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Vertical farming in response to climate change

Vertical indoor farming is consid­ered a promising future concept with numerous advan­tages. In partic­ular, the yield per unit of area is signif­i­cantly higher than in conven­tional agri­cul­ture, as the systems are oper­ated all year round. Fans, drives and automa­tion solu­tions play an impor­tant role in ensuring that the plants always have ideal condi­tions for growth.

WHAT THE TECH?! Is vertical farming the future of modern agri­cul­ture?

How does Vertical Farming work? What does it need?

Simple, under­stand­able and with a bit of humor!

For years, many experts have been trying to work out how humanity will feed itself in the future. It is certain that existing resources must be used more effi­ciently to provide people with the same stan­dard of living, or to improve the supply situ­a­tion for people in devel­oping coun­tries in a sustain­able way.

In vertical indoor farming, plants are produced above one another in build­ings, containers or in air-condi­tioned super­market cabi­nets. It is seen as a future-oriented tech­nology for ensuring a food supply, as this allows urban spaces to be used sustain­ably for agri­cul­ture, saving addi­tional trans­porta­tion time and costs.

Econom­ical solu­tions are in demand

Fan and motor specialist ebm-papst has been working on this issue for quite some time now. There are a number of energy-effi­cient, ‘intel­li­gent’ fans and drives suit­able for the many different concepts. Further­more, the specialist is also avail­able as a dedi­cated engi­neering partner and system provider and offers support right through to complete automa­tion solu­tions.

Vegeta­bles are growing in indoor farm(vertical farm). Vertical farming is sustain­able agri­cul­ture for future food and used for plant vaccine. (Photo | Adobe­Stock 407637100)

All the prod­ucts are robust and operate reli­ably over the long term, even in adverse condi­tions. ebm-papst designs and supplies sophis­ti­cated soft­ware and hard­ware solu­tions that make vertical indoor farming as sustain­able, econom­ical and prof­itable as possible.

What does it need for effi­cient Vertical farms?

In addi­tion to lighting, it is essen­tial that these vertical ‘farms’ have appro­priate air condi­tioning, regard­less of plant type and culti­va­tion tech­nology. The poten­tial of this tech­nology can be only exploited if the light, nutri­ents, venti­la­tion, temper­a­ture and humidity are right. The basic prereq­ui­site for this is economic systems that always operate according to the demand and very effi­ciently, not only for the air condi­tioning and nutrient supply, but also in auto­mated product handling and trans­port. Only then can indoor farms operate econom­i­cally and sustain­ably.

Optimum air supply and air condi­tioning for every system size

There are different concepts for venti­la­tion and air condi­tioning. Tunnel venti­la­tion pushes the air through the building. However, central venti­la­tion units installed on roofs are also common as is providing indi­vidual plants or floors with a targeted air supply via pipe and tube systems (Fig. 1), which must also be supplied accord­ingly. Different fans are required here: Compact axial fans move high air flows of up to 65,000 m³/h and operate reli­ably even at back pres­sures of up to 1,500 Pa (Fig. 2).

Fig. 1: A hose venti­la­tion system supplies the plants with oxygen. (Graphic | ebm-papst)

They are there­fore partic­u­larly suit­able for the tunnel supply. A compre­hen­sive range of acces­sories enables further modi­fi­ca­tions to be made, such as guard grills. It is possible for the power supply to be 5 to 110 VDC or 11 to 480 VAC. Centrifugal fans are partic­u­larly impres­sive at high back pres­sures up to 5,200 Pa (Fig. 3). Their air flow rates are up to 30,000 m³/h.

They are avail­able with forward or back­ward-curved blades and in a scroll housing or as free­wheel fans as appro­priate. Versions with external rotor motor in the impeller are also very compact and there­fore require little instal­la­tion space in the venti­la­tion units usually installed on the roof. The power supply provided is 6 to 72 VDC or 85 to 480 VAC. Compact fans have proven their worth for air condi­tioning in super­market cabi­nets, for venti­la­tion of indi­vidual shelves and for cooling LEDs. They also operate at a high level of energy effi­ciency and contribute towards econom­ical oper­a­tion in this indoor farming concept.

