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Chemical Engineering students Ryan Foo, Loh Kwei Kgeng, Sui Xinzhi, Leow Yun Hui, Jinny Chan, and Gina Toh clinched the 1st prize at the 2014 Youth for the Environment Day (YED)* Upcycling competition.
Team member Kwei Kgeng (pronounced as ‘Ke Jing”) shares his thoughts on the experience…
2000 tonnes – that’s how much vegetables we Singaporeans eat everyday! And we get 90% of our greens from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other neighbours.
Is there any way we can reduce our reliance on imported greens? This question was foremost in our minds when we were given the challenge – to construct a space-saving farming equipment from everyday household items and waste.
Wow! Farming in Singapore? Using everyday household items and waste? Now that’s a challenge!
Time to think outside the garden box!
As Chemical Engineering students, we are fortunate in that our training equips us with the skills and knowledge to make the world a better place. So my team and I took the bull by the horns and started work immediately.
When we think of ‘farming’, the image that comes to mind for most people is acres and acres of land filled with rows of apple trees, or cabbage, or kangkong….So how do you overcome this first hurdle – lack of land?
We really wanted to encourage more Singaporeans to take up small-scale vegetable farming. We felt that it was important to reduce Singapore’s reliance on imported greens and at the same time address the concern of lack of land space. Not only that, our aim was to make it as hassle-free as possible. Singaporeans simply do not have the luxury of time! The structure we would design must therefore be simple to use, space-saving and self-sustaining, with minimal maintenance needed.
We also needed to keep in mind the aim of the competition - the concept of upcycling as a way to reduce waste. We would be judged on our creativity in repurposing and transforming unwanted things into practical, usable items.
We found the solution – grow our vegetables upwards! Yes, vertical farming was the answer.
We quickly set about constructing numerous prototypes of the farming structure with the guidance of our Mentor and Lecturer Mr Zach Siew. Firstly, we had to gather all the parts we needed. In order to fulfil the theme of the competition, the items we collected consisted of unwanted PVC tubes from industrial sites, unwanted plastic acrylic from engineering workshops, used BBQ wire mesh and unwanted mosquitoes nettings.
Next, we worked on the construction of the setup. Firstly, we needed to cut open the PVC tubes before folding the wire mesh and mosquito netting into shape to fit the PVC tube. Next, we used epoxy, a type of glue, to attach the acrylic plastic as side windows to both sides of the PVC tube. Two holes were drilled on the PVC tube to allow for drainage of excess water. Once the soil was put in place, we grew chai xin, which was cheap and readily available in the market.
And our vegetables did grow!
Let me share what else we discovered through this project. In terms of land area use, the designed vertical farming structure is at least 3 times that of conventional land-farming. The productivity of the structure, which allows mobility (to sun-facing direction) further reduces the planting-to-harvesting time by 20%! It simply means this - you can place the structure anywhere in your house, following the direction of the sun, and your veggies will grow at a faster rate!
Here’s another awesome fact….The greens grown were able to reduce the temperature of the dwelling (ie, your house) by about 1oC (through blocking and absorption of sunlight, etc.)
Finally, your family can save up to $130 if you grow your own vegetables. The higher the structure, the more veggies you can grow, and the more you save.
My team mates and I are happy because through this simple project, we were able to demonstrate that it is possible to use ‘waste’ to design a versatile vertical farming structure that addresses an important issue in Singapore - our lack of space for the production of essential food items.
Can you imagine how much healthier the planet would be if all such waste – acryclic, plastic tube, etc - is reused instead of dumped into the landfills, or incinerated? And think of the cost savings too!
Chemical engineers can use their training to make the environment cleaner. As a future chemical engineer, my dream is to help create a world where there is no such thing as a waste product.
So c’mon guys, “Don’t just eat your vegetables. Grow them too!”
*Aligned with Earth day which falls on 22nd April, Youth for the Environment Day (YED) is a key annual platform to engage youths to champion environmental ownership and to renew their commitment to care for the environment.