This project is a collaboration between Smart Farmers BV, developer of installations for vertical farming and aquaponics (growing plants and aquatic animals on water), Aquafin NV, which is responsible for the purification of household wastewater, and Rackunits, an IT specialist with a focus on the development of new data-driven applications.
Together, we went looking for possible synergies between technological urban agriculture and urban waste flows. Various social and technological evolutions are bringing food production closer to the consumer again. At the same time, there is an urgent need for a sustainable solution to the ever-growing water stress, for example in the garden and agricultural sector.
This project consisted of two work packages. On the one hand, we investigated the possibility of linking aquaponics and vertical farming to the process flows of a b. This was done on the basis of a feasibility study into the reuse of purified wastewater in a vertical farm with fish farming.
On the other hand, the focus was on research into 'big data' for aquaponics and vertical farming. After all, integrated and controlled fish farming and plant cultivation require technology: measurement and control in such installations are complex and of great operational importance. The data collected can provide more control, profitability and a more sustainable management of raw materials in the sector.
Smart Farmers BVBA
PartnersAquafin, UGent, aPart vzw, Cera CVBA, Stad Gent
We created a digital dashboard for measuring, collecting and visualising 15 different parameters for vertical farming and aquaponics. This provides large quantities of data which can lead to better control, profitability and sustainability.
We further developed the digital dashboard into a real commercial product in the form of a console with measuring sensors and communication hardware, which can be used in vertical farms, fish farming, hydroponics or aquaponics.
The use of purified waste water in a vertical farm gave excellent results: plants and fish experienced little or no nuisance. Based on the principle of preventive food safety, we developed a protocol for future installations.
We succeeded in reusing struvite, a residual fraction that is released in the purification of, among other things, urban wastewater, in an aquaponics installation. This fraction is rich in magnesium, ammonium and phosphorus and can be used as a slow-soluble plant fertiliser.
MOST IMPORTANT LESSONS LEARNED
The positive results from this project will help to overcome existing reservations about the reuse of treated urban wastewater for agricultural purposes.
We investigated the possibility of a cooperative city farm on the Aquafin site in Ghent and developed a business plan, but the uncertainty about the use of the site prevented further developments. However, the preparations can be used for a similar project on another site.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
The data collected via the digital dashboard can be used in a follow-up project and provide predictive models for crop yields, pricing, etc. In time, we also hope to export our model to other cities, both at home and abroad. We also want to develop a procedure to realise a social earning model for urban farming based on local premises.