Fig. 2: Powerful, space-saving axial fans, for example for tunnel venti­la­tion systems in which the air is pushed through the building. (Photo | ebm-papst)
Fig. 3: Centrifugal fans perform partic­u­larly well against high back pres­sures. They are avail­able with forward or back­ward-curved blades and in a scroll housing or as free­wheel fans as appro­priate. They are typi­cally imple­mented in central venti­la­tion units. (Photo | ebm-papst)

The right drive for every goal

New farming concepts also depend on high-perfor­mance drive systems. The many different work processes, for example in vertical indoor farming, increase the complexity of product handling. Effi­cient automa­tion of logis­tics processes offers great poten­tial for savings here. In this way, decen­tral­ized drive solu­tions reduce costs for trans­port or handling systems. This ranges from auto­mated product handling with autonomous driving vehi­cles (Fig. 4) to conveyor belts and access control systems, all of which rely on good control char­ac­ter­is­tics and precise posi­tioning.

Reli­able, compact and highly dynamic drive systems that with­stand strong loads are required to open and close barriers, gates and windows, for example. System solu­tions play a crucial role here and flex­ible, reli­able drive systems with a high degree of networking are indis­pens­able. Thanks to its many years of expe­ri­ence, ebm-papst offers a modular drive system for this field, consisting of motor, trans­mis­sion and elec­tronics for system solu­tions. In the field of trans­mis­sions, it offers both plan­e­tary and angular gear­boxes.

Fig. 4: Auto­mated product handling: With the Argo­Drive, ebm-papst has devel­oped a compact and easy-to-inte­grate drive system for auto­mated guided vehi­cles. (Graphic | ebm-papst)

The elec­tron­i­cally commu­tated ECI motors, for example, cover a contin­uous power range from 30 to 750 watts in sizes 42, 63 and 80 mm. Then, different trans­mis­sions matched to the drives ensure the neces­sary reduc­tion ratio of the high-speed internal rotor motors. The trans­mis­sions can also be combined with the external rotor motors in the VDC series.

The latter cover a power range of 5 to 125 watts in the smallest instal­la­tion space and also boast a long service life and good control prop­er­ties. The modular drive system enables stan­dard solu­tions to be imple­mented for many appli­ca­tions (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5: The modular drive system enables stan­dard solu­tions to be imple­mented for many appli­ca­tions. (Graphic | ebm-papst)

For example, the ECI internal rotor motors are ideal for use as shuttle trac­tion drives, depending on the required power either in size 63 or 80. They require little instal­la­tion space, achieve high torques at 24 or 48 V, and are able to deliver three times the nominal power for a short time. Combined with the Optimax trans­mis­sions, which already have over­load capacity, compact, robust drive systems are created, which can also be controlled based on the appli­ca­tion through the motor elec­tronics chosen.

Real-time produc­tion moni­toring

For a high-yield harvest, the condi­tions for growth must be contin­u­ally moni­tored to initiate targeted changes or quickly elim­i­nate prob­lems if required. ebm-papst helps with this using its digital services. Sensors and hubs ensure that all neces­sary and mean­ingful data is digi­tized (Fig. 6), whether it is the status of tech­nical systems or moni­toring air and water quality.

Fig. 6: For a high-yield harvest, the condi­tions for growth must be contin­u­ally moni­tored to initiate targeted changes or quickly elim­i­nate prob­lems if required. ebm-papst helps with this using its digital services. (Photo | ebm-papst)

This enables all data on air condi­tioning, nutrient supply or lighting to be visu­al­ized in real time. For example, using an app, it is also possible to test settings or auto­mat­i­cally receive current messages on a cell phone. The specially devel­oped cloud appli­ca­tions provide the appro­priate infor­ma­tion and control options to opti­mize produc­tion and make it econom­ical and sustain­able.


Aiming high in Vertical Farming

Effi­cient venti­la­tion, air condi­tioning, automa­tion with fans, motors and AGV from ebm-papst.

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