As a follow on to the Vertical Farms blog post by Kimberly (published August 6th), read about this Thesis project from Philipp Hutfless who’s studying Industrial Design at University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt, Germany. He was inspired by a trip to Japan which sparked his desire to design a food system that could be sustained offshore.
Here’s a sketch of his work in his own words on the
James Dyson Foundation website:
Another description of the project is posted on the Fast Company exist website (They have all kinds of reviews, musings, op ed pieces and product information on their site – check it out) Floating Ocean Greenhouses Bring Fresh Food Closer To Megacities
At the University of South Florida, USF students are hard at work developing methods to create different kinds of fertilizers of tomorrow. The purpose of this article is to provide a little bit of information into the reasons why leaching is one of the procedures being used to test the fertilizers under development.
Leaching is the displacement of nutrients from the upper layers of soil to lower layers, and eventually into the water table. Leaching is a problem because the displacement of nutrients to a different area means that the plants can no longer reach them, and also because leaching pollutes the water table and can make it toxic over time. Leaching occurs due to heavy rainfall, excessive watering, excessive fertilizer use, and poor fertilizer types. Heavy rainfall and excessive watering can cause nutrients to dissolve at a rate greater than the surrounding plants can take the nutrients up at, and this causes the dissolved nutrients to flow downward with the water. Excessive amount of fertilizer use causes the same problem, because there are more nutrients then what the plant life can take up. The dissolution rate of fertilizers is very important in assessing the quality of it. A fertilizer that has a high dissolution rate, or is easily dissolved in water, will cause an overabundance of nutrients to be present in a short period of time. This will lead to leaching. A fertilizer with a low dissolution rate will dissolve slowly over time, allowing plants to take up the nutrients at the same rate at which the fertilizer is dissolved. Through testing the leachate from all the pots in the study, USF students are trying to see how much of the fertilizer is used by the plant and how much is lost as run off. Of course, the optimal results would be to have as little nutrient loss from the pot as possible from the fertilizers being tested.
Eutrophication is caused by an excess amount of nutrients entering into an ecosystem. Eutrophication can be blamed on fertilizer runoff from land, and also the destruction of Riparian zones along rivers and waterways. Fertilizer runoff adds excess nutrients into waterways. Riparian zones limit the amount of nutrients going from land to waterways during storms, and when damaged lead to excess amount of nutrients entering into waterways. Eutrophication causes an explosion of phytoplankton life that leads to hypoxia, very low levels of oxygen, once the phytoplankton die. The decomposition of the phytoplankton requires oxygen, and so the levels of oxygen drop. The low levels of oxygen cause large fish kills, as the fish can no longer breathe, if there is no oxygen in the water. The fish kills causes more decomposition to occur which can lead to further decreases in oxygen levels. The increased amount of phytoplankton often leads to a decreased amount of sunlight penetrating into a body of water, because the phytoplankton crowd near the surface of the water. The decrease in sunlight in water means plants can no longer undergo photosynthesis and produce oxygen. This leads to a decrease in oxygen levels, as oxygen is no longer produced through photosynthesis and the decomposition of plant life takes place with their death. A reduction in plant life means there is no longer food for many marine organisms to feast on and this causes an ecosystem disaster as the food web begins to fall apart. A Dead zone refers to the area at the mouth of river being affected by eutrophication. Dead zones have hypoxic or anoxic conditions, little or no oxygen, and are nicknamed dead zones because of the lack of life found in them. USF students are developing fertilizers that hopefully won’t be contributing to this harmful global phenomenon.
Everyone can have a part in bringing life back to these dead zones. A lot of effort needs to be put in with regards to increasing reliance on sustainable practices. With the need to replenish the land with nutrients, USF Environmental Engineering students and staff are finding ways to make better fertilizers so that a future without dead zones may become a reality.
After a long summer of working, we’re back at it again! Classes have started this past week at North Carolina State University, and we’re picking up where we left off in the spring with our senior design project.
At the spring Design Day even on campus, we placed with our design poster for the Solar-Powered Compost System we’ll be building this semester (seen below).
All credit for the marvelous work is due to Neil, our resident artist, craftsman, and worker of all things magic. It’s amazing what a lifetime of working in audiovisual, music, and photography can do in the engineering world!
We all worked internships at different companies over the summer, but were able to meet and continue to refine the design at least twice. In addition, we had to start ordering parts, since the motor and the tumbler itself would both have very long lead times for manufacture and delivery.
