Saturday, September 08, 2012

Urban Farming Takes Off in Taiwan: Plant Factories

Commonwealth Magazine has an interesting article on a growing trend in Taiwan: plant factories in urban areas:
Chang has cleared out pricey commercial space to raise vegetables and is using the plant factories to "add value" to the property. He is also using the food shortage to test a new commercial model.

A wave of corporations is currently panning for gold among the leafy greens, by cultivating green enterprises driven by food production. Such high-profile brands as IBM and Toyota are getting in on the game of plant factories.

Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Ltd. chairman Terry Gou, Delta Electronics Inc. honorary chairman Bruce Cheng, Kinpo Group chairman Rock Hsu, Lite-On Technology Corp. chairman K.Y. Sung and Everlight Electronics chairman Robert Yeh have all separately taken the plunge into agricultural enterprises.
Food prices in Taiwan have risen so much that it is now profitable to turn valuable urban space into basement vegetable farms. According to the article, the motives are manifold -- margins are higher than in the tech industry, and the farms use all sorts of computer controlled automation and environmental management equipment, a product market Taiwanese firms want to jump into. As one exec quoted in the article notes "What other country has LED, IT and agricultural technologies all at once?"

The article also says that plant factories have other positive effects. Because they are stacked, yields per unit of land are much higher than for farmland. Water use is much lower. Located right in urban areas, transport costs and spoilage are also far lower. Moreover, plants that cannot be grown locally may be produced in a plant factory. Finally, because such plants are stacked, they are scalable -- they can be adjusted to the available space, from a giant basement to a refrigerator sized product for in-home gardening.

An article from Taiwan Today last year discussed the developing industry:
In addition, he said, as plant factories are more highly controlled environments than greenhouses, resources that fuel plant growth can be utilized more efficiently. “For example, extra water in a typical greenhouse or field just overflows to drains or evaporates, but in a plant factory, condensed water is eventually captured in air conditioners and reused on plants,” he said. “Therefore, the amount of irrigation water required is only about 2 percent of that needed in open-field farming.”

Despite all these advantages, in Taiwan this new way of farming is developing slowly and sporadically, on a small scale, due to higher initial equipment investment, Fang said. Other concerns include higher energy costs, inadequately developed cultivation technology, a limited range of crops and blander-tasting vegetables than those grown by more traditional methods.
In the past, such operations used high pressure sodium lights, which meant that they had to be (expensively) air conditioned. However, the rise of cool LEDs has revolutionized the potential of the industry. LED manufacturers are thus leading the way in this industry, since artificial light is a key requirement. The Taiwan Today article also noted that Taiwan's East Asian neighbors are also eyeing the industry, with such factories already in operation in Japan and China. ITRI in Taiwan has formed an industrial association to develop the industry in Taiwan.
Daily Links:
From China Reform Monitor:
Russian military news agency Interfax-AVN has reported a series of Chinese military procurements from Russian arms manufacturers. Last month Russian state weapons exporter Rosoboronexport agreed to supply China with 55 Mil Mi-171E multirole transport helicopters and a large shipment of aircraft engines. China and Russia are also in contract talks over the new Russian Sukhoi Su-35 multirole fighter aircraft and Russia’s new S-400 “Triumph” surface-to-air missile system, which Interfax-AVN “could be signed in the foreseeable future.”
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Okami said...

There's so much wrong with this that it's really hard to begin. As a climate change believer, it astounds me you haven't thought all this through.

Michael Turton said...

Why yes, but I suspect that it will happen as an economic necessity once climate change destroys our current climate in a couple of decades. One of the consequences of humans heating the earth is just this kind of stupid shit.