25 April 2007

Growing the World's Crops in a High Rise

A lot of people begrudge biofuels their use of cropland. But that is not thinking clearly. With the growing success of aeroponics, land is not needed to grow crops.
Crops can be planted and harvested in the system year round without interruption, and without contamination from soil, pesticides, and residue. Since the growing environment is clean and sterile, it greatly reduces the chances of spreading plant disease and infection commonly found in soil and other growing media.

The suspended system also has other advantages. Seedlings don't stretch or wilt while their roots are forming. Once the roots are developed, the plants can be easily moved into any type of growing media without the risk of transplant shock, which often sets back normal growth.

Aeroponics systems can reduce water usage by 98 percent, fertilizer usage by 60 percent, and pesticide usage by 100 percent, all while maximizing crop yields. Plants grown in the aeroponic systems have also been shown to uptake more minerals and vitamins, making the plants healthier and potentially more nutritious.

Tomato growers traditionally start their plants in pots, waiting at least 28 days before transplanting them into the ground. Using an aeroponic system, growers can start the plants in the growing chamber, then transplant them just 10 days later. This advanced technology produces six tomato crop cycles per year, instead of the traditional one to two crop cycles.

Successful long-term missions into deep space will require that crews grow some of their own food during flight. Aeroponic crops are also a potential source of fresh oxygen and clean drinking water. But this is about more than a breath of fresh air or taking a quick shower. Each ounce of food and water produced aboard a spacecraft reduces payload weight, allowing space for other cargo that can't be produced onboard.

With advanced high rise building techniques, very large crop producing structures can be built--providing many thousands of acres of growing area with just a few acres footprint on the ground.

It should go without saying that aeroponics will be extremely useful for long duration space missions, for lunar bases, for seasteads, and for undersea and underground habitats. Given water, air and CO2, nutrients, and full-spectrum lighting, you will be good to go.

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