We were fortunate to have the very, very generous folks at Mantis sold us one of their wonderful Original Compostumbler systems at a significant discount, and that will be the basis for our project. We were greeted with the new tumbler when we returned to campus this past week, and we’re excited to get to work in the very near future. Stay tuned for more updates to come!
Two deceptively small boxes, all things considered…
Mouad and I posing with our new toys, ready to start putting things together.
At the University of South Florida, students and staff are working through research to create a more sustainable earth. Fertilizer needs to be reinvented if it is to be as effective as it should be healthy for the planet. Conventional fertilizers need to be replaced.
The fertilizers that we are sustainably creating through our system at USF, offset need to create conventional fertilizers. Conventional fertilizers require mining of important nutrients such as phosphate, which generates extremely harmful environmental impacts and often creates wastelands on the mine site. Places such as Florida (where we are located) have large expanses that have become these wastelands. Furthermore, worldwide phosphorus deposits are depleting (just as oil deposits are depleting). Our system allows for recovering nutrients such as phosphorus from waste, turning that waste into a valuable resource. Therefore, it creates a renewable source of nutrients and reduces the need to have harmful phosphate mining operations. Furthermore, creating Nitrogen fertilizer, which is typically done through the Haber process, uses large amounts of energy and incurs high costs.
Not only are our fertilizers created sustainably using renewable source, but they also are expected to outperform conventional fertilizers in several ways that are important to the environment. For example, our fertilizers are expected to have slow-release characteristics, meaning that they dissolve slowly, allowing for the plants to uptake the nutrients efficiently. Conventional fertilizers dissolve very quickly, causing most of the fertilizer to be washed away by rain. The fertilizer nutrients that are washed away cause very harmful environmental impacts such as eutrophication, which often leads to hypoxia or “dead zones” (complete depletion of oxygen in the water) that cause mass death of aquatic life such as fish and crabs. This is a common occurrence in the Gulf of Mexico, where nutrients are carried into it by rainwater runoff, causing massive dead zones and loss of life.
Our slow-release, sustainable fertilizers can significantly reduce the instance of these fish kills. However, our growth study is needed to prove that our fertilizers can compete with conventional fertilizers. This will prove that these sustainable fertilizers can be widely adopted while still providing the same performance as conventional fertilizers.
At the University of South Florida in Tampa, Environmental Engineering students are hard at work devising and testing out possible methods for fertilizer production. With new ways of fertilizer production found, the special kinds of fertilizer are to be tested out. A lot of diverse elements and skills need to be pulled together. Under the guidance of Dr. Sarina Ergas, this project is aiming to determine the viability of fertilizers produced in the lab for agricultural use.
Last time, soil was acquired and filled the custom-made pots that were prepared for the growth study. The pots were last seen in the botanical gardens awaiting experimentation. With all that said, the USF team was finally able to allocate the proper resources to measure out fertilizers and set up the greenhouses inside the laboratory. Among the fertilizers used in the growth study is the lab-grown struvite. More needs to be precipitated before a growth study is to commence. With some last resources still being delivered, below are some images to show what has been done so far to prepare:
Engaging in this initiative are the following people:
Sarina Ergas, PhD – Supervisor and professor upon whom the entire initiative depends on for essential guidance and approval.
Veronica Aponte – Graduate student in Environmental Engineering. She is a co-investigator, and she is also researching new ways to make fertilizer. The results of the growth study will help determine the effectiveness of the new fertilizers being made on USF campus.
Adib Amini – Graduate student in Environmental Engineering. He is a co-investigator, and he is also researching new ways to make fertilizer. The results of the growth study will help determine the effectiveness of the new fertilizers being made on USF campus.
John Pilz – Undergraduate student in Environmental Science and Policy. This is his Senior Project that he is working on with intentions of learning more about fertilizer studies in the university research setting.
Lindsay Guntner – Wharton High School teacher serving as an investigator and mentor for her high school pupils. She serving so that high school students will be able to get exposure to scientific work from an earlier age. This is her first year pioneering this project with USF.
Andres Garcia – High school student, mentored by Lindsay Guntner, from Wharton High School. He is serving at the University of South Florida to obtain guidance from students and staff with the intentions of continuing the work for his science fair and other scientific pursuits. This is a valuable opportunity for him to see how group work and procedure is carried out with the scientific method always in mind.