A system made from recycled waste represents a solution for producing food without consuming land, energy and fresh water.
Jellyfish barge is a project developed by the PNAT, a spin-off of the University of Florence, led by director of LINV (Laboratorio internazionale di neurobiologia vegetale) Stefano Mancuso. PNAT is the first Italian think tank merging design, science and biology to provide technological and creative solutions to the main sustainability concerns: when the planet’s resources are limited, how to ensure food security, access to water and how to guarantee the resilience of communities to environmental changes?
A rising sustainability issue
According to the World Bank, the world population will grow to almost 10 billion in the next four decades. By 2050, the global demand for food is expected to be 60-70% higher than today. Scarcity of water and cultivable land are the main obstacles to meet the quantitative and qualitative expectations. In most cases, potentially arable land is not necessary located next to the regions with high population growth rates, such as North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. As a matter of fact, agriculture relies on water resources. Nowadays, in many parts of the world, like India, Pakistan and Southern Spain, water for agricultural purposes is provided by unsustainable methods such as over-extraction from underground reservoirs.
The scarcity of arable land and fresh water for agriculture is being exacerbated by changes in the climate, exposing many areas to increased risks and hence make them even more vulnerable to the problem of water and food security. For example, the rising sea level starts flooding areas of fertile land with salt water. This phenomenon has already begun to occur with alarming frequency all over the Bay of Bengal.
In competition with 150 start-ups coming from 25 different countries, Jellyfish Barge was finalist of the UNECE Ideas for Change Award, and ranked second, after the Sicilian “Orange fiber” start-up.
Jellyfish Barge offers eco-friendly solutions
Aiming at tackling these challenges, Jellyfish Barge is a module for crop cultivation that doesn’t rely on soil, fresh water and chemical energy consumption. Jellyfish Barge is a floating agricultural greenhouse, able to purify salt, brackish or polluted water using solar energy. This octagonal island is built with low-cost technologies and simple materials, easy to set up. It consists of a wooden base of about 70 square meters that floats on recycled plastic drums and supports a glass greenhouse for crop cultivation.
At the heart of the greenhouse, a high-efficiency hydroponic cultivation method provides up to 70% of water savings compared to traditional hydroponic systems. The Jellyfish Barge has an innovative automated system with remote monitoring and control. Required water is supplied by seven solar desalination units arranged around the perimeter that are able to produce up to 150 liters per day of fresh water, clean from salt, brackish, or pollution. This system is based on natural phenomenon: solar distillation. The sun’s energy evaporates seawater, which creates clouds then releasing this water as rain.
Inspired by nature, Jellyfish Barge replicates this phenomenon on a smaller scale, sucking in moist air and forcing it to condense within the drums cooled down by the sea. Still the barge needs some energy to power fans and pumps, once again provided by Mother Nature: solar panels, mini wind turbines and waves energy.
On the report of the FAO, long-term successful strategies for agricultural development depend on both technological innovation and the ability of small farmers to be economic agents. Following this idea, Jellyfish barge was designed relatively small in size, capable of supporting two families, and is thus easy to build even in difficult conditions. As well as a single element is completely autonomous, various flanked barges can also create a stronger and more resilient organism.
Media release from the PNAT
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, UNECE Ideas for Change Award