In South Africa, one company has taken hydroponics to a new level. Its groundbreaking new vertical hydroponic system – Hydroclimaponics – facilitates control of the micro-environment of each individual plant’s carbon dioxide, temperature and humidity to deliver enhanced productivity.
By CHRISTINE BROWN-PAUL
One of the world’s foremost events in agriculture, agricultural Industry, environment, innovation, harvesting, organic agriculture and farming practices—the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA)—was held last year held at the International Convention Centre in Durban, South Africa. Among the exhibitors was Eden Green Hydroponics, which took the opportunity to showcase its innovative new vertical hydroponics system, Hydroclimaponics™—defined as a blending of hydroponics with microclimate control.
“We have applied for a trademark on the concept, which we call Hydroclimaponics. This is a method of utilising a highly efficient, environmentally friendly and economical production facility, which comprises of an automated, closed loop, vertical dual-piping system for growing pristine plants,” said Richard Venn, CEO of Timolux (Pty) Ltd, a company that holds the first and original patent of the growing system. Richard is also CEO Asia and International Investor relations for Eden Green, the holding company, which plans to implement the system worldwide.
Other principals in Eden Green include Jacques van Buuren, inventor and Chairman; his brother, Eugene van Buuren, inventor and Technical Director; Gerhard Ehlers, COO and; Theo Cilliers, CEO Netherlands.
So how does the system work?
Vertical hydroponic systems are not new, however, the van Buuren brothers and Gerhard Ehlers have introduced a provisionally patented air circulation system into the growing tubes, which in effect acts as a tailored air conditioner for each plant.
Tiny jets of air circulate continuously across the leaves of each plant, providing them with the optimum airflow and humidity for transpiration and rapid growth. Traditional greenhouse systems require the entire volume of greenhouse air to be managed, which is energy intensive and expensive. With the Eden Green system, climate control takes place directly at the micro or plant level, significantly reducing these costs. Many other input costs are either eliminated or reduced using the system.
The process involves setting up a vertical stack system through which nutrients are piped to individual plantings. The computerised system is able to monitor temperature, humidity and nutrient levels.
“The plants are able to grow faster because they get the exact nutrients they need. Using this process, a plant grows in four to five weeks, depending on the temperatures and the seasons. During winter, growing time is longer than during summer,” Jacques said.
“The system is fully automated and reads the environment inside the greenhouse,” said Jacques who has spent more than 10,000 hours studying and developing the system to suit different plants.
Richard Venn says that there are many key differences between the Hydroclimaponics system and other vertical growing systems on the market and that the system offers unique features.
“Hydroclimaponics is the art and science of getting all the elements required for growth in concert together with a complete macro and micro system that delivers all necessary elements to the plant as and when the plant needs it,” Richard said.
“We seek to manage the environment, continuously monitoring critical factors and automatically anticipating and meeting the plant’s needs such as fertigation, humidity, temperature control, pathogen control, etc.
“Our risk management approach includes designing and engineering to exceed worst-case scenarios,” he said.
“We segregate critical elements to manage the potential for contagion, and utilise advanced methods to remedy any adverse influence.
“With the rapid growth rate, crops can be replaced with little impact on the production,” Richard said.
Key features of the Eden Green system include:
• High yield per square metre.
• Carbon neutral footprint.
• Uses less than 5% of the water used in traditional farming.
• Uses a fraction of the overall energy of traditional farming.
• Far less greenhouse gases than land-based farms because of shortened shipping cycle.
• Virtually eliminates environmental damage from chemical run-off caused by traditional outdoor farming methods.
• Can produce a crop in less than five weeks and produce it consistently year round.
• Uses virtually no chemicals or pesticides.
• Controls the micro-environment of each plant.
• Can grow a wide variety of crops including leafy vegetables, flowers, herbs, and some berries.
Richard said that after looking at various companies around the world involved in hydroponics, he found that most companies make use of traditional NFT systems with improvements to fully automate the systems to reduce human handling, with a subsequent reduction in labour costs.
“A number of new development companies use rotational/mechanical systems either in a frame or cylindrical form. The only other competitive vertical pipe design and format, is used by a company in America, which has similar standalone vertical units, but utilise greater physical spacing, are manual in operation, and appear to generate lower yields,” Richard said.
“Eden Green’s unique vertical pipe technology is lower in capital cost, mechanically simpler to install and operate, has lower running costs, and yields are considerably higher.”
