March 2015 Issue

High tech hydroponics: Fusing information technology with fifteen century approach to agriculture

High tech hydroponics

Professor Akashi Satoh, Department of Communication Engineering and Informatics, Graduate School of Informatics and Engineering, University of Electro-Communications, Tokyo.

Reports on 'hydroponics'--growing plants in aqueous media without soil--can be traced back to the early 1600s. Research shows that plants with their roots in liquid media are able to absorb nutrients more efficiently than those planted in soil. So careful control of the pH and other nutritional aspects of the liquids into which the roots are 'dipped' enables the growth of a wide variety of plants without relying on the weather and even in mega-cities such as Tokyo.

Now, Professor Akashi Satoh, at the Graduate School of Informatics and Engineering, UEC, Tokyo, is using his expertise in the development of high-performance VLSI circuits to give a high tech flavor to the hydroponics.

"The Japanese market for indoor plant factories is estimated to be about 150 billion Yen in 2025," explains Satoh. "The share of indoor plant factories relying on totally artificial light will be approximately 44.3billion Yen. Some major reasons for the increasing interest in hydroponics is that the growth of plants is not affected by the weather and it is possible to carefully control of the quality and safety of the final products, including producing low potassium plants for people suffering from certain illnesses."

Satoh is collaborating with industrial partners to not only grow plants such as strawberries and tomatoes by hydroponics, but to do so on the roofs of skyscrapers in Tokyo. "We want to use hydroponics for capturing carbon dioxide to contribute to efforts to reduce greenhouse gases," says Satoh. "This project will require mixing expertise in engineering with that of agriculture. I am confident that we will be able to succeed in achieving our goals. "

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High tech hydroponics
Prototypes of hydroponic machine : Sunlight type (left) and artificial light type (right).