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Vertical Farming with Stackable Shipping Containers

by John Brian Shannon | September 16, 2014

There are hundreds of thousands of used, high-quality metal shipping containers taking up acres of storage land in port cities all over the world. Just sitting there.

Platoon, Kunsthalle - Berlin, Germany - 40 Shipping Container Cargotecture Building

Home in a Box constructed an indoor playground and rentable meeting space in Berlin from used shipping containers.

Some enterprising companies have taken to creating domestic living spaces, commercial buildings or storage lots out of the huge surplus of the used containers which tend to accumulate in the developed world as it is too expensive to ship them back to China, empty. (We buy their stuff, they don’t buy ours)

Anyway, there are hundreds of thousands of them scattered around the world and can be had for as little as $1500-$3600. apiece (in ‘as is’ condition)

Shipping containers are the perfect containment architecture for vertical gardens

Shipping containers are engineered to be very strong and can be stacked up to 9-high without any additional supports. Windows can even be cut into the metal panels without weakening the structural integrity (most of the strength is in the corners where they lock together) so that daylight may enter the structure.

“Reusable shipping containers provide a cost effective and sustainable approach to building design.” — Public Sector and Local Government Magazine

OBS Tower project. Container City

Standing at nine storeys high, the OBS Tower is an impressive addition to the Stratford Olympic Park.
Located on a tree lined public plaza within the park, the OBS Tower has created space for ground floor food outlets with their own kitchen, technical rooms and 10 broadcasting studios over two further floors — each one offering the visiting media studios with unobstructed views over the main stadium through the large glass frontage.

Might as well get the roof working for you

Dramatically lower cost solar panels are available on the market today. A couple of decades ago it cost over $100 per watt (installed price) to get your power from solar panels during the daytime and without battery backup. As of 2014, it costs less than $4.00 per watt (installed price in the U.S.A.) and if you live in Europe it costs about $2.00 per watt (installed price in Europe)

If you’re wondering about the difference in price between the U.S.A. and Europe, it’s only the profit margin that makes the difference. All the solar panels are comparably priced, as are the inverter units, wiring, etc. and often come from the same manufacturer in China.

So far, we have super cheap and stackable containment for vertical gardens and we have low-cost daytime electricity

Now what about night-time electricity? We have some choices. We can tap the grid and pay the regular commercial electricity rate to run the grow lights and the heat, we can purchase building scale battery systems from a company like SolarCity or you can run a diesel powered generator (a gen-set) for electrical power.

The good news is that commercial battery systems to complement solar panel installations have fallen in price and are approaching price parity with other grid-alternative power sources

Also, diesel fuel prices have risen dramatically since the invention of the gen-set, but these units (although they do emit copious amounts of pollution and you can’t run them indoors) are very reliable and it is almost impossible that a crop failure could result from a gen-set failure as another unit could quickly be transported to the location and hooked up before much crop damage could occur.

Grid power is fine, but to prevent crop failure in the case of winter-time power outages, a gen-set or battery backup is a necessity.

keetwonen

Shipping container college dorms being assembled in Amsterdam.

shipping-container-student-apartments-keetwonen-1

The massive Keetwonen complex houses 1,000 students.

College dorms in the Netherlands.

College dorms in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Demand for these units is high, as they are soundproof and secure.

College dorms in the Netherlands.

College dorms in the Netherlands house many thousands of students and not just at this location in Amsterdam.

So, it appears that college dorms and BBC broadcasting facilities (for two good examples) can be easily assembled using these massive Lego-like building blocks.

What would we need in order to build vertical gardens?

  1. Land area equal to one city block
  2. A number of stackable, used shipping containers
  3. Solar panel array installed on top of the shipping containers, equal in size to one city block
  4. Backup power via battery or gen-set
  5. Grid connection
  6. Located near any major city
  7. A number of grow lights per unit
  8. Hydroponic or low-soil agriculture
  9. Compost container
  10. A number of staff to perform seeding, care and harvesting of plants
  11. One maintenance person per location
Crou shipping container housing from France.

Cité a Docks is a four-story building assembled out of 100 shipping containers to make student apartments. Cattani Architects equipped each 258 square-foot room with bathrooms, kitchens, free Wi-Fi, and heat and sound insulation.

The great thing about these super-strong building blocks, is that they can be arranged in any number of ways to suit individual site requirements. Standard container lengths start at 10 feet, 20, 40, 48 and 53 feet — but individual units can be welded or bolted together to arrive at any number of lengths.

HIVE-INN CITY FARM NYC

HIVE-INN CITY FARM New York City (proposed)

Interior-wise, any number of efficient-space designs are possible. Growing indoors where there are no drought, flooding, pests, human theft, or other concerns can be hundreds of times more efficient than conventional farming — and growing indoors means year-round crops. Thanks to solar-powered grow lights.

Hive-Inn City Farm design concept

The Hive-Inn City Farm design is only a concept at this point (see the OVA Facebook page)

None of it is rocket science and it makes so much sense to do this, that if this project isn’t taken on within 12 months — somewhere in the world — I will be the most surprised man on the planet.

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