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This netcast explores the rapidly changing world of biotech, with a penchant towards getting a better understanding of who we are and where we are going. The living world will soon be a true substrate for engineering. Our world will change, and so will we. 
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    « Futures in Biotech 59: No Room For Failure | Main | Futures in Biotech 57: Mechanisms Of Non-Mendelian Inheritance In Evolution »

    Futures in Biotech 58: Vertical Farms and much more with Dick Despommier

    Hosts: Marc Pelletier, Ph.D. and Vincent Racaniello, Ph.D.

    Guest: Dickson Despommier, Ph.D., Professor of Environmental Health Sciences; Professor of Microbiology, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, New York, NY. Host of This Week in Virology; Host of This Week in Parasitism.

    In this episode, we talk to Columbia University parasitologist Dickson Despommier. We discuss both his work in parasitology and a concept project that could revolutionize farming in the 21st century: vertical farm.

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    References (3)

    References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
    • Response
      Response: www.ecostrat.com
      The wide idea of biotech or biotechnology incorporates an extensive variety of methods for adjusting living beings as indicated by human purposes, doing a reversal to training of creatures, development of the plants.
    • Response
      Bio is the field of natural science. Which means we can easy to study the different new things through this science? The most of the people have gotten more and more effective things on the human being psyche. The first new invention can be promoted through the study of bio.
    • Response

    Reader Comments (3)

    Vertical farming is not economically feasible. Vertical farming will not increase the productivity of an acre of land nor will any crop produced in a vertical farm be economical to produce in any but a boutique fashion. The reason for this is the fundamental restraint imposed by the conservation of energy. The amount of energy falling on an acre of normal farm is the same amount of energy which will be distributed throughout the floors of a vertical farm whose footprint is that same acre. If you have a four floor glass building, one quarter of the light from the sun will theoretically be used to grow the crops on each floor. This is not possible. You cannot grow crops in three quarters shade. At least not in an economically productive manner. The more floors the less light per floor, the less which can be grown on a floor; the less efficient it becomes.

    All the energy from biomass comes from the sun. The conversion of the energy from the sun to biomass, be it stalk, leaf, seed or whatever, is less than 100%. When this biomass is in turn converted to heat, ethanol, some other biofuel or anything else there is another less than 100% conversion. The conversion rate is much less than 50% for each of these steps yielding an overall conversion rate of less than 25%. In fact there are more steps and the conversion rates are less than 50% resulting in an overall conversion from sunlight to useful energy of less than 25%.

    Excess biomass cannot be used to effectively heat the buildings in the cold months. The reason is in large part because of the less than 100% conversion rates mentioned above. Also a substantial fraction of that biomass is crop which will be eaten and not be converted to heat. Where biomass is used today for heat the area heated is much smaller than the area from which the biomass is collected. Additionally the vertical farm will not be very energy conserving with regards to thermal conservation because the walls need to be made of materials which pass light without any loss of energy. By the very nature of these materials they will not be as efficient insulators as the normal walls of conventional office buildings.

    A green house is not a vertical farm. A green house is a conventional farm with a roof and walls to retain heat to keep the crops warm so that the sun light in the winter season can be used to grow crops. The green house in Montreal mentioned in the webcast was heated with the buildings heat source at a cost which would make any crop uneconomical. Rich people can afford these crops in expensive restaurants but the poor will not be able to afford them.

    It was mentioned in the webcast that there is a greenhouse producing 6800 heads of lettuce a year per square foot. I know you people are biologist ;) but don't you realize this is over 18 heads of lettuce per day per square foot. Given twelve hours of sunlight on average per day that means that a head of lettuce is being produced every forty minuets from a square foot. One square foot does not receive enough energy from the sun to produce a head lettuce in forty minuets. One acre producing lettuce at this rate could produce over 296 million heads of lettuce a year. If a farmer made only 1.1 cent per head of lettuce they would make over $3 million.

    April 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Mays

    I enjoyed learning about vertical farming. Thank you for doing a show on this subject. Now the next step and adding vertical farming with a CSA.
    Please do more shows about this subject or a follow up show.
    Thanks again.

    May 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKevin

    To Michael Mays, who posted the large comment above, with regard to your last paragraph, I'm almost certain that Dickson was referring to 6800 heads of lettuce per square foot of lot space, not per square foot of soil on one floor of the farm. I think he is talking about a vertical farm that is producing that lettuce. Granted, the figure does seem a bit off because even if the farm were 18 stories high that would be a head of lettuce per square foot per day, but either way his point still stands that with vertical farms crop output would be magnitudes higher per area of lot space if they were produced in vertical farms as opposed to single-level greenhouses.

    June 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErik Carter

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