Upcycling for Hydroponics in Singapore – Food Tank

A team of scientists in Singapore have discovered that hair keratin can contribute to the country’s local vegetable production and food security. Hair and other biowaste can be a sustainable agricultural input for hydroponics.

According to the Singapore Food Authority (SFA), over 90% of food consumed in Singapore is imported. And with multiple competing land needs, only 1% of his land in Singapore is set aside for agriculture, said Poh Bee Ling, director of his solutions division at Urban Food at SFA. told his Food Tank.

To reduce dependence on other countries and ensure food security, SFA is working to diversify food sources and promote local production. “We are working with the local agri-food industry to achieve our ’30 by 30′ goal of building capacity and capacity to sustainably produce 30% of our nutritional needs locally by 2030. ’” he says Mr. Poh.

On the production side of the supply chain, SFA provides funding to support local productivity and technology adoption. Mr Poh said SFA’s support will help farmers build capacity to achieve his SFA’s vision of a high-tech, innovative and sustainable farming system that makes efficient use of Singapore’s limited land resources. says it can.

Hydroponics could be an important way for Singapore to produce food. “This is important in Singapore, where land is scarce, as vegetable farms using hydroponics can be set up on rooftops, inside buildings and other spaces,” says Poe. She adds that this approach allows growers to optimize environmental conditions to improve yield, quality or taste. “This can lead to cost-effective, quality-assured products that can sustainably grow over the long term.”

But Poe acknowledges one major drawback to hydroponics. Some systems use non-recyclable polyurethane her cubes to support plants in the growing process, she explains. Growers are looking for sustainable alternative substrates without additional input costs. Scientists at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are working on a solution to meet this challenge: a keratin sponge.

Dr. Ng Kee Woei, professor and vice chair of research in NTU’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, found that many materials currently used in hydroponics are neither recyclable nor biodegradable. “Additionally, they are indigenous materials, meaning they don’t provide nutrients to plants on their own,” Ng tells Food Tank.

A research team at NTU has successfully incorporated cellulose from plant waste into a keratin extract to create a sponge that feeds hydroponic plants. Keratin can be obtained from many biowaste sources such as hair, hooves, feathers, wool, and horns. I have.

A study from the University of Bonn identifies biological resources, including waste and renewable raw materials, as potential growth media for soilless systems. Food waste compost, biochar, and wood fibers are examples of biological resources that have been successfully used as substrates for hydroponics.

As a biological resource, keratin is completely biodegradable. “And because it’s a protein, when it’s broken down, it releases amino acids, which themselves become part of the plant’s nutritional supply,” Ng tells Food Tank.

However, scaling this solution in Singapore comes with barriers. “The number one challenge is the lack of supply of keratin,” Ng told Food Tank.

Without the keratin industry, traditional inputs would remain much cheaper.

“I believe that with a proper cost-benefit analysis, we will be able to look at how much savings farmers can really make when using keratin-based sponges,” Ng told Food Tank. In the future, Ng says there will also be opportunities to customize the sponges for different crops and different environments.

“By adopting technology and smart farming capabilities, we can build the capacity and capacity of the agri-food industry and enhance food security in Singapore,” Poh told Food Tank.

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Photo credit: Markus Spiske, Unsplash

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