Replace soil with foam to solve global food security crisis, say scientists | 4/3/2019 | Staff
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Specially developed foams could help avert a global food security crisis by replacing fast-degrading soils, according to scientists.

Experts from the new Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield have found that crops planted in polyurethane foams at an urban farm grow two to 10 times faster than plants grown in soil.

Network - Pipes - Solutions - Environments - Foams

Using a network of pipes, nutrient solutions, controlled growing environments and foams, scientists are growing everything from salad to tomatoes—demonstrating a potential solution to the global crisis of soil fertility.

Every year 24 billion tons of fertile soil are lost globally to erosion. So Harry Wright, a Ph.D. student at the University's Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, has developed specialist foams that chemically, physically and biologically resemble soil.

Jacob - Nickles - Knowledge - Exchange - Associate

Jacob Nickles, a Knowledge Exchange Associate, has put Harry's foams to the test, transforming an abandoned school in Sheffield into an urban farm with the installation of pioneering hydroponics systems.

The potential of the low-cost system has already been demonstrated with an initiative to install hydroponics systems made from used mattresses at a refugee camp in Jordan, led by Grantham Centre Director Professor Tony Ryan, in collaboration with Professor Duncan Cameron at the Institute for Sustainable Food.

Professor - Duncan - Cameron - Director - Institute

Professor Duncan Cameron, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield, said: "The world is facing a crisis of soil fertility. If we're going to fix this, we need to do something radically different.

"Urban farms that use foam instead of soil could take a lot of pressure off existing agricultural systems. And because this system is so efficient, it enables us to feed our growing population using fewer resources.

Future - Farms - World - Conditions - Food

"In the future, I hope we can see farms like this all over the world, optimised for local conditions and producing cheap, healthy and sustainable food."

The urban farm opened its doors to the public May...
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