Plug and play capability to scale AgTech
Having explored the pros and cons of the different models of indoor farming in parts one and two, we now turn our attention to the container farming approach in the third and final part of our series. In particular, we’ll look at how it can be scaled up in a way that allows for maximum “plug and play” flexibility and environmental sustainability. With his extensive experience in engineering high performance building services systems, David Zsolt Krisztian takes us through how he would set up the ideal, scalable modular container farm, as one way to advance AgTech in our growing region.
Achieving flexibility within the grow pods
Location, location, location! Utility connections for future flexibility
In most cases, modular container farms are usually stacked on top of each other or connected at the sides in a horizontal formation. Whatever the setup, one important consideration is the location of the internal utility connections (electricity, drainage and water) that will power the individual grow pods. This matters, because utility connections tend to act as “anchors” and can therefore be an obstacle to flexibility, preventing the easy reconfiguration of grow pods and racks in future.
To avoid this problem and its associated costs, utility connections should be placed inside each modular container farming unit in a way that allows for easy reconfiguration, should the grower's needs changes. Ultimately, the system needs to work for the growers and not the other way around!
A robust drainage connection is required to efficiently recirculate the water that fuels the hydration systems so vital to any well-functioning indoor farm. One of our core design principles is maximising design flexibility for our users, and in this case we recommend an elevated floor, similar to an office’s raised floor system - which can support changes in configurations when the need arises.
Given the heat generated by the artificial grow lights in an indoor container farming setup and the need to maintain homogenous internal air quality (IAQ) on a constant 24/7 basis, paying close attention to your ventilation system is a must. To achieve the right air quality at the crops and anywhere within the pods, a modular ventilation system is ideal, as it enables easy attachment and detachment of new branch ducts, facilitating reconfiguration to accommodate new crop types.
We found that textile air ducts are a good option for modular ventilation systems, and we have used them in a number of our projects. With a simple zipper connection, voila, you’ve got a new air duct!
Water and power point connections
Of all the elements necessary for successful agriculture, light and water are the two most important - for plants to photosynthesize. However, both elements when recreated in an artificial setting are also incredibly energy intensive which can create inflexibility.
By creating modular “ceiling service panels” which bundle water and power together, we can unlock their “plug and play” capability. This allows flexibility and scalability, important in volatile food supply markets such as those we’ve seen in the past few months during the COVID-19 crisis.
Modularity by environmental demand
Multiple grow pods within a modular container farm setup allows us to create individualised and unique environments within each pod and simulate multiple climates within one enclosed space. From a humid, tropical climate to a dry, arid climate; precise conditions can be recreated to enable the growth of specific crops that otherwise would not normally grow in your location.
To achieve this, an airtight environment can be created around individual pods by sealing them off from one another within the context of a larger module. This means precise temperatures and humidity levels can be maintained as required on a constant basis.
Ultimately, scaling up modular container farming supports sustainable food production and green growth: by reducing deforestation and desertification, by reducing the distance required to transport food to the consumer and lastly, by revitalising and intensifying existing urban and suburban areas. We believe this is only the beginning of a new world order in agriculture!
All parts in this series can be found below:
- Part 1 - What is Indoor Farming?
- Part 2 - The Container Farming Model
- Part 3 - Scaling up the Modular Container Farming Approach
Zsolt Krisztian David
Senior Associate Director - Building Services