The pressing need to produce enough grub to feed a rapidly growing global population —10 billion people will call the Earth home within the next 40 years as estimated by the United Nations' World Bank — has prompted food experts and forward-thinking designers to get creative, whether it be looking upwards, going underground or promoting cricket-based diets.
Antonio Girardi and Cristiana Favretto of Italian design firm Studiomobile, however, have decided to do away with tired old terrestrial crop cultivation altogether with a water-bound farming concept that requires no arable land or fresh water — two agricultural necessities that will become more scarce as food demand grows.
Dubbed Jellyfish Barge, Girardi and Favretto’s creation takes the small but mighty (octagonal) form of a floating hydroponic greenhouse that’s kept buoyant by 96 recycled plastic drums and incorporates an onboard solar-powered desalination system capable of converting nearly 40 gallons of brackish, salt or rain water (no matter how polluted) into clean, irrigation-ready H2O each day. Developed by scientist Paolo Franceschetti, the system consists of seven desalination units that ring the 750-square-foot structure. Once the water is purified and suitable for crop cultivation, it feeds into the wood-framed vessel’s high-efficiency automated hydroponic system that requires 70 percent less water than conventional irrigation methods. What's more, Jellyfish Barge's hydroponic system can allow for as much as 15 percent saltwater.
Explains the Jellyfish Barge team:
Solar distillation is a natural phenomenon: in the seas, the sun’s energy evaporates water, which then falls as rain water.The solar desalination system of the Jellyfish Barge replicates this phenomenon on a smaller scale, sucking in moist air and forcing it to condense within the drums in contact with the cold surface of the sea. The low energy required to power fans and pumps is provided by solar panels, mini wind turbines and an innovative system that exploits waves to produce electricity.
Revolving around “low-cost technologies and simple materials” while circumventing deforestation and other taxing-on-the-environment methods of making way for agricultural operations, Jellyfish Barge was developed with vulnerable coastal communities in mind — communities where arable land is at risk of being wiped out by rising sea levels brought on by climate change.
“Agriculture is the human activity that relies most on the existing water resources,” says Studiomobile, which, coincidentally, is based outside of Venice, a city that’s more than familiar with the threat of rising seas. “The scarcity of arable land and fresh water for agriculture is being exacerbated by changes in the climate, exposing many areas to increased risks and contribute to make them even more vulnerable to the problem of water and food security. The rising sea level, for example, contributes to flooding of extensive areas of fertile land with salt water.”
The Jellyfish Barge team estimates that a single greenhouse can grow enough fresh produce to keep two families satiated. And given that these eye-catching floating mini-farms are modular in design, they can be linked together to create waterfront markets, restaurants serving hyper-local fare or, simply, a “stronger and more resilient organism.”
An evolution of an earlier Studiomobile installation dubbed Jellyfish Farm, Jellyfish Barge was developed by Pnat, a University of Florence-supported “think tank of designers and biologists with the aim of merging plants, research, science and creativity” that was co-founded earlier this year by Girardi and Favretto.
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