Edison Smiles at Vertical Farming

The idea of farming is being re-imagined, no longer a horizontal area of land, but a vertical affair instead, stretching up into the air. Could this be a way to introduce farming into the urban environment and put people back in touch with where their food originates?

Vertical plant growth can be through hydroponics [where roots are immersed in a pool of water and nutrients], or aeroponics [where roots are misted with water and nutrients]. Artificial lighting is used to provide the “solar” input. But no soil is needed.

A look at the benefits of controlled growth vertical farms:

  • Year-round production
  • No need for pesticides
  • Weatherproof against harsh weather/temperatures
  • Water conservation-may be up to 70% savings in use
  • Less spoilage
  • Food sold locally in urban areas requires little transportation costs/emissions
  • Requires less space than traditional horizontal farms
  • Urban farms can make use of old abandoned factory buildings
  • Creates local jobs and industries for expanded tax base.

Some downsides:

  • Not all crops can be grown this way- would still need to use traditional farming
  • Artificial lighting can be energy intensive, leading to energy emissions, and higher food costs.

Are we likely to see a massive shift to vertical farming? It’s probably too early to know for sure, but some interesting trends are happening. Consider, at Sky Greens in Singapore, one ton of greens is produced each day using vertical farm techniques.

Sky Greens is a single-story vertical farm.

Sky Greens is a single-story vertical farm.

Give it a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0X8E7MmeYL4.

Newark, NJ, based Aerofarms operates several farms. Its global headquarters hosts a 70,000 square foot vertical farm, [the largest in the world] capable of harvesting 2 million pounds of produce every year. Check it out at http://www.businessinsider.com/photos-of-aerofarms-the-worlds-largest-vertical-farm-in-newark-2016-2.

A rendering of Aerofarms' new facility, the world's largest vertical farm—built on an old manufacturing site.

A rendering of Aerofarms’ new facility, the world’s largest vertical farm—built on an old manufacturing site.

Even though vertically grown leafy vegetables are a bit more expensive, consumers like the freshness and locally grown nature of it all. Costs are not prohibitive and likely to improve with time and technological advances. Keeping those artificial lighting energy costs down is a challenge that needs to be addressed.

In his later years, Edison was growing large crops of special plant varieties in Florida in an attempt to find a substitute for natural rubber. If successful, he would have established large farms in Georgia and Florida dedicated to growing the plants. Certainly, farming technology would have interested him.

Thomas Edison said, “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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How Old are Successful Tech Entrepreneurs?

How Old are Successful Tech Entrepreneurs?Read the popular press and you conclude that successful entrepreneurship is the domain of the young, what with the personalities we see so prominently in the news regarding high tech, and information based companies. Folks tend to think youth is favored for really great ideas and innovations.

Consider….would investors bet their money on high–energy youthful entrepreneurs over the older “silverbacks” with lots of hard-knocks experience….thus missing out on some great potential opportunities? Might older entrepreneurs be too ingrained in the status quo as opposed to younger folks who have little to tie them down to what already exists, and thus are better potential “disruptors” that can laser focus on the new business?

A recent study that involved researchers from the U.S. Census Bureau and MIT has developed some interesting facts about entrepreneurship. In a nutshell, the researchers concluded:

  • The best entrepreneurs tend to be middle-aged.
  • Among the very fastest-growing new tech companies, the average founder was 45 at the time of founding.
  • A given 50-year-old entrepreneur is nearly twice as likely to have a runaway success as a 30-year-old.

Work done at the Kellogg School seems commensurate with these findings. Basically, the longer you have been around, the better your chances of success.

Industry disruption does not have to come from outsiders. Silverbacks with loads of experience and market savvy can make a big difference.

How Old are Successful Tech Entrepreneurs?

Will this change how investors fund new start-ups and older entrepreneurs? Are we going to see a shift in business investment strategies?

Edison innovated and disrupted things throughout his life, his experience and determination so highly focused on the tasks at hand; and he never let failure stand in his way. Look at these stats about his age and major accomplishments:

  • Revolutionized telegraphy – 27
  • R&D Labs concept – 29
  • Phonograph – 30
  • Light bulb – 32
  • Electric utility – 37
  • Establishes General Electric – 43
  • Movies – 46
  • Edison cement – 52
  • Storage batteries – 63
  • Spreads R&D Labs to U.S. Navy – 68
  • Artificial rubber – 80

Thomas Edison said, “If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves …”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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Edison Admires New Water-Battery Technology

Think about an energy storage device that can store intermittent solar and wind energy in the form of hydrogen gas…..a kind of manganese-hydrogen battery. This water-based battery is under prototype development at Stanford University, and if successfully scaled up, can be recycled 10,000 times for use directly on the utility grid.

Postdoctoral scholar Wei Chen holds a prototype of Stanford’s water-based battery.

Postdoctoral scholar Wei Chen holds a prototype of Stanford’s water-based battery.

Manganese sulfate, a cheap, abundant industrial salt that is used to make dry cell batteries, fertilizers, paper and other products is the secret sauce in this technology; allowing hydrogen to be formed and stored and converted back to electricity later.

The Stanford team, working under US Department of Energy funding, estimates that over the expected lifetime of the energy storage system (10 years), it would cost a penny to store enough electricity to power a 100 watt lightbulb for twelve hours.

According to DOE estimates, about 70 percent of U.S. electricity is generated by coal or natural gas plants, which account for 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. Shifting to wind and solar generation is one way to reduce those emissions but it creates new challenges involving the variability of power supply.

The Stanford team is now performing some heavy duty engineering to meet demanding grid-scale performance criteria. The palm-size prototype uses platinum as a catalyst to spur crucial chemical reactions. This material is expensive, so the team is concerned with cheaper ways to make the manganese sulfate and water combination charge and discharge correctly.

Editor’s Deep Dive

Thomas Edison said, “The world owes nothing to any man, but every man owes something to the world.”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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