Phyto Tech

Evolving from the old CEA to the new CEE paradigm

For the growing of crops, Agri POD has a similar utility for a variety of end-users, who are vertical farmers, urban & rual organic and permaculture farmers and sheltered aquaponic, hydroponic and aquaculture growers. All need a growing solution that is capable of protecting the crop from seasonal heat & cold and now the more extreme Climate Change challenges. This is done with the "greenhouse" of today but that technology is powered by mechanical systems with high energy consumption. The best of high-tech greenhouses have been called “controlled environment” or “climate controlled” systems, where automation and computerized control is necessary to regulate the mechanical systems to reduce the high energy cost with a greater degree of responsiveness to the hourly changes, to save energy and improve crop yield.

Since the advent of the "Space Age" the state-of-art has undergone a further evolution that has the "closed environment" capability that industry standards have called "Controlled Environment Agriculture” (CEA). However, there remain serious problems with the state of development of CEA, which centers on the high operational cost and lack of effective control of humidity by the mechanical cooling, air-conditioning and heating systems, when using a greenhouse or “glasshouse” structure with today’s glazing technology. As with greenhouse operations, that close down seasonally because of the control systems are not provided for peak heating and/or cooling loads, so too the more advanced CEA, revert to open ventillated environments because of the intensity of overheating and humitidy builld up that is beyond the capacity of the equipment. One of the most advanced of these CEA innovation projects, that was implemented with the support of the Dutch government, was the Innogrow CEA operation that used advanced heat pump systems for attempted seasonal storage of heating and cooling energy. This project fell into bankruptcy in 20010, and in general the CEA type of greenhouse operation is not a “closed enviroment” and will have losses of more than 60% of the CO 2 enriched atmosphere and generally no recovery of plant transpired water.

Because of this failure to perform CEA has largely shifted development towards the “food factory” concept of controlled environment within a warehouse structure with opaque, insulated walls and roof. This allows mechanical systems to be sized for a lesser and more constant demand for cooling. Today’s super efficient LED lighting has created a new CEA product of the old paradigm. The technical solution of CEA is the application of mechanical and synthetic processes, now including lamp energy as synthetic light all of which is dependent on Fossil Energy. The fatal flaw of this CEA is that, while the energy use is efficient and zero carbon at the point of production, the electriciy require to grow this food has a very high carbon penalty. In a world where an essential resource, food, becomes dependent on high-grade energy having high-GHG emissions is unsustainable. Then we can understand that the predictions that this is the solution for the food crisis that is upon us now is a non-starter. Such hype is similar to the lack of clear thinking surrounding the energy and water crisis that will compound the coming food emergency.

Many projects, that are actually focued on high income pharmacological (Cannabis) make claims of good intentions to feed the world but that would be possible for only the few on the comfortable side of the hunger and poverty gap that is constantly widening. We must all reach for a much more universal solutions that can reach everyone, everywhere and empower all families and communities to live with an abundance of the FEW essentials: Food+Energy+Water - that is, FEW 4 All.

This new paradigm to feed the world is the “Closed Ecological Environment”, called Closed Ecological Life Support Systems by NASA; the CEE paradigm achieves an even higher standard of "environmental control" but goes to a deeper level of engaging living systems with natural and biomimicry solutions that are are not focused on man-made, synthetic resources, but on the natural, regenerative resources created by living, whole ecological systems. The CEE paradigm accomplishes true Closed Atmosphere operations with CO 2 enrichment in full sunlight conditions within the Sola Roof structure. The abundance of these CEE systems exceeds that the best high-tech CEA and can include the use of the advanced technologies of the old paradigm that have a fit and are combined with the next generation of CEE. The outcomes, as would be expected with a paradigm shift, free the people from the limitations of the old “scarcity problem” with the outcome of Food+Energy+Water abundance unconstrained by the scarcity of inputs that must be consumed to drive the old CEA (and conventional agriculture). These FEW essential resources are actually created in surplus as the CEE operates, that is we have a surplus of Biofuels that are constantly regenerated (as is abundant water) in quantities that are shocking and unexpected when held in contrast to the extreme state of social/economic crisis and visible helplessness now evident among those in authority and leadership, who live and breath the old paradigms of scarcity.

