Indoor Farms and Biofuels

An unlimited supply of electricity, water and fuel through the Scarcity Zero framework gives us opportunities to revolutionize our industrial and agricultural systems, allowing us to accelerate our use of agriculture within indoor farms. The produce derived from such efforts can be used for both human consumption and biofuels, and more of it can be grown at greater efficiencies than today's methods with shorter delivery times (and reduced environmental impact) on less land.[1]

These systems can be built close to areas where food is consumed, which reduces obstacles to transportation and delivery, especially within urban environments. Indoor farms can also be climate controlled and operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – dramatically increasing output and efficiency compared to traditional agricultural methods. Past obstacles to implementing them in the past stemmed primarily from material and resource costs,[2] problems that Scarcity Zero substantially reduces.

With indoor farms, as long as there is water, light and heat, the location and outside environment doesn’t matter. This allows food to be grown anywhere on the planet at any time of year, with increased yield, higher efficiency, longer growing seasons, and greater food security.

  • Indoor farm concept:

    Indoor farm concept

  • Indoor farm floor space:

    Indoor farm floor space

  • Renewable-integrated indoor farm:

    Renewable-integrated indoor farm

In these concept images of an indoor farming warehouse, water from storage tanks is mixed with an organic fertilizer made from excess plant matter grown within the warehouse itself. This water is then pumped through the facility and dispersed over plots of crops that grow under high-intensity lights. These crops would grow on modular wheeled platforms that can be easily moved, and the crops growing on them can be manually pollinated as necessary.

What water isn’t absorbed by crops drains into a collection mechanism in the floor, which sends the water to the bottom of the warehouse where it is filtered and placed back into circulation. As we see today, the construction of large warehouses at acceptable cost isn’t uncommon – take any Walmart, Target, Home Depot or other big-box retailer, for example. These buildings are huge, sometimes encompassing a square footage into the six figures. Similar structures present promising opportunities for indoor farming.

If an indoor farming warehouse had dimensions of 400' per side, that comes to a total surface area of 160,000 square feet (roughly 1/5th of the surface area of Tesla Headquarters and Boeing's Everett, WA factory).[3] Yet if the growing platforms were stacked, each subsequent layer adds that same surface area to the aggregate total and becomes a force multiplier. At five stacks, that warehouse now offers 800,000 square feet of growing space. At ten stacks, 1.6 million. At twenty stacks, 3.2 million.

A twenty-stack warehouse in this context, built within a cluster of two dozen warehouses, would boast a total growing surface of 64 million square feet. That’s nearly 1,500 acres - some 2.3 square miles. As these warehouses would operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, their aggregate output could grow large enough to provide food for large metropolitan areas – the size of which would be limited only by the size and number of indoor farm clusters.

  • Indoor farm cluster
  • Indoor farm cluster two
  • Indoor farm cluster three

Combined, these systems create a cultivation mechanism that allows produce of effectively any kind to be grown locally. And this produce would be grown under controlled conditions – that is to say, each type of crop would be grown under ideal conditions for that type of crop.

Here are some of the more remarkable benefits of indoor farming:

Total control of environment and constant operation. Since humans discovered how to farm, we’ve been limited to a growing season as determined by the local environment. Indoor farming completely bypasses this limitation, allowing us to emulate any growing conditions we wish. Moreover, indoor farms can be compartmentalized and customized to the point where we’d have total control over the temperature, humidity, light spectrum, and soil composition in any given section of warehouse. And as indoor farms operate 24/7/365, they can reflect the ideal light cycle for any plant grown. This would dramatically increase overall efficiency, as there would be no seasonal slowdowns or environmental complications.

Technology-driven pest/contaminant prevention. Pests and weeds are problems in any open environment – problems we’ve tried to solve with herbicides and pesticides of varying degrees of toxicity. As they offer total control of environmental setting, indoor farms allow us to manage the presence of weeds and pests without as much dependence on more toxic chemicals.