According to Richard, future improvements are already in development.
Challenges and benefits
Getting the Hydroclimaponics system to its present state has not been without its challenges.
“It has taken six years to develop through trials, redesigning the pipes and finding solutions to root-zone cooling,” Richard said.
“The entire system might seem like just another pipe, however, there are approximately 85 different components and elements used to get to the optimum solution—this is the art and science of getting all the elements required for growth in concert and keeping the plant in the optimum state of happiness.
“The uniqueness of Hydroclimaponics lies in the monitoring, controlling and enhancing the micro-environment of each plant within a controlled macro-environment that is herbicide and pesticide free,” he said.
“Hydroclimaponics is designed to be robust to provide intensive production at low cost in virtually any environment. It uses a supply of re-circulated, nutrient-rich, UV-filtered water that is continuously temperature controlled as a growing medium to the roots of the plant.
“Hydroclimaponics adjusts the micro environment around each individual plant automatically according to pre-set parameters for optimum humidity, temperature, CO2 and a number of other elements,” Richard said.
“In the Hydroclimaponics technology one can plant over 4,000 plants a day. The system is 600 square metres with 10,000 plants of which you harvest 10 times in a year. The system needs very little water, less than 2,000 litres of water in a month. The plants take a minimum of a month for you to start harvesting.
“Plants grown through this Hydroclimaponics method to our standards are branded Eden Pristine as it achieves optimal nutritional values, longer shelf life and flavoursome taste,” he said.
Growing yields and costs
Jacques van Buuren says that plants thrive on stability and by giving them a programmed, consistent growing environment, yields are dramatically increased.
Under conventional farming, a typical annual yield will be approximately 45 plants per square metre. Standard hydroponic systems will increase this to about 240. According to Mr van Buuren, the Eden Green system will ramp the yield up to 700.
“Typical water use under conventional farming is around 50L per kg of vegetables produced. A hydroponic system will reduce water usage to 8-12L; the Eden Green system uses just 5L,” he said.
Eden Green growing yields and costs:
• Plants at growth spacing of 25cm apart, 3m high in a 520m² facility.
• Current greenhouse can house 43 512 plants in one cycle
• Yield per m² is 87 plants per cycle
• Yield per m² is 701 saleable plants per year
• Total cost per plant (nutrients, seedlings, power etc): $0.23 per plant.
Comparative Yields – Sky Green Singapore:
• A 3m high A-frame would hold approximately nine grow trays. According to Richard Venn, if such a system were installed in the same area as Eden Green’s (520m²), it would fit 13 A-frames in total.
• Total number of plants = 21,996
• Yield per m² based on 520m² area = 42
Comparative yields using NFT system (used by most competitors):
• In similar space of 520m², NFT will be 32 grow sections, 40m long, each 40cm wide. Each growth section holds 160 plants.
• Total number of plants = 5,120
• Yield per m2 based on 520m² area = 10
“Essentially, our technology produces higher yields at a lower capital cost,” Richard said.
According to Jacques van Buuren, Hydroclimaponics is especially suited for growing leafy vegetables, herbs, flowers and medicinal plants.
Richard says that Eden Green Hydroponics has a worldwide implementation and rollout plan in place for growers, produce retailers and wholesalers, and investors.
“We are in the process of rolling out a number of production units worldwide that produce for retailers and wholesalers. Currently, we are already supplying to a similar retailer,” he said.
“Eden Green has also concluded licence and agent agreements for various countries and regions in the world that allows partners to promote our Hydroclimaponics in that market.
“We are interested in discussing potential joint venture opportunities for downstream processing of our produce in juicing, pestos and other applications, and we are also in the process of launching a home system as well as one that will be suitable for smaller community or retail applications such as rooftop gardens, restaurants, household greenhouses and office parks.”
According to the United Nations (UN), the world’s population is set to increase from its current 7.2 billion to an estimated 9.6 billion by 2050. With food security now and into the future top of the agenda for most countries, the Eden Green system would seem well placed to contribute towards global food security.
(Eden Green Hydroponics has produced several YouTube videos that explain various aspects of the Hydroclimaponics system.)
About the author
Christine Brown-Paul is a Sydney-based journalist and a regular contributor to PH&G, with a special interest in the environment and sustainable technology.
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June 2016 / Issue 168