BLOG: Tomatoes from your rooftop

By: Sanne van den Dungen (EPEA Nederland)

In Cradle to Cradle® we look at CO2 and carbon as valuable resources for the generation of biomass and the (re)generation of precious topsoil. Plants use CO2 for the formation of biomass by photosynthesis, releasing (a.o) oxygen into the air. The concept of Building Integrated Greenhouses (BIG) or Building Integrated Agriculture (BIA) cleverly combines this and several other functions.

The surplus of CO2 in buildings such as offices or classrooms can be used to grow crops for food in for example greenhouses on top of these buildings, returning the oxygen coming from the plants. In addition these plants could clean the air from air pollutants which would have otherwise been discharged into the environment. Research by NASA in 1989 already showed that with the right choice of plants, air pollutants such as benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and fine dust can be removed from the air[1].Expanding on this concept could even lead to effluent water from the building being processed as nutrients to enhance plant growth.

Building Integrated Greenhouses in an urban context provides the possibility to explore the added value of urban agriculture. Less tangible functions such as community building, education, growing & consuming locally can be explored. Worldwide the concept of Building Integrated Greenhouses is experimented with. An example is BrightFarms in New York, working on urban agriculture since 2006. By building greenhouses at or near supermarkets BrightFarms can produce year round, local foods[2]. In the Netherlands Happy Healthy Schools is paving the way to a new design for schools with a greenhouse on the roof for a clean and healthy learning environment[3].

Besides the possibility to grow crops in urban areas, the potential of air purification, re-using nutrients from effluent water and the opportunities for community building there is an extra business side to Building Integrated Greenhouses. A recent study by the WorldGBC (World Green Building Council) in 2013 suggests that `green design features’ can positively enhance the health and wellbeing of people using those buildings. As these benefits appear to link positive to work productivity and a decline in sickleave the financial incentive is strong. In addition the WorldGBC concluded that buildings with integrated green elements can be delivered at prices comparable to those of conventional buildings.[4]

High Tech Urban Farming is currently especially receiving a lot of attention in Japan and the USA. Developments in LED-lights are contributing positively to this. The Netherlands has a unique position in greenhouse agriculture. In areas such as Greenport Venlo there is an outstanding knowledge on greenhouse production that could be used to the benefit of developing Building Integrated Greenhouses.

Imagine a future in which we use CO2 in our buildings, clean the air from air pollutants, re-use nutrients from (a.o) our effluent water, teach children about growing crops. We can design buildings to from a micro-ecological system to benefit all of us and are rewarded with a lunch coming from our rooftops!

Sanne van den Dungen
Scientific project manager
EPEA Nederland





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