Observing the renewable energy transition from a European perspective

Archive for the category “agriculture”

Feeding Society in a Ever hotter and Dryer Environment

Greenhouse Technology in Kazakhstan

Greenhouses could one day be used to grow crops on the Moon or Mars. Until that moment arrives, humans can practice a little with industrial scale greenhouses that enable growing of crops in otherwise hostile environments on Earth, be it the Australian desert or the cold land climate of Kazakhstan.

BRBAPK-Kazakhstan already produced in green houses in the summer, now they can grow vegetables in the very cold winter as well and deliver the produce to their northern Siberian neighbors. The 4000 MW coal-fired power plant probably isn’t a neighbor by accident, providing the power, required to produce light and heat in the winter. The company currently has 20 hectares and aims to grow to 100 hectares in 2025.

The great advantage of greenhouses is that crops can be grown all year around. And of growing importance in the light of climate change is that you need far less water, as most water is kept inside and only leaves the greenhouse as marketable produce. Vegetables inside a greenhouse are largely exempt from the Darwinian struggle for survival, like they would have to endure outside, have little to fear from insects, snails, birds and other predators. On top of that greenhouses can be air-fertilized with industrial CO2, speeding up growth. As a consequence growth of plants can best be described as lush.

The Netherlands could face a third drought year in succession. Expanding its already huge greenhouse base (ca. 0.25% of Dutch territory) could provide the answer.

[] – Kazakh greenhouse works with Dutch knowledge and technology
[deepresource] – Growing Crops in the Australian Desert with Seawater
[Google Maps] – Location green house Kazakhstan
[] – Greenhouse
[] – Greenhouse Could Grow Food on Moon
[] – NASA designs inflatable greenhouse for farming on mars

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Videos of Agricultural Robots

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Growing Crops in the Australian Desert with Seawater

All you need to create a vegetable oasis in the middle of the desert is a pipeline to the sea, a CSP-power station and simple thermal-based desalinization installation. No need for fossil fuel or ground water extraction. It is difficult to come up with a more sustainable solution than this. In this century we don’t need oil pipelines, we need sea-water pipelines to bring life to the desert.

Sundrop Farms is a developer, owner and operator of high tech greenhouse facilities which grow crops using methods which reduce reliance on finite natural resources when compared to conventional greenhouse production. Sundrop Farms opened its first pilot facility in Port Augusta, South Australia, in 2010 (operating as Seawater Greenhouse Australia Pty Ltd). This facility was originally designed as a Seawater Greenhouse. However, significant technology changes led to the Sundrop System, and the dissolution of the joint venture with Seawater Greenhouse Ltd. Sundrop Farms commissioned an expanded 20 ha facility south of Port Augusta in 2016. Sundrop Farms has offices in London, UK and Adelaide, Australia. In October 2016, Sundrop Farms was operating greenhouses in Portugal, the United States and had another facility planned in Australia.

At that point [2008] Sundrop Farms was just a “two-person business”, involving now chief executive and German-born former investment banker Philipp Saumweber and Dutch civil engineer and chief technical officer Reinier Wolterbeek, and a theory of integrating solar power, electricity generation, fresh water production and hydroponics to grow crops in non-traditional conditions.

Project data:

– Officially launched in October 2016, after 6 years incubation
– Production ca. 15,000 tonnes of tomatoes/year (15% Australian market)
– Tomato plants are grown hydroponically (without soil)
– Sea water pipe: 45 cm diameter, 5 km long, flow 1,000 m3/day
– CSP plant of 23,000 mirrors for electricity (39 MW) and desalinization
– CSP tower 115 m
– Farm can operate pesticide-free
– Left-over brine is transported back to the sea
– Size greenhouse 20 hectare (200,000 m2)
– The CSP plant is Danish, the greenhouse Dutch
– Price 134 million euro

[] – Sundrop Farms project site
[] – Sundrop Farms
[] – Hydroponics
[] – These farms use sun and seawater to grow crops in the arid desert
[] – New owners for Sundrop Farms
[] – Sundrop Farms
[] – Sundrop Farms pioneering solar-powered greenhouse
[] – Nederlander kweekt 17.000 ton zoete tomaten op zeewater

Robotics in Dutch Horticulture

The Netherlands is the 2nd agricultural exporter in the world (94B), after the US (150B), a country 235 times bigger and 20 times more people. The reason why the Netherlands is so successful lies in several factors: abundant availability of water, flat land perfectly suitable for horticulture, the Netherlands are surrounded by much larger potent customers (Germany, France, UK), excellent infrastructure, making it easy to transport agricultural produce, extreme openness towards new technologies to increase production.

