Vertical Farming with Sky Greens Technology

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Image courtesy of Sky Urban Solutions

When Jack Ng decided to dedicate his skills as an engineer to addressing a need in modern farming, he had no idea how much of an impact he was going to make.

“When I planned for retirement, I wanted to become a farmer. But I saw how farmers led such a tough life here, so I thought I should improve the farming process.”

Jack Ng

With the rising costs of petroleum and the reliance on fuel for operating commercial farming equipment, Jack started looking for solutions. He discovered that some solutions already existed, but they weren’t being implemented in the farming world.

From Prototype to Production

Jack started experimenting with various vertical farming prototypes in 2009 in the backyard of his aluminum factory. He signed a Research Collaborative Agreement with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) in April 2010, which resulted in the development of multi-layer troughs in a rotating A-frame vertical structure using hydraulic and gravitational principals.

The world’s first low carbon footprint vertical farming system was born.

The system was first test-bedded with the production of tropical leafy vegetables and proved to be a resounding success. The results were announced and publicized on 28 Jan 2011, and commercial operation began in 2012.

farming
Image courtesy of Sky Urban Solutions

Why Vertical Farming?

Using four-story towers, the Sky Greens greenhouse produces one tonne of fresh vegetables every two days – and it’s climate-resistant.

If these buildings were designed with thermal mass-based architecture and natural green alternative utility sources, they could be built anywhere in the world, in any climate, and provide more than enough food to sustain the population of the planet a thousands times over.

Although the concept of vertical farming has been around for over a century, very few have been able to master the technique like Singaporean company Sky Greens. Housed in protected outdoor greenhouses, each tower – almost nine meters tall – contains 38 shelves each growing a range of tropical vegetables. The shelves slowly rotate throughout the day allowing each shelf to receive sunlight while at the top and water while at the bottom. Using gravity to its advantage, the rotating 1.7-ton structure is powered using a hydraulic system, which requires only 0.5 liters of water per day – the water is also reused on the vegetables once the cycle has been completed.

Cultivated in a controlled environment, vegetables can be grown all year round with protection from the elements. Compared to traditional mono-layer farms, the vertical farming system produces at least 10 times more per land area unit.

Freshly harvested vegetables are stored in vacuum cooled cold trucks, whereby contact with air is vastly reduced so that the vegetables stay fresh longer. The cold trucks are also set to the most ideal preservation temperatures customized to product types.

farming

Image courtesy of Sky Urban Solutions

Freshly harvested vegetables are stored in vacuum cooled cold trucks, whereby contact with air is vastly reduced so that the vegetables stay fresh longer. The cold trucks are also set to the most ideal preservation temperatures customized to product types. 

“Sky Greens’ towers currently produce three popular Asian vegetables including nai bai, xiao bai cai and Chinese cabbage, which can be harvested every 28 days per tower. The urban-grown vegetables cost only 20 cents more per kilogram than the imported varieties. Sky Greens already supply NTUC Fair Price, Singapore’s largest grocery retailer that has a network of over 230 outlets and supermarkets.”

– Sky Greens

In 2015, Sky Greens has won INDEX: Award 2015, the world’s biggest design award and the European Society for Quality Research’s (“ESQR”) International Diamond Prize for Excellence in Quality 2015.

farming award
Image courtesy of Sky Urban Solutions
Singaporean company Sky Urban Solutions, headed by Founder and CEO Mr Jack Ng

The Sky Greens system is primarily designed as a farm for commercial production, using multiple growing towers. These come in 3/6/or 9 meters heights, although they regard 6m as the optimum. They are looking to supply towers, but not the glasshouse/environmental controls to accommodate them as requirements for these are going to be different for every climate and region. Cost guidelines are approximately $7,100 (US) per 6m tower.

Ideal configuration for a complete commercial farm is 80 or 160 towers. Currently the system uses soil, not hydroponics but there is a possibility of converting it in the future – the aim is to achieve fully organic production in the short term(as stated in 2014), although currently it is ‘low’ chemical input and not organic. Water and energy use are very low.

Price for Vertical Farming

So in order to build a complete commercial farm you’re looking at between around $500,000 to $1,000,000 for the towers. When you consider the upside of a farm that can produce over 180 tons of fresh vegetables all year round, and requires little to no (depending on design) utilities (Only 40W electricity equivalent to one light bulb, is needed to power one 9m tall tower). With the plants irrigated and fertilized using a flooding method, there is no need for a sprinkler system thereby eliminating electricity wastage, as well as water wastage due to run-offs. As stated only 0.5 liters of water is required to rotate the 1.7 ton vertical structure. The water is contained in a enclosed underground reservoir system and is recycled and reused.

The new wave of green and sustainable technologies are beginning to ripen and Sky Greens is one of the shining young stars in a fledgling industry which could prove to be a multi-trillion dollar industry that will change the way in which people live more than the invention of the internet.

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Born in Vancouver, B.C. , Canada. Father, musician and philosopher, lover of people, culture, eco-tech, hockey and craft beer. Thinking of solutions to global issues since 1994 when I was awakened due to the Rwandan genocide and the lack of action by the G7 nations. Adopted the Buckminster Fuller philosophy that in order to solve a problem you create solutions that make them obsolete.