Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Project 2050: What can we do today to change the fate of our world? - Food Shortage

Jaimini Solanki, Jordan Walsh, Samuel Rhodes and Thomas Thomas, Cohort 2019

As part of Project 2050, SELA Cohort 2019 wished to demonstrate how engineering could have an impact in tackling the myriad sustainability issues which plague our society before irreparable damage is done. The exhibition is now live, in Festival of the Mind 2020 – both as an in person event, and a digital interactivity.

As our population rapidly grows, we need to find new ways of farming food to meet the demand. If this is not done, it is very likely that humans will not be able to produce enough food for this ever-growing population, regardless of any efforts made. Our SELA Food Shortages Team had the challenge of applying engineering solutions to solve future food shortages.

We explored several technologies, considering their key benefits and drawbacks, which should help save lives by meeting the increasing food demands. We wanted to get people as excited about technologies to help with the food crisis that we ourselves had become passionate about researching. We discovered how we could revolutionize the ways we produce food and utilize our resources to feed our populations in innovative and healthy ways! 

One technology we highlight is hydroponics. Plants can be grown without soil or sunlight by substituting them for water and LED lighting. This allows 4x increase in crop growth per square metre compared to traditional farming. Hydroponic farms in London already have the capacity to grow fresh fruit and vegetables 33m underground all year around! We can also use hydroponics on a small scale in our own homes. There are an increasing number of hydroponics kits on the market, and we managed to get one from IKEA to demonstrate the technology. The unit was used to grow fresh basil over the course of a month. The LED attachment allowed us to maintain a source of light for 16 hours and we were able to incorporate liquid fertiliser to ensure the most efficient growth. We want to highlight the role that hydroponics and vertical farming can play in achieving food security and their limitations so this is incorporated into our work for Festival of the Mind.

Alongside these, we also obtained the name ‘insects team’ because we wanted to show the benefits of insect consumption for protein. Interestingly, more than 2 billion people worldwide already consume insects as a regular part of their diet. Insects are a fantastic alternative to beef and lamb with over 2x the protein density, faster lifecycles, easier digestion and ease of farming! We wanted to display some crickets in a cricket farm, so that people could see them! Whilst we were unable to let them taste real crickets, we did the deed ourselves as we felt we couldn’t just recommend eating insects if we weren’t willing to ourselves! Our preference was Crunchy Critters - it surprised all of us how much better than expected they were. In fact, the 5 packets soon got finished surprisingly quickly! We wanted to also show the diverse range of recipes available using insects and the benefits of using them. Utilizing them for protein powders put into commercial food for example could be one way we could reduce beef production to sustainable levels.

Overall throughout our project, we have learnt an awful lot about food production, technology being developed and the exciting solutions people are coming up with!
Throughout our project we thoroughly enjoyed working as a team, and the research we undertook was both exciting and challenging to understand deeper risks associated with them and present them in a palatable way for aspiring teenage engineers. We have no doubt that these technologies and others yet to be invented, if adopted, will feed a brighter future for everyone as well as the planet!

Festival of the Mind runs physically and online 17-27 September 2020. For more details please visit the Festival webpages.

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