In regard with agriculture space settlements will have to deal with two issues. First of all, an independent food supply is essential for the success of any civilization. Secondly, during the early stages of the humanization of space there a shortage of labor will be quite likely. Since we cannot dispense with agriculture, at least not in the long run – as the alternative would be very expensive – space settlers will need to embrace agricultural robots full heartedly. Continue reading Agricultural robots
Food security is defined by Wikipedia as “the availability of food and one’s access to it”. Usually we speak about individuals when we talk on food security, but we can easily extend this concept to societies at large. A society enjoys food security if there is enough food available for its members, and they have access to this food.
A society has two ways to ensure that the supply of food is sufficient: by producing its own food, or by importing such food. Once enough food is available, ensuring that each member of society has access to sufficient food is the big concern. The implementation of an adequate basic income guarantee will provide everyone with the means to buy food. Hence the sole concern would be availability of sufficient amount of food.
Related to food security is the concept of food power, which is the use of food as a mean to exert power. If country A depends on the import of food from country B, the latter country can exert power on country A by denying supply if A does not meet certain conditions establish by B. These condition might be unfavourable to A, and hence this country looses sovereignty.
Space settlements has to choose between producing or importing food. If the latter option is chosen, the space settlements became vulnerable to the exertion of food power by Earth. In this way terrestrial governments might force space settlements to implement policies, which are in violation of their own preferences. If, however, the former option is chosen, a powerful weapon is denied to terrestrial governments to influence the (domestic) policies of space settlements.
If we want to implement the social reforms we desire in space settlements, such as our proposals for monetary and banking reform, it’s of great importance that these settlements have a certain degree of independence. Therefore space settlements should be able to produce their own food. In another post we will discuss how space settlements can grow food.
In a previous post we critically reviewed Elon Musk’s Mars colony plans and we mostly destroyed his idea. However, there is one good aspect to Musk’s plan. According to this article, Musk’s colony would be an all-vegetarian society. The question is, of course, why does Elon Musk want a vegetarians-only? [For the purpose of this post we will consider vegans as a subcategory of vegetarians.] Continue reading Space colonization and vegetarianism
World population is expected to grow to nine to ten billion people around 2050. And all this people need to be fed, but arable land scarce. Most land suitable land is already in use, so the challenge is obvious. One of the proposed solutions is urban vertical farming, i.e. growing crops in skyscrapers. In this post I will question whether vertical farming is actually a good idea.
The Wikipedia article on vertical farming mention several advantages of this mode of agriculture. First there is the preparation for the future argument: since there will be more people, we will need more land for agriculture and one way to do this by stacking up several layers of greenhouses. The second argument is about increased production, since indoor conditions are controlled we can produce crops all year round. Which means a multiplication of productivity with several factors. Related to this argument is the fact that indoor farming in a skyscraper will eliminate most weather related problems. Ordinary greenhouses, however do this already.
The subsequent argument mentioned is about conservation of resources, which means that by switching to vertical farming large pieces of land can be “recovered” and brought back to a more “natural” state. Also deforestation and desertification will be halted, and the need for fossil fuel powered plowing, planting and harvesting will be reduced, saving fossil fuels and reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
The next argument goes that by indoor agriculture less pesticides and the like are needed, therefore food will be healthier. The last argument I want to mention is the energy argument. The proponents argue that by employing methane digesters the farm will be able to produce some of its own power needs.
Well, its true that by using organic waste as an energy source, some reductions in external power supplies can be made. But I do not think that will be quite significant. From the second law of thermal dynamics we know that in a closed system the total energy is constant, it can only change from one form to another. If we subsequently extract energy from such system, the amount of contained energy in the system is lowered. What crops do is, energetically speaking, converting solar energy into chemical energy (stored in sugars and starch). Should we initially consider a vertical farm as a closed system, if we then remove some crops (for sale) and the farm will lose energy, which should be replenished. With only biogas from organic waste from the farm, we will still lose energy. What we need is an external supply of energy.
Since vertical farms will put layers of crops atop of each other, they have to replace sunlight with artificial light. Some research shows that with proper lighting will increase production in comparison with sunlight (this is due to the fact that plants will only absorb light of certain frequencies, and all other frequencies [notably green] will be reflected). And this lights have to be powered. A lot of energy is required, for heating the building, air circulation, pumping water and lights. Actually there is only one energy source suitable for powering vertical farms, and it is not solar, bio or wind power. The answer is probably not the one which is favoured by vertical farm proponents. Only nuclear power plants are able to provide a stable and reliable power supply for vertical argrarians.
