When you can’t find room on land for something, make it float. It’s a principle that’s already being applied to wind farms to portions of entire cities to golf courses and resorts aimed at restoring island economies wrecked by climate change. Entrepreneurs are already feeding the urban hunger for fresh produce with rooftop farms and stackable hydroponic farms. Creating large offshore farms, in that context, doesn’t seem so strange.
A team of students from this summer’s class at Singularity University’s graduate studies program has a vision to combine the "cheap real estate [in the ocean] with the high production of vertical farms," according to team member Oren Pinsky. The initiative is a stab at creating one of Singularity’s 10⁹+ Team Projects, which have the mission of positively affecting the lives of a billion people within 10 years.
Vertical farming, the concept of growing farms upwards instead of outwards, has gained traction in recent years as a way to efficiently feed the planet’s ever-growing population while keeping cities self-sufficient (i.e. with vertical farm skyscrapers). But land is expensive; the ocean might be cheaper.
"We want to make cheap food for people who live close to the sea," says Pinsky. The floating farms would be extensions of the city, existing solely to provide produce. Ultimately, Pinsky imagines that the farms could chase the weather, using prediction algorithms to move closer to the sun or wherever works best for crop growth.
According to Pinsky, it would cost about $3 million for a two and a half acre floating greenhouse platform featuring aquaponic technology (using fish production to generate nutrients) and aeroponic systems (spraying water with nutrients onto plant roots, reducing the use of fresh water). The team wants to build out in countries where fresh produce prices can be high because of distribution cots—places like the U.S., Israel, Singapore, and Sweden. But that won’t happen anytime soon. The team has a 3-D design, but still needs to build a prototype.
In the meantime, the Science Barge—a floating farm that’s already out on the water—can provide some inspiration.