Energy costs have been sky-rocketing in the past weeks driving operational costs of some of the vertical farming facilities throughout the world, up. Now, companies are seeking alternatives to either reduce their energy consumption or rely increasingly on greener energy solutions. Solar energy, windmills or geothermal are part of the ‘common’ green energy used but Hydrogen is yet to be used as an electricity source and it may, in turn, be cheaper and more sustainable…
The Energy Problem of Vertical Farms
Because most of the facilities require artificial lighting to grow crops, Bruce Bugbee, an American scientist whose work includes space farming projects for NASA, claimed that the power demands of vertical farming would be uncompetitive with traditional farms using only natural light. Environmental writer George Monbiot calculated that the cost of providing enough supplementary light to grow the grain for a single loaf would be about $15. An article in the Economist argued that “even though crops growing in a glass skyscraper will get some natural sunlight during the day, it won’t be enough” and “the cost of powering artificial lights will make indoor farming prohibitively expensive”.
Moreover, researchers determined that if only solar panels were to be used to meet the energy consumption of a vertical farm, “the area of solar panels required would need to be a factor of twenty times greater than the arable area on a multi-level indoor farm”, which will be hard to accomplish with larger vertical farms. A hydroponic farm growing lettuce in Arizona would require 15,000 kilojoules (4.2 kWh) of energy per kilogram of lettuce produced. To put this amount of energy into perspective, a traditional outdoor lettuce farm in Arizona only requires 1100 kJ of energy per kilogram of lettuce grown.
The energy requirements of vertical farming lead to significant land use to provide the energy. For every acre of crops grown via vertical farming, 5.4 acres of solar panels would be required to supply the energy via solar power. Thus in practice, vertical farming may require more land than traditional farming, not less.
Hydrogen Fuel, Careful Between Green and Blue Hydrogen
Hydrogen Fuel can be used as an energy use to heat facilities, power the facilities or provide fuel for cars and other vehicles. It is also one of the most common elements in the universe as it contributes to roughly 75% of its total mass. Blue hydrogen is produced from non-renewable energy sources, by using one of two primary methods. Steam methane reformation is the most common method for producing bulk hydrogen and accounts for most of the world’s production. This method uses a reformer, which reacts to steam at a high temperature and pressure with methane and a nickel catalyst to form hydrogen and carbon monoxide.
Alternatively, auto thermal reforming uses oxygen and carbon dioxide or steam to react with methane to form hydrogen. The downside of these two methods is that they produce carbon as a by-product, so carbon capture and storage (CCS) is essential to trap and store this carbon.
Green hydrogen is produced by using electricity to power an electrolyser that splits the hydrogen from water molecules. This process produces pure hydrogen, with no harmful by-products. An added benefit is that, because this method uses electricity, it also offers the potential to divert any excess electricity – which is hard to store (like surplus wind power) – to electrolysis, using it to create hydrogen gas that can be stored for future energy needs.
Research expects that Hydrogen Energy Will Cost Less than Natural Gas – BNEF
In some countries, hydrogen energy may be a cheaper energy source than natural gas assuming that current projects scale up and government further their support in the largest projects. The advantage is that current gas pipes can be used to transport hydrogen energy thus further decreasing the infrastructure costs of such a project plan.
By 2050, the research expects that producing green energy would cost 85% less than today’s costs, and it may fall below USD 1 per kg produced.
Exponential Growth In Coming Years
Around 60 hydrogen projects have been referenced by the IEA in their latest report with total spending expected to exceed USD 300 billion by 2030 as countries further the development of such energy sources to meet their UN SDG commitments. Some of the notable companies producing hydrogen fuel cells are FuelCell Energy, Inc. (NASDAQ: FCEL), Bloom Energy Corporation (NASDAQ: BE), Linde plc (NYSE: LIN), and Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. (NYSE: APD), among others.