Impact Hub Manila Fellowship

Martian Farming for Dummies

People want good quality food, but they don't have access to it. We are trying to solve how urban cities can consistently have access to high quality fresh vegetables and fruits that are grown with minimum resources and without the use of harmful chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides.

One possible solution is to grow in vertical farms. This technology is not new but the capital costs and operational costs are hindrances to adoption which we are taking steps to solve.

If you think about it, creating a farm in Mars requires us to be very efficient in the use of resources. This is the idea behind how to increase the efficiency of vertical farms to grow food.

Who faces this problem?

Our initial potential customers are:

Chefs/restaurant operators who want consistent fresh supply or access to not locally grown fresh vegetables or fruits to make their culinary creations.

Health conscious people who want traceable food that they can trust (i.e. not grown with harmful chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides).

People with international exposure who compare the quality of food across countries and may have higher expectations.

People who care about the environment and do not want to consume food that has traveled long distances and contributed to carbon emissions.

In the long-term, if we can make our system cheap enough, we hope to reach everyone's table.

How does your idea address this problem?

Just imagine growing food in Mars: we need to be very efficient!

Our strategy to become a successful vertical farm business is 1) to reduce capital costs and operational costs, 2) to have a continuous research and development program locally in Philippines, and 3) differentiate ourselves to avoid cost competition.

We will be providing something that is not available in market in sense of quality and consistency. 

From an investment perspective, vertical farms provide a safer investment to traditional farms since many unpredictable factors are reduced.

What’s new and unique about your idea?

We are redesigning the components of the vertical farm system with a low capital cost and operational cost aim. At this point, we do not see any player with this aim as the supplier market for vertical farms all provide “turnkey” systems with high margins. Being able to revisit the components to optimize the system, and building a research and development arm locally to continuously push the limits of the system to lower cost structures is unique. The benefit of low capital cost and low operational cost means that we may have a chance to access other emerging/developing markets as well.

How are you going to earn money?

We earn money by selling vegetables and fruits. In the short-term, we will be offering leafy greens at a higher quality in the market. In the medium-term, we will offer vegetables and fruits not locally grown. In the long-term we want to be able to grow as many economically viable varieties as possible. All of these will be grown as close as possible to consumers, without the use of harmful chemicals, and predictable.

To gain traction in the market, we have partnered with a high-traffic entertainment company where we will build a vertical farm in the upcoming months for the purposes of 1) supplying a salad bar next door and 2) guest entertainment. The entertainment side also doubles as an educational attraction where we can hopefully inspire children with an idea that farming has a science and engineering aspect to it.

With a system built at the entertainment company, we hope to be able to come up with concrete numbers which we can use to expand the business through a franchise system or directly building and managing vertical farm installations with partner establishments.

The price of lettuce from successful vertical farms in Japan are around 90 pesos per kilogram. If there are available imported lettuce, it is priced around 90-150 pesos per kilogram. Since lettuce in high-end supermarkets in Manila are priced between 250-450 pesos per kilogram with questionable quality, we see an opportunity to offer an alternative. The medium term aim is to be able to grow and sell vegetables and fruits not grown locally to be able to increase the diversity of available food.

Do you already have customers?

Yes, we have one large customer in a high traffic entertainment business and wants to engage in a profit-sharing model for supplying fresh greens to a salad bar.

We have also shared our vision with the expat community and they have expressed excitement to purchase vegetables even at a premium price when we start growing in the upcoming weeks.

Who is in your team?

Our team is multidisciplinary with skills in electronics engineering, controlled environment engineering, software development, economics, education, international development, finance, design, and marketing. We have been conducting multiple experiments to address food security issues in the Philippines for two years now. Experience in this area includes understanding why farm management apps are not being adopted, why IoT sensors in traditional small farms have limited impact on yields, why contract farming has limited chances of being adopted and why farming machines cannot be viably deployed in current setups of farms. We also work with Kamogawa Hackerfarm, TechRice Japan, Japan Agriculture, family farms in Bulacan and Nueva Ecija, and international research institutions in an informal capacity.

Our core team is based in Mandaluyong City and is building a vertical farm in a garage.