Waste management. Indoor farms can be designed to minimize the use of artificial fertilizers through composting. Whenever a plant dies, sheds material, or leaves behind waste after harvest, that material can be collected into a composting mechanism that can be mixed with other organic fertilizers and pumped directly into the water supply used to irrigate crops. As much of the world’s soil is facing varying degrees of contamination (such as arsenic in rice and steroids in runoff water from feed lots),[4] this method translates to healthier food.

Diversity of crops. As their components would provide ideal growing environments that are naturally pest-resistant, indoor farms can encourage greater use of heirloom crops that might not fare as well as a genetically modified variant. This allows us to cultivate a greater variety of produce and shift our focus towards growing food with higher nutritional properties, expanding organic and farm-to-table markets.

Local operation. Indoor farms can be built in close proximity to metropolitan areas, so that food is grown close to the people who consume it. This simplifies the delivery of food from production to market, saving resources and allowing for fresher produce. It can also present major improvements to how we provide food aid, as global anti-famine initiatives usually involve shipping food that’s already grown. With indoor farms, the system itself can comprise the aid, allowing stressed regions to grow their own food by themselves.

Efficiency. Retaining complete control over the growing environment leads indoor farms to have marked efficiency over traditional methods. Some indoor farms in existence today state they can grow roughly 350 times as much produce-per-acre of land, with only 1% of the associated water usage[5] - an assessment not uncommon with other competitors in this sector.[6]

Security. Supermarkets across the nation are stocked with produce that comes from different states, different countries, even different continents, and it’s hard to keep track of where everything is coming from in real time. If any food products in this supply chain become contaminated with dangerous bacteria (as has happened with lettuce and cantaloupe), our food networks are thrown into chaos until investigators can pinpoint the source of the contamination and isolate it.[7] With locally grown produce, security issues, however rarer, are automatically isolated since production environments are sealed.

Vertical farms have begun springing up across the world, including South Korea,[8] Singapore,[9] and several locations in the United States.[10]. Powered by Scarcity Zero, we would have an abundance of both electricity and water to accelerate indoor agriculture efforts to a dramatically higher tier. Not only would this enable us to effective eradicate famine anywhere in the world, we can accomplish that exact goal while also opening up myriad opportunities for agriculture dedicated to biofuels.

  • Algae Bioreactor for hydrocarbon production:

    Algae Bioractor for hydrocarbon production

  • Algae farm in Florida

    Algae farm in Florida

  • Algae farm in New Mexico

    Algae farm in New Mexico

Algae for biofuels The rising price of petroleum over the past 15 years – at least until the discovery of easier shale oil extraction – has led to a surge of investment in biofuels.[11] Biofuels are hydrocarbons that come from living plants, as opposed to oil that comes from fossilized plant remains. Even though Scarcity Zero would promote hydrogen as the nationwide fuel standard, biofuels and existing petroleum reserves can be devoted to a more appropriate purpose: advanced materials.[12]

We use oil for fuel today because it's been a historically abundant type of chemical known as a "hydrocarbon" an organic substance (usually liquid) that packs potent energy in small volumes. Hydrocarbons are often used looked to as fuel because they're excellent in this role (contributions to climate change notwithstanding), but they also serve important functions in chemical and material engineering. Most plastics and synthetic materials are born from oil, which is another less-known application of its ubiquitous presence in our lives.

But oil doesn't need to be the sole provider of hydrocarbons for materials. While we normally use corn for biofuels today,[13] hydrocarbon-producing algae can perform this role at far higher densities and outputs. They can also be tailored to produce specialized hydrocarbons that we can use for ever-more advanced materials that would be fundamentally sustainable from production to disposal, as a core function of Scarcity Zero is next-generation waste disposal (especially of plastics).

The result? A technology-provided abundance of both food and sustainably replenished ingredients for the ever-advancing materials we use in our day-to-day lives.