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Student's 'floating farm' could help prevent future food crisis

Leila Clarke and her floating farm

How a full-scale version of Leilah's floating farm would look

Scientists are predicting a rise in sea levels of up to two metres by the next century. Coupled with a doubling of the world’s population, it seems that we’re heading for an acute shortage of space to grow enough food.

Unless, that is, Leilah Clarke’s invention of a ‘floating farm’ takes off.

Using the simple principles of condensation, the University of Sussex product design student has created environmentally friendly sea rafts with a self-watering system for plants.

Leilah, who initially began studying engineering before switching to product design, said:  “It was one of those ideas that evolved over time.

“I moved to the coast from Brixton five years ago, and I was thinking about how you could set up a raft to live on out at sea. The first thing I thought about was how you would produce food – apart from what you could catch in the sea.”

Inspired by a project in Italy called Nemo’s Garden, in which plants are grown in domes ten metres under the water, Leilah designed a doughnut-shaped fibreglass raft fitted with a clear acrylic dome.

When set afloat on the sea, water vapour rises through the middle of the raft and condenses as fresh water on the inside of the dome. The water then trickles down the sides to hydrate crops growing in containers around the circumference.

Because of the natural desalination process, there’s no need for pumps or filtration systems. This also means that as the weather gets hotter, more water evaporates, therefore reducing the risk of the plants dehydrating.

And to prevent the raft tipping over in stormy weather and choppy seas, it’s designed in two sections – an inner and an outer ring – to give it stability.

Using small prototypes, Leilah, a keen gardener, has already experimented with different crops.

“At the moment chard is a good one to grow because you can harvest off it quite a lot,” she says. “Also spinach and leafy greens, things you can harvest over time.  And now I’m looking at radishes because they are really quick. You could grow up to 400 radishes in a month.”

Like windfarms, her floating farms could be set up out at sea on a large scale. “All the materials that I have chosen won’t bleach or leak into the sea and cause any harm,” she says. “And because it’s mostly fibreglass it’s easy to fix.”

They could also be used as towing gardens for ocean-going vessels to provide freshly grown food for passengers. And, with some adaptations, set afloat on fresh water rivers and lakes.

The next stage for Leilah, who graduates this summer, is to find a company to invest in the product.  “I really think this could be the future for farming,” she says.

 

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By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Thursday, 31 May 2018

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