The Engine That Lights a Living Building

Yesterday, we talked about how technological advancement is making Vertical Farms (VF’s) a reality.

To quickly recap: VF’s are “greenhouses” that resemble clear-glassed skyscrapers. For maximum efficiency, they incorporate state of the art technology, and are strategically located smack dab in the middle of our cities.

Different prototypes already exist, and each one has advantages that altogether seem too good to be true. The benefits include: cutting transportation costs, conserving land, making waste valuable, allowing the environment to self-repair, producing high quality food and water, manufacturing valuable byproducts, and generating multiple forms of energy.

For every indoor acre of land, there are also less-obvious opportunities for revenue, such as growing bio-fuels or plant-derived drugs. In these pages, we’ve already reviewed how these incentives would be accomplished through synergistic technologies.

So as promised, today we’ll focus on how an ideal VF would use light, waste, and energy to facilitate its purposes. We’ll also touch on what’s holding these mega structures back from being built, that is, the main money making component that ties together all the secondary technologies in a VF. This main component, which I’ll refer to as the “engine” has yet to reach that “sweet spot” in cost efficiency. But again, it’s this engine that makes a VF come alive, and there is a clear investment opportunity here.

This engine would run day and night. During the day, however, light would come from the sunlight through the VF’s clear walls, similar to Apple’s retail store on 5th Avenue, New York. During the night, however, LED lights would keep this greenhouse lit. The biodiversity of crops inside would be a spectacle to behold for any passersby.

Sunlight aside, the VF engine would generate the remaining energy from waste, essentially turning waste into a commodity…

The engine I’ve been referring has its roots in a device long cherished by steel cutters: the humble plasma torch. But what we’re talking about is: Plasma Arc Gasification.

What follows is a compressed version of my understanding:

Plasma Arc Gasification works by shooting an electric current across an electrode assembly, creating plasma. Through various chemical processes, the plasma turns into a torch with temperatures that range upwards of 27,000 degrees Fahrenheit — hotter than the surface of the sun. Garbage that passes through that stream doesn’t stand a chance. Its particles disassociate, turning trash into atoms…

After a decontamination process of anything from what’s in your trash bin to medical and hazardous waste, the output can be various metals, construction aggregate, water, a syngas (fuel), heat (steam), and electricity.

With an engine like this, these living towers would have potential manufacturing capabilities that could fuel their own expansion into other areas of any given city. They could also take waste as input and reciprocate by putting energy into the grid.

Although there are only about a dozen large scale plasma arc gasification facilities in the world today, they create enormous opportunities. Just think about, for example, how miles off the coast of the Pacific Ocean, there’s a pile of floating trash the size of Texas… time two.

My favorite company in this space right now is Alter NRG Corp. (NRG).

But as this technology works its way toward that “sweet spot” of cost efficiency, other investment opportunities will be forthcoming.

To conclude: this technology’s ability to turn massive amounts of waste into a commodity will be a crowning achievement of our era. The vertical farms that use Plasma Arc Gasification as its powerhouse will allow manmade structures to act as living organisms… feeding from and giving to the surrounding environment, as opposed to parasitically leeching it — only to regurgitate precious resources in the form of useless heaps of garbage.

Josh Grasmick