our kids.

Sources:

National Geographic

NOAA

NY Times

Self Sufficient Buildings and Vertical Farms for the Future

desertification_1

Desertification due to unsustainable agricultural practices

By 2050 more than 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. By then the population increase (minimum of 3 billion people more) paired with a massive loss of fertile soils due to erosion, desertification, salinization, etc. will surely lead to disastrous food shortages.

We won’t have enough fertile soils to grow crops for all, and we certainly won’t want to cut down the little forest left to grow more food, the consequences of doing so would be devastating.

But some of the most ground-braking architects and scientists have already come up with a solution: self sustainable buildings with vertical farms.

Depending on the crops being grown, a single vertical farm using  hydroponic growing methods could also allow thousands of farmland acres to be permanently reforested.

One of the first models of vertical farming was conceived by Dr. Dickson Despommier, a professor of environmental sciences at Columbia University, who believes that vertical farm skyscrapers could help fight global warming.

Imagine a cluster of 30-story towers  producing fruit, vegetables, and grains while also generating clean energy and purifying waste water.  Despommier estimates that one of these buildings could feed 50,000 people for a year. A vertical farm could be self-sustaining and even produce a net output of clean water and energy.

Sky Farming (New York Magazine)

Sky Farming (New York Magazine) designed by Rolf Mohr

1. The Solar Panel Most of the vertical farm’s energy is supplied by the pellet power system . This solar panel rotates to follow the sun and would drive the interior cooling system, which is used most when the sun’s heat is greatest.
2. The Wind Spire
An alternative (or a complement) to solar power, conceived by an engineering professor at Cleveland State University. The wind spire uses small blades to turn air upward, like a screw.

3. The Glass Panels
A clear coating of titanium oxide collects pollutants and prevents rain from beading. The rain slides down the glass, maximizing light and cleaning the pollutants and it’s then collected for filtration.

4. The Control Room
The vertical-farm environment is regulated from here, allowing for year-round, 24-hour crop cultivation.

5. The Architecture Circular design uses space most efficiently and allows maximum light into the center. Modular floors stack like poker chips for flexibility.

6. The Crops

The vertical farm could grow fruits, vegetables, grains, and even fish, poultry.

The vertical farm doesn’t just grow crops indoors, it also generates its own power from waste and cleans up sewage water.

skyfarming2

New York Magazine

1. The Evapotranspiration Recovery System
Nestled inside the ceiling of each floor, its pipes collect moisture, which can be used as drinking water.

2. The Pipes
Work much like a cold bottle of Coke that “sweats” on a hot day: Super-cool fluid attracts plant water vapors, which are then collected as they drip off .  Despommier estimates that one vertical farm could capture 60 million gallons of water a year.

3. Black-Water Treatment System
Wastewater taken from the city’s sewage system is treated through a series of filters, then sterilized, yielding gray water—which is not drinkable but can be used for irrigation. (Currently, New York city throws 1.4 billion gallons of treated waste water into the rivers each day.)

New York Magazine

New York Magazine

4. The Crop Picker
Monitors fruits and vegetables with an electronic eye. Current technology, called a Reflectometer, uses color detection to test ripeness.

5. The Field
Maximization of space is critical, so in this rendering there are two layers of crops (and some hanging tomatoes). If small crops are planted, there might be up to ten layers per floor.

6. The Pool
Runoff from irrigation is collected here and piped to a filtration system.

7. The Feeder
Like an ink-jet printer, this dual-purpose mechanism directs programmed amounts of water and light to individual crops.

New York Magazine

New York Magazine

8. The Pellet Power System
Another source of power for the vertical farm, it turns nonedible plant matter (like corn husks, for example) into fuel. Could also process waste from New York’s 18,000 restaurants.

9 to 11. The Pellets
Plant waste is processed into powder (9), then condensed into clean-burning fuel pellets (10), which become steam power (11). At least 60 pellet mills in North America already produce more than 600,000 tons of fuel annually, and a 3,400-square-foot house in Idaho uses pellets to generate its own electricity.

Sumarazing some benefits of vertical Agriculture:

1-Uses less space and resources than traditional agriculture.

2-Agriculture land can be converted back to forest.

3-Dramatically reduces fossil fuel use (no tractors, shipping, etc).

4-No massive crop failures as a result of weather-related disasters.

5-Less likelihood of genetically modified strains entering the “natural” plant world.

6– All food could be grown organically, without herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers, eliminating agricultural runoff.

7– It recycles and purifies water.

8-Generation of energy via methane  from composting non-edible parts of plants and animals, supplying not just food but energy, creating a truly self-sustaining environment.

9-Can have applications for arid environments or refugee camps as a food production source.

10-Great impact in reducing green house emissions.

Some other models of vertical agriculture:

Oliver Foster Vertical Farm

Oliver Foster Vertical Farm

The Living Skyscraper by Blake Kurasek

The Living Skyscraper by Blake Kurasek

The Living Tower by SOA Architects

The Living Tower by SOA Architects

To learn more about vertical farming designs:

http://www.verticalfarm.com/