Since the members of the Vertical Farm movement are eager to point out how environment friendly their ideas are, it is quite remarkable to see that they do not tell how they want to power their plans. They only mention energy recovery through bio methane gas and saving energy by reducing transportation. But this is not enough, we need a good plan about how to power such structures and how to finance it. History provides ample examples of nice plans, but which failed because the were not properly explained (the notorious Freedom ship is a classic).
The need for feeding nine billions people is out of the question, everyone acknowledges this. The actual question is how to do this. Vertical farms are one solution, but what are the alternatives? My favorite is the saltwater greenhouse. This concepts relies on the Sun to evaporate seawater, which is thereafter liquefied and used for the crops, but for more details you should check this link.
The most suitable places for saltwater greenhouses are large pieces of desert. The Sahara is on the first place of candidate locations. The world’s largest desert is sparsely populated and receives more solar energy than any other place on this planet. Further its location is strategic. Only a modestly small proportion of the Sahara is needed to generate enough energy for the entire world. What I mean to say is that unlike the vertical farm concept this plan is much more realistic, it is clear how it is powered. And unlike vertical farms, it can be done at small-scale, after which it can be scaled up. Therefore it is possible to test in practice before investing large sums of money into the project.
What about the energy cost of transporting food from the Sahara the rest of the world? Well, energy enough in Northern Africa, I would say. Just converting solar energy into some fuel. There are a number of methods to produce so-called synthetic fuels. Actually there are plans to build large solar farms in North Africa which should be linked to the European Superlink.
But there are other solutions for solving the global food shortage. First we should note that a lot of the world agricultural production are crops for feeding livestock, by consuming less or no meat we need less land to feed the world population. Secondly we have to understand that the food problem is actually more about distribution rather than production, in fact the total world food production is enough to feed everyone. But since there is unequal distribution of wealth in the world, some people do not get what they need. Perhaps we should solve this problem politically rather than technologically.
Vertical Farming in space
This post, however, is about vertical farming on Earth. But this concept might have more potential for space colonization, I will work this out in an upcoming post on this blog.
This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on January 19, 2012
Even since the time of Gerard K. O’Neill space colonist advocates are concerned on the issue of producing of meat in future space colonies. One of the main concerns is the conversion rate of meat. This means the amount of food which is needed to feed livestock to produce an amount of meat, e.g. the conversion rate for cattle is 10:1, which means 10 kg of food is needed to produce 1 kg of beef.
Anyone would know that agricultural space is a precious commodity in space settlements, especially in the early years. So it’s unlikely that in the first years of space colonization there will be a native meat industry. But the cost of importation of meat, even without any kind of tariffs, will be prohibitive high. And due to our preferred location in the Sun-Earth’s L4/L5 points, it will take months before a cargo meat will arrive from Earth to our colonies.
A possible solution for this problem are the use of plant protein based meat analogues. In recent years meat analogues are rather good in mimicking real meat products, so good that is sometimes hard to distinguish from real meat. Another solution is in vitro meat, in this process animal tissue is cultured in the lab. The main advantage of this is that it is a lot easier to transported (deep frozen) samples of tissue of several kinds of animals to distant space colonies than entire herds of animals.
Another advantage of in vitro meat is that it offers the possibility of a broad range of kinds of meat to choose from. Furthermore the technology used can also be applied for medical purposes. Therefore we can conclude that in vitro meat is a valuable technology to be developed by Space colonists.
This post was originally posted on blogspot.com on October 22, 2011
Here on Earth, many people are fearing the risk of contamination of genetic engineered crops. But in space there is no risk of contamination of terrestrial crops, by their genetically engineered counter parts. And this provides space colonies an economic advantage.
While it is likely that here on Earth governments will put (irrational) restrictions on genetic engineering, Spacer governments can introduce more liberal legislation on trans gene crops. This mean that space colonies can engage in molecular farming, and that they can export the compounds of therapeutic value to Earth.
This scheme is lucrative if terrestrial governments continue to block or restrict the growing of pharmaceutical crops. Since pharmaceutical molecules have a rather high value per unit mass, exporting those can be very profitable, while back on Earth people will oppose their production there.
Time will tell us if molecular farming will be a viable source of revenue for space colonies, but the possibility is there.