Zero Energy Farming in Apartment Buildings (ZEFAB)
According to the United States Census Bureau world population will reach 9 billion by 2044 and according to the United Nations, it is set to reach over 9.7 billion by the year 2150. Critical concerns are how to meet the food demands and housing needs in the years ahead. To make these more challenging farmlands are shrinking and freshwater resources are diminishing at an alarming rate. 72% of all water withdrawals are used by agriculture, 16% by municipalities for households and services, and 12% by industries. United Nation in 2021 report states, 3.2 billion people live in agricultural areas with high to very high water shortages or scarcity.
What is ZEFAB
Zero energy farming in apartment buildings (ZEFAB) is an idea proposed by Fazle Quazi, CEO of Boulderlamp, Inc. This idea expands on Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) and adds more. CEA takes a technology-based approach to farming. Large-scale CEA involves well-constructed greenhouses and indoor vertical farms. The most advanced systems are fully automated farming with controlled lighting, water, and ventilation. ZEFAB takes a more comprehensive approach. It targets to preserve farmlands, utilizes renewable energy for zero energy farming and tackles housing needs for a growing population in a sustainable way. ZEFAB is scalable, improves quality of life and local economy.
Indoor Farming and Housing for Growing Population
Compared to traditional farming methods, ZEFAB can double even quadruple crop yield on a small section of a land parcel where buildings are constructed for indoor cultivation and apartments. Adjacent to buildings, on the same land parcel, solar panels are installed to create a renewable energy power plant. Depending on the location and environment, wind generators can also be a part of this power plant. The remaining part of the parcel is used to plant trees, create parks, build schools, gardens, recreation centers, and shops. Revenue generated from fresh food sales and rental income from apartments, shops, and offices combined with the benefits of healthy living, farming with less water, and reducing carbon footprint make ZEFAB-based land developments economically viable and sustainable.
Net-Zero Energy Consumption
For net-zero energy consumption, the proposed renewable-energy-based power plant is scaled such that during peak hours it can generate three to four times more energy than what is needed for farming. Excess energy generated during peak hours will be added to power grids via grid-tie inverters. On cloudy days and winter months when days are shorter, energy will be taken from the power grid. It is beneficial to run LED lights with DC solar power whenever possible to minimize system loss. Inverters reduce solar plant efficiency.
Other benefits such as less soil contamination, land degradation and erosion, and no need for traditional farm equipment.
ZEFAB and Boulderlamp
ZEFAB with Greenhouse
ZEFAB may include a greenhouse on the same land parcel. In this case, food will be grown both inside the apartment building and also in the greenhouse. Greenhouse construction costs less than an indoor grow facility and in most cases, it does not require artificial light. No light means less number of solar panels that could free up space for the greenhouse.
Some of the disadvantages of a greenhouse are that farming will require more water and pesticides, less sunlight in winter or cloudy days, and depending on the location, climate and weather could be unfavorable. Nonetheless, a 50%/50% indoor/greenhouse mix could lower the initial cost substantially.
Benefits of ZEFAB
Controlled Environment Mixed-Use Agriculture
Controlled environment mixed-use agriculture (CEMA) is an idea which is an extension of CAE. CEMA utilizes renewable energy for needed electricity for indoor farming and tackles housing
needs for growing population. CEMA can double even quadruple crop yield on a small section of a land parcel where buildings are constructed for indoor cultivation and apartments. Adjacent to
buildings solar panels are installed to create renewable power plant. Depending on the location and environment, wind generators can also be a part of this power plant.
CEMA could be a sustainable path forward for addressing the need for food and housing for growing population, preserving farmlands and addressing water shortage.
ZEFAB Example Summary: Virtual Increase of Land Size for Food & Housing
Indoor agriculture in an apartment building on a 7-acre land parcel could do these and more:
- Provide vegetable and fruit equivalent to 20-acres or more of outdoor traditional farming.
- Provide housing for 500 or more people.
- Reduce water use by as much as 95%.
- Solar power plant for energy needed for indoor farming.
- Trees, parks, gardens, shops, and school.
An Example of ZEFAB for Sustainability
*The image example is not a blueprint of an actual development. It is an example of mere possibility.
A 7-acre land parcel to be used for ZEFAB. This land parcel could be less fertile agricultural land or such as a village residential area with scattered and unplanned houses. 1-acre to be used to build one or more multi-story building complex(s). Second and third floors are going to be used for indoor agriculture. Floors above will have apartments. Approximately 3-acres of the 7-acre land parcel to be used for installing 3 megawatt (MW) or more capacity high-efficiency solar panels. The remaining area of the land parcel is to be used to plant trees and to create roads, park and gardens, shops, a school for children, first aid facility, and more.
The second and third floor combined will have over 80,000 square feet of indoor farming area that could yield vegetables and fruits equivalent to 20-acres of outdoor traditional farming. The water use will be reduced by as much as 90%. People living in apartments above will have direct access to fresh produce, daily.
80,000 square feet of indoor farming will require approximately 1 MW of energy for lighting, cooling, and heating. 3 MW capacity solar panels will be installed on approximately 3-acres to provide this energy as follows: Excess energy generated by solar panels during peak hours will be added to power grids. On cloudy days and winter months when days are shorter, energy will be taken from the power grid. The objective is such that the excess power generated by solar panels during peak hours will result in net-zero grid energy consumption.
1-acre, that is, 43,000 square feet each apartment floor can have 25 or more spacious apartments with an average occupancy of 4 people. Therefore, an 8-story building complex(s) with 5 apartment floors can create housing for 500 or more people.
Estimated project cost in US dollars: Applicable to countries like India and Bangladesh.
Major Cost Breakdown
Multi-story building complex(s)
$4 to $6 million
80,000 square foot indoor grow facility
$2 to $3 million
3-megawatt solar power plant
$2 to $3 million
$2 to $5 million