A large number of agricultural workers are from Eastern Europe, but that supply of competitive labor is receding, now that the economies of Eastern Europe are growing rapidly, offering many new attractive opportunities. Poles, Bulgarians and Romanians increasingly prefer to stay at home. This leaves the Dutch agricultural sector with a new problem, a problem that can be solved though… with robotics. Few economic activities are so repetitive as agricultural activities and hence suitable for automation.

Paprika harvesting

Have a cup of coffee while that driverless potato-harvester brings in tons of produce.

Automated grapes picking in Maastricht, the Netherlands.

Precision agriculture with drones. Every individual plant is analysed from above for nitrogen needs and fertilization is applied if needed on a per plant basis. Additionally soil pH-measurements are carried out for the same purpose: precision fertilization to optimize the yield of a given piece of land.

[source] The Netherlands are not that far behind the US. Secret of success: technology.

First map the fields from the air, next fertilize and/or weed control with a 2 cm precision, all automatic, without human intervention.

[] – Top 10 agricultural exporters
[] – Nederlandse export landbouwproducten in 2019 €94,5 miljard

An important key to the Dutch agricultural success are the large amounts of industrial CO2 that is injected in the greenhouses to enhance growth. CO2 = plant fertilizer.

Philips LED-light replacing the sun in the winter, providing a 365 day/year growing season.

Solar Agriculture

Raspberries and red berries are forest fruits, need relatively little light, can be grown under plastic foil but also under solar panels, providing a dual economic function to the same soil: fruit and energy harvesting.

[] – Himbeeren unter Solarmodulen statt unter Folientunneln
[Google Maps] – Babberich, Emmerichseweg

Dutch Agricultural Success Knowledge-based

Stanford, that’s Silicon Valley.
Wageningen, that’s Food Valley.

[] – Food Valley

Sustainable Farming

Sustainable farming in Odoorn, Drenthe, Netherlands. 1050 solar panels produce 240,000 kWh/year. 33% for own use, rest sold. Energy is stored in 6m container-sized battery of 294 kWh capacity. Farm of 100 hectares. Crop: potatoes and malting barley. Tractor and irrigation-machine operate autonomous, controlled by GPS. Busy building a solar park on his terrain. Future goals: robotics and precision farming.

[] – Company site

Airborn Solar Panels

“Liftoff, we have a liftoff!”. Europe, one of those territories eagerly absorbing photo-voltaic energy generation, has a little bit of a space problem, being one of the most densely-populated areas in the world. A field covered with solar panels unfortunately can’t be used for agriculture. Or can it? The Fraunhofer Institute has found out that it is very well possible to use land for both agriculture and energy generation by stacking both functionalities.

Upshot agricultural yield: corn slightly negative, but grass and shadow-loving potatoes make no difference.

Influence partly shadowing on different crops

[] – Agrivoltaic
[] – Agrophotovoltaics Goes Global: from Chile to Vietnam
[] – 20 slides Fraunhofer Institute
[] – Fraunhofer Experiments In Chile And Vietnam Prove Value Of Agrophotovoltaic Farming
[] – Combining Solar Panels With Agriculture Makes Land More Productive

Asparagus Robot

The video claims this is the world’s first automatic asparagus harvesting robot, developed in Heeze, the Netherlands. It takes 60-75 pair of hands to harvest a field of 40 Hectare. The machine is projected to harvest 1 ha in 1 hour.

In the Netherlands the work is often done by Poles or Romanians. This practice could soon be history. Perhaps the future unemployed from Eastern-Europe use their knowledge to begin asparagus farming at home.

