Grow Frame is a collapsible hydroponic farm that could grow vegetables inside shipping containers normally left vacant during their return trip to Asia. Matthew Stock reports.
Tens of millions of shipping containers traverse the world's oceans every year. But Asia exports far more than it imports, so most of these shipping containers make the return trip empty. For design student Philippe Hohlfeld this seemed a terrible waste of space. SOUNDBITE (English) PHILIPPE HOHLFELD, DESIGNER FROM ROYAL COLLEGE OF ART, SAYING: "Half of all containers going to China are empty. And that means, right now, 13 million containers annually are travelling around with just air. And when I heard about that I thought 'no, that's not a problem, that's an opportunity'." Grow Frame is his solution. A collapsible hydroponic farm that can grow vegetables inside the empty containers during the weeks-long sea voyage. SOUNDBITE (English) PHILIPPE HOHLFELD, DESIGNER FROM ROYAL COLLEGE OF ART, SAYING: "I thought about an autonomous process that works in an enclosed environment over three weeks and that brings a real benefit to China and that can be as collapsible as possible; so it can be as small as possible." Each plant is grown in small individual plastic bags containing all the required water and nutrients. Photosynthesis is triggered by LED lights that can be adjusted to provide precisely the right spectrum of light for optimal growth. Growing mushrooms would help maintain a healthy micro eco-system, according to the designer. SOUNDBITE (English) PHILIPPE HOHLFELD, DESIGNER FROM ROYAL COLLEGE OF ART, SAYING: "I'm growing cabbages, spinach, lettuces and beansprouts. All these plants create oxygen as we know, and it's really good in nature because it balances with animals. But in the container it could be a problem; so I'm introducing mushrooms which turn the oxygen back into CO2 because they respirate the same way that we do. And that way the whole system keeps itself in check." Hohlfeld says the potential profitability of the reusable system would quickly recoup the initial set up costs. He's now looking for funding to help turn his proof-of-concept design into a working prototype.