Vertical Farming: Can Sunlight Be Sustainably Replaced?

by Natalie Knops

An emerging trend in agriculture, vertical farming, has been developing across the United States. Vertical farms, a new form of green urban architecture, are controlled, indoor environments that regulate lighting, nutrients and weather. These farms are typically set up in hydroponic towers that often inhabit urban buildings (Frazier, 2017). Many are optimistic about the benefits of this practice: fast production, minimization of land use, water conservation, minimization of fertilizer/agricultural run-off, and most significantly – the drastic reduction of transport emissions. Although the concept of vertical farming is increasing in popularity, some are skeptical about the drawbacks of this method due to the fact that retro-fitting buildings for indoor plant cultivation is capital-intensive and energy costs run high. Vertical farming requires specialized LED lights that generate photosynthesis. Continue reading

Global Developments in Algaculture Point Toward a Bright Future

by Gage Taylor

With the global petroleum industry currently bottoming out, algaculture, the farming of algae to convert CO2 to ethanol, has never looked more appealing. Compared to other methods of biofuel production (corn, for example), it produces more oil and doesn’t put pressure on land use. However, since the amount of oil that can actually be used from a standard ton of algae is only around 28%, it’s far from the most cost-effective method available. There’s also the additional problem of removing CO2 contaminants before the process can even begin, which is currently accomplished through a high-energy, high-cost process. However, developments in Australia and the US are working to make algaculture viable. Continue reading

Algae Produce More Biofuel When Starved of Nitrogen, But Why?

by Emil Morhardt

Algae, like all organisms, require nitrogen to produce amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, and necessary for DNA synthesis. When deprived of nitrogen, some species, such as the micro alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii studied by Valledor et al. (2014), produce more lipids (oil) than normal, presumably as a stored energy source to tide them over until nitrogen again becomes available. These lipids could become the major source of biofuel if their production can be sufficiently ramped up. Valledor et al. wanted a better understanding of what was going on at the molecular level in the nitrogen-deprived algae so that they could eventually modify the species genetically to enhance oil production. They limited nitrogen, and quantified the changes in the cellular mix of protein and metabolic products (the proteome and metabolome), looking at the levels of over 1,200 proteins, 845 of which were recognized as enzymes mediating 157 known cellular metabolic pathways, half of those known for this species. Then they reintroduced nitrogen and followed the process further. Continue reading

Aquaponics and the Active Promotion of Symbiosis in Agriculture

by Carin Ragland

On a large number of farms, land owners rent their land to farmers instead of cultivating the land themselves. Through such agreements, land ownership becomes a source of income, which is provided by the proceeds of the tenants. But in every market there is competition. In the 20th century, the seeds of rapid urban development were sown around urban hubs as the invention of commercial cars and public transit systems pushed suburbs further into the surrounding rural areas (Fainstein, 2014; Rodrigue, 2014). Owners of agricultural land now have a choice: rent their land to farmers or sell it to developers. The decision depends on the highest bidder: tenants may continue to farm the land as long as they can grow and sell enough produce to pay their landlords a sum comparable to potential profits of a land sale to developers. Continue reading