[] – Aspergerobot stuurt steker straks naar huis

“Chrissie” can do 1 ha in 8 hours:

Asparagus harvesting the old way:

Vertical Farming Taking Off


Vertical farming is the practice of producing food in vertically stacked layers, such as in a skyscraper, used warehouse, or shipping container. The modern ideas of vertical farming use indoor farming techniques and controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) technology, where all environmental factors can be controlled. These facilities utilize artificial control of light, environmental control (humidity, temperature, gases…) and fertigation. Some vertical farms use techniques similar to greenhouses, where natural sunlight can be augmented with artificial lighting and metal reflectors

The concepts was pioneered first in 2014, with Vertical Fresh Farms operating in Buffalo, NY/USA, specializing in a wide variety of salad greens, herbs, and sprouts.

Vertical Fresh Farms has been farming commercially on a small scale in Buffalo, New York for a few years, but a larger scale commercial facility is currently under construction in the Netherlands. Fruit and vegetables supplier Staay Food Group is erecting a 900 square meter vertical farm, which will have a total cultivation area of 30,000 square meters.

[] – Vertical Farming Is Taking Off: Europe’s First Commercial Vertical Farm Under Construction In The Netherlands
[] – Vertical farming
[] – Grootste commerciële stadskwekerij van Europa in Dronten

LED-Lights in Greenhouses

Passengers approaching Amsterdam Airport from the SSW at night will observe an orange glow over a large area, originating from greenhouses in the Westland area, SW of The Hague. This is going to change though as growers replace conventional lighting with pink-colored LEDs. The energy bill can be halved with this measure.

[] – Tuinder Westland gaat over op knalroze led-lampen
[] – Met LED-verlichting energieverbruik glastuinbouw halveren

Growing Potatoes in the City

If you are living in the city and have a garden terrace or balcony only, you still can grow your own potatoes. The trick is to grow them in stories and as such multiply the limited space available.

In many countries, like the US, you can’t use your front yard for vegetable growing for aesthetic reasons. But there is work-around for that. The complete growth cycle varies between 90-150 days. First of all it takes perhaps 30 days for the potato to grow into a little plant like in the video above and are ready to be put in the bag. Eventually you need ca 1 m2 for a bag, but only if the plants are fully grown. Before that you place them on your terrace close up against each other. By the time you can’t see the plastic anymore you can move the bags to your front yard, for “decorative purposes”, wink wink nudge nudge.

aardappeleters-van-goghAardappeleters (Potatoe Eaters) – Vincent van Gogh (1885). The painting shows the simple life for peasant people in the village of Nuenen near Eindhoven. Van Gogh lived here for two years and was born in Zundert, also located in the Noord-Brabant province. Six years later Philips would be established in neighboring Eindhoven and would develop into one of the electronic giants on the planet. Take-away point: never underestimate the nutritious value of ordinary potatoes.

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Home Gardening – A Glimpse of the Future

People turning their ordinary garden in a vegetable garden. We did it as well. A freezer full with food from your own garden and powered by your own solar panels, that’s a new quality of well-begin.

Gepubliceerd op 14 dec. 2015

“I’m not a millionaire but I feel like one,” declares Gabriel Pliska. This Vancouver, B.C. urban farmer gives a tour of a residential front yard garden, including planted boxes in the boulevard strip beside the curb. Several homeowners provide him yard space and water for cultivating veggies, flowers, herbs, wildlife habitat and beauty. They receive beautifully tended gardens all year round (and some produce, too!) Gabriel harvests veggies for CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) boxes and sells the surplus at a weekly growers market. Gabriel’s “hyper-local” enterprise is achieved almost entirely on bike. We finish with images of his “guerrilla garden” on an unused railway spur, accompanied by a music track of with his own lyrics “Garden Nostalgia.” Episode 298.

Groundwater Depletion Worldwide


Two new studies show that the world’s population is consuming groundwater at a rapid pace even without knowing when it might run out. Satellite data revealed that a third of the world’s largest groundwater basins are in extreme distress. However, it is difficult to say how much water still remains in them.

