“Current agriculture uses 70 percent of the world’s pumped water, and accounts for 70 percent of water contamination and 33 percent of global warming,” according to Reader.
“Vertical farming is a way of taking it inside – you use five percent of the water traditional farming uses and don’t need pesticides, because you’re in an enclosed environment.”
Current vertical farms use traditional LEDs, however, vFarm uses OLEDs, which produce less heat and have a higher energy efficiency. Importantly, OLED panels are also significantly thinner than their LED equivalents, meaning greater yields can be achieved at shorter heights.
While the price of OLEDs is currently prohibitive in most circumstances, Reader predicts costs will fall as the technology gains traction.
vFarm also aims to increase efficiency and yield through the use of automation, using a series of sensors to help control factors such as temperature and humidity.
“It can read the current temperature, how much water there is in the reservoir, light intensity and how much power it’s drawing,” said Reader. “Everything is automatic.”
While vFarm is currently in the prototype phase, Reader has been invited to take part in an official Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Hydrogarden.
“Right at the start of the project I went up to Hydrogarden to do some general research and find out about their gardens,” said Reader.
“When I finished I took it back up to show them, and they said they’d been trying to do something similar with small control units. If it all goes through, I’ll be working with them for the next three years, developing this kind of technology.”
vFarm, along with a host of other innovative new devices designed by final-year design students from Brunel, will be on display at Made in Brunel, which runs at the Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf, London, from June 15–17.