Bioinspired Hydroponic Indoor System For Advanced Farming

Nandanan Erathodiyil, Hongfang Lu, Susi Tan and Jackie Y. Ying

To help Singapore achieve its ambition of producing 30% of its food locally by 2030, we need to greatly improve the efficiency and sustainability of our urban farming practices. The technologies we develop should be applicable to all sectors of the circular economy, encompassing the industrial, community and home-based farming communities. Using nanocomposite and beneficial microbe engineering, we are developing five practical technologies in collaboration with local farms to address urban farming challenges from seeding to harvesting: (1) beneficial bacteria as natural, sustainable plant nutrition, (2) nutrient-rich biocompost for plants and biogas, (3) bioinspired seed nanocoating for healthy, uniform germination, (4) controlled nutrient release via cellulose-based hydrogel spheres, and (5) customized recyclable plugs and devices for seeding and germination.

Beneficial microbiota with specific functions, such as nitrogen-fixing, phosphorous and potassium solubilization, growth promotion and natural antibiotic production, are isolated and cultured on a larger scale, and applied at various stages of plant growth. Using these microbes, food and other biodegradable wastes can be fermented to obtain nutrients for plants and biogas. Seeds are dip-coated prior to seeding using nanomaterials comprising natural biodegradable polymers, protein and soil microbiota, which will provide essential nutrients and resistance to external factors for healthy germination. Nutrient-encapsulated hydrogel spheres will provide controlled release of fertilizers and bionutrients during the growth and flowering stages. Customized cocopeat plugs of various sizes and shapes are developed from biodegradable natural polymers and fibers, for seeding leafy vegetables and herbs.

These five technologies can be integrated into a complete system for soilless indoor hydroponics, vertical farming and soil-based large-scale cultivation. In this way, we would not only be able to help improve the efficiency and sustainability of Singapore’s agricultural practices, but also provide an effective model for sustainable urban food production for the world.