Plant growing systems apply Vertical Farming concepts:

5 Kingdoms of Life are integrated to create "Closed Ecological Environment" systems:

  1. Algae for natural nutrients and oil for Biofuel
  2. Bacteria for composting and AD producing Bio Gas
  3. Mushrooms for conversion of fibre to food
  4. Plants for nutritious food and pure transpired water
  5. Animals, especially aquaculture systems for protein

The Algae is produced continuously by the Mass Algae Culture system is integrated for maximum PAR biomass:

The Sola Roof method is to provide a reservoir at ground level (a tank or below ground cistern) of an appropriate volume in relation to the roof area and we circulate the liquid (water with nutrients and algae) to the Sola Roof, where it flows over the surface area of the roof as a thin film. This thin film will not absorb so much of the solar thermal energy because it flows over a thin, flexible and transparent roof membrane, but the flowing liquid can carry the algae to the roof (the algae are free floating in the liquid) where the algae are well exposed to sunlight for a few seconds and absorb the PAR radiation. Algae that are in ponds are not exposed to the PAR, except when natural motion brings them within a few cm of the surface of the pond. This is a slow process and accounts for the lack of productivity of the natural pond. The Sola Roof design overcomes this problem by using a low energy circulation system that conducts the algae to the Sola Roof, which is designed to give a maximum but brief exposure of all the algae to the PAR (Photosynthesis Active Radiation) and the algae have a cellular mechanism to absorb sufficient radiant energy to use for several generations of cellular division (multiplication) which is the special Phytomechanism (growth mechanism) of algae. Therefore I call this algae biomass culture system "Phyto Technology" or Phyto Tech at the Wiki.

The algae that have been exposed to the sun while flowing over the roof will drain with the liquid (by gravity) back to the reservoir where the multiplication will continue even though the algae are not in the sun - this is called the "bloom". Thus the biomass bloom forms in the tank, which can be of sufficient volume, but is supported on the ground or in the ground, so that the weight of the tank is not a problem. The tank construction is easy to integrate with the space available in the residential building because it is fundamentally different than a "pond" concept. I have used a tower tank that takes a small floor area but the tank has a height that reaches up to the roof level. Therefore there is almost no "lift" pressure for the circulation pump. This is a very good application of PV electric energy to grow the biomass and the load is perfectly balanced with daytime solar PV generation, meaning that no electrical battery storage is required. To control the overheating tendency of the circulating liquid it is possible to pipe the liquid through some in-ground loops of flexible pipe for thermal exchange as the liquid is conducted to the roof. Other liquid to liquid thermal exchange is also easy to achieve and is very effective. The liquid flow path can be controlled and switched to obtain the proper control of the liquid temperature. It is important to note that a cool liquid results in maximum growth because the warm liquid will not absorb CO 2 and will therefore limit the growth and bloom of the algae. The circulation pump is a centrifugal type that can also harvest the algae from the flow - before it is sent to the Sola Roof. The pump skims off the algae in a process similar to the separation of cream from milk. The fat cells are lighter, as are algae and therefore they can be separated. Enough algae remain in the flow to be the "seed" generation and continue on to the Sola Roof to gain exposure to the sun while flowing over the transparent roof cover.

As for the solar powered pumping - especial where we can avoid the need for "grid power" - that is very important. It is also very important for the Bubble Tech process (which requires a double layer Sola Roof envelope) to have a fail safe emergency power system. Ultimately our energy system is based on Photosynthesis not Photovoltaics and we use plants and algae - not man-made technology - to convert sunlight to biomass and then with Bio Digester systems we generate Bio Gas and also have the Oil From Algae for Bio Fuel.