  • Arabian Aquifer System the most overstressed groundwater source
  • The situation would only worsen

[] – World’s Groundwater Draining At Alarming Rate

Join the War on Lawns


Begin to prep now, avoid the rush later. Get rid of your lawn and grow your own food and store what you can’t consume immediately in the freezer. The latest three star freezers consume merely ca. 200 kWh/year, which can be generated using a single standard 165 cm * 100 cm 235 euro solar panel under grey Dutch conditions (using the grid to even out fluctuations).

Extra bonus: you can cancel that silly workout subscription as well as the ride to the gym and stop wasting physical energy there on a bike or on a treadmill. A garden will give you all the physical exercise you need.

Key figures: 1-4 kilo/m2 per harvest. Often you can harvest twice in a season. Assuming a daily need of 400 gram vegetables/fruit/potatoes, you can largely be self-sufficient with 40 m2/person.

[] – Trade Your Lawn for an Antifragile Food-generation Machine

[] – Peak Oil luminary James Howard Kunster giving the good example with his own veggie garden.

Californian Drought and the Power of the Lobby Groups

Water is getting scarce in California because of the seemingly never ending drought. Now the governor has decided that a consumption monitoring system needs to be in place to ensure that nobody uses too much. Except for the powerful farmers.

Agriculture accounts for 80 percent of the state’s water consumption, but 2 percent of the state’s economy. To spell it out a little more clearly: Under Jerry’s Brown water plan, it’s fine to use a gallon of subsidized water to grow a single almond in a desert, but if you take a shower that’s too long, prepare to be fined up to $500 per day.

Reason: agricultural lobbies have achieved that they are exempt from the restrictions and that water prices are artificially low; growers pay less than half of what city dwellers pay. If true market prices would prevail, there would not be a substantial agro-business in California, like there is none in the Libyan desert. Agriculture belongs in Iowa, not California.

[] – Drought and the Failure of Big Government in California

Almond plantation, soon history in California?

How to Make Plastic from Sugar Beets


Many peak oil doomers maintain that you can’t have an advanced society without fossil fuel. This can be debunked at least for the production of (biodegradable) plastic. Brussels intend to lift the quotum on the production of sugar beets from October 1, 2017. From then on the sky will be the limit. It is expected that European farmers will produce a lot more sugar beets, especially in the Netherlands, where currently 5% of the agricultural area is used for this purpose, but this number could grow to 14%. Purpose: plastic production. Expected investment volume for building three new processing plants in the coming 10 years: 1-3 billion euro.

[] – Hoe je van een suikerbiet plastic maakt

Planting sugar beets in Biddinghuizen, the Netherlands

Harvesting sugar beets. Seeing pictures like these it is not difficult to understand why modern Dutch agriculture only needs ca. 3% of the workforce to keep a vibrant sector going and is the 2nd largest agricultural exporter after the US, but before Germany and France.

Biodegradable plastic production from sugar beet (waste) in Italy

Urban Farming

Over 6,000 pounds of food per year, on 1/10 acre (400 m2) located just 15 minutes from downtown Los Angeles. The Dervaes family grows over 400 species of plants, 4,300 pounds of vegetable food, 900 chicken and 1,000 duck eggs, 25 lbs of honey, plus seasonal fruits throughout the year.

Editor: this is how many people in Ukraine and Russia already live and in the West soon many will live like this too. There is a life after the end of the oil age. You don’t need a nine-to-five in the cubicle, a car or a skying vacation or a trip to New Zealand or a second home. A home, 100 m2/person and a community is enough to live a free life as the Dervaes family proves.


[] – Jules Dervaes

Dessau-Roßlau Urban Gardening

140 km from Berlin, in Dessau-Roßlau, local authorities are stimulating the development of a local economy. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the city is in decline and lost more than a third of its original 100,000 inhabitants. As a consequence there is a lot of space available that nobody is interested in and the municipal authorities are unwilling/unable to maintain these empty spaces. In order to halt people from leaving Dessau, the city offers each of its citizens a piece of soil of 20m*20m, for free and for 10 years guaranteed. The idea of having gardens in a city is not new and has its origins in New York of the seventies, keyword “guerilla gardening“. This development could become big in a world of declining economy, increased unemployment and poverty, receding welfare state, sky-high fuel prices, and as a consequence with limited transportation possibilities.

[] – Urban agriculture


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