One of the top environmental problems is food and water Insecurity.
Rising temperatures and unsustainable farming practices has resulted in the increasing threat of water and food insecurity.
Globally, more than 68 billion tons of top-soil is eroded every year at a rate 100 times faster than it can naturally be replenished. Laden with biocides and fertilizer, the soil ends up in waterways where it contaminates drinking water and protected areas downstream.
Furthermore, exposed and lifeless soil is more vulnerable to wind and water erosion due to lack of root and mycelium systems that hold it together.
With the global population expected to reach 9 billion people by mid-century, the FAO projects that global food demand may increase by 70% by 2050.
If we also include industry needed to support current food production, including farming, packaging, transport, storage etc. all of these elements contribute to the list of the top environmental problems, including:
- Food waste
- Plastic pollution
- Air pollution
Vertical farming is the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers.
It often incorporates controlled-environment agriculture, which aims to optimize plant growth, and soilless farming techniques such as hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics.
Current applications of vertical farming coupled with other technologies, have resulted in over 10 times the crop yield than would receive through traditional farming methods.
The main advantage of utilizing vertical farming technologies is the increased crop yield that comes with a smaller unit area of land requirement. The increased ability to cultivate a larger variety of plants at once because plants do not share the same soil. Additionally, plants are resistant to weather disruptions because of their indoor placement.
The main disadvantage is cost of setting up a vertical farm, application and space specific implementations, system rigidity, and no modularity. Vertical farms also face large energy demands due to the use of supplementary light like LEDs.
Main goal of the Plant pod is to provide low cost, scalable, modular and flexible solution for vertical farming. Plant pod device is designed to be plant per module system, capable of fast and flexible implementation, independent of chosen soilless farming techniques, and even allow mixing of these, depending on the specific plant, or rather group of plants.
This kind of solution can provide fast farming setups, that are flexible both in the sense of ability to physically move, and Indoor space positioning, like layers, plant orientation etc.
Each Plant pod device is modular and can be customized for specific type of plant, like height of the device, number of active liquid inlets/outlets, air flow, size, shape and type of the net cup.
System needs to scale well, depending on the food demand, it can be configured like a small to medium in store solution, or per building solution, micro hub etc. Or it can be a large scale operation, that might replace farmers market in the city center.
Plant pod is designed to be as simple a possible, and use as many of the shelf components, to maintain low production cost. Materials used for the main body are mostly plastic, so all other components are designed in such a way that it can be replaced, and by so, prolongate the devices life cycle. 3D printing main body is also an option.
Device has three main parts, lower body, upper body and middle section.
Lower body houses main logic board, liquid and electrical connections.
There are total of six liquid connections, to enable the supply of:
- Nutrient A
- Nutrient B
- Nutrient C
Depending on the chosen farming technique, device can be configured to use variable number of liquid connections. Flow of liquid components is controlled by using integrated solenoid pumps, fixed amount of liquid is taken from the supply system on every second stroke, thus providing precise means of controlling the nutrient solution mixture. Lower body is electrically connected to the system also, connection consists of power and data line. Data line uses CAN bus protocol to enable communication with Plant pod hub(s).
Lower body also has integrated temperature sensor, pH level sensor, TDS sensor, liquid level sensor, and two GPIO connections, for future application. As mentioned before, the Plant pod can be setup to work in hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics mode. To enable aeroponics mode of operation, device is equipped with 25mm piezo-electric transducer that can transform liquid to vapor. On the side of the lower body, there is an electrical connection IO that connects the lower body with the upper body of the device.
Upper body of the Plant pod can be customized according to specific plant, like size and shape of net cup that hold the plants root. It is equipped with light intensity and temperature sensor, air temperature, humidity and pressure sensor, and small dot matrix LED screen, used to show information such as plant health, up time, Plant pod ID etc. In case of plants that have a lot of leaves, like lettuce, there is an option for inserting light conducting pipe directly in front of light sensor, witch prevents the plants leaves from blocking the light source. Upper body daughter board communicate with the main logic board using I2C data protocol.
Middle section of the Plant pod is configurable in length, basically, it is a peace of straight pipe. Upper and lower body parts are connected with 4 wire flat cable of variable length also, depending on the length of the middle section. There is possibility to add some venting holes in the middle section, and rotating shutter valve, powered by the stepper motor in the upper body of the Plant pod.
Plant pod infrastructure
Depending on the chosen farming technique, Plant pods will need some kind of additional infrastructure, like hoses to provide nutrients and water, lighting solution, natural or artificial, support construction etc.
In the following days, I will design Plant pod quick connect base, that will enable quick installation and removal of the device from the rest of the system, and consider some of the parts needed for implementing remaining infrastructure. Rest of the project will be published in project logs.