John Auxillos is based on Earth and plans to be an OFW (Overspace Filipino Worker) in Mars. He is a graduate of Franklin University Switzerland and Tokyo Institute of Technology and is an IT consultant for companies in healthcare, education, and entertainment industry. He also has project experience with UNESCO and JICA in developing countries such as Thailand and Mongolia. His research interest is in low-cost technology projects and previously conducted an impact study of primary school children using the One Laptop Per Child XO1 computers.

Osamu Watanabe is an engineer from Tokyo Japan who grew up in Akihabara and started designing circuit boards when he was 11. He studied at Tokyo Institute of Technology and his engineering skills ranges from mechanical engineering, fluid dynamics, and radio simulation. He previously worked for controlled environment construction company in Japan and Singapore. While in university, he expanded the Australian educational NPO called Robogals in Tokyo and lead a high school student team to World Rego Olympiad in Indonesia.

Jared Joel Salazar is an engineer from Balanga City, Bataan and one of the founders of Balanga Makerspace.  Graduate of Electronics Engineering at Bataan Peninsula State University, and an Electronics Technician by profession, he has various experiences in building devices with microcontrollers (a.k.a. IoT devices) connected to cloud services. He is a self-taught software engineer and loves anime and food.

Yukari Iwamoto is a designer from Sophia University in Japan and the Royal College of Art in the UK. She is behind our company’s image and branding. She was formerly a marketing manager for Intel Japan for five years. She is an advocate for simple living, sustainability, and social innovation.

Mark Supan is a civil engineering graduate from Bataan Peninsula State University. He is a CAD designer with expertise in creating dynamic 3D models with design intent. He is the team’s 3D printing ninja who is behind the farmer-friendly tool-less cases for IoT devices for rice fields.

Have you already founded/incorporated your company?

Yes

What is the intended positive impact on the environment and/or society of your venture?

Minimize cross border trade of fresh vegetables and fruits by making it viable to grow non-local produce. This will have an impact of decreasing our carbon footprint while retaining the ability of people to enjoy vegetables and fruits not locally grown. If we use alternative energy, we can potentially be a carbon-negative system.

Minimize energy consumption of vertical farm system by redesigning the components such as reducing energy conversion loss, using more efficient components, and optimizing for specific plant growth.

Increase the agricultural efficiency and food production, which will hopefully provide an alternative to burning down forests and converting them to agricultural land.

Inspire the next generation farmers. We want to change the mindset of the young so that a) they understand that engineering and science plays important roles in farming, b) they understand agriculture is no longer a backbreaking job and technology has a valuable role in making a comfortable and sustainable future for all of us, and c) they can jumpstart traditional farming to adopt more sustainable and innovative practices.

How will the Fellowship Program enable you to achieve your ambitions?

We believe the most valuable aspect of the Fellowship Program is access to professionals, partners, investors, collaborators, suppliers, and talent to bring our idea to reality.

Milestones:

  • directly sell to consumers premium vegetables
  • create growing system at a high-traffic entertainment center
  • build out operational expertise and sales channels
  • establish research teams
  • expand offerings to other countries 

Are you living in the Philippines?

Yes

edited on 29th June 2016, 01:06 by John Auxillos

Pipat Methavanitpong Jun 29, 2016

It might be interesting if

I have 2 thoughts to add
1. Scalable from a person who lives alone in Tokyo to a business owner
2. Control growth of large trees e.g. Jackfruit, Apple, Plum

Reply 0

John Auxillos Jun 29, 2016

Thanks Pitpat and apologies on not being able to comment on more than one line on this site.

Scalability is indeed one area that we are working on. Current vertical farms in Japan have outputs of around 8000 heads of lettuce or higher per day. This will definitely be something that will not be economical not unless we bring down the scale.

Control growth of large trees is possible. Just need to figure out how to make it economically feasible. The Singapore Gardens by the Bay and the Eden project both have trees within their controlled environment structures.

Another way to look at this problem is to find varieties of Jackfruit, Apples, and Plums that are smaller in size so we can easily fit them in a controlled environment that we can standardize.

Reply 0

Deesha Chandra Jul 5, 2016

This concept is great and very interesting to see that you have already started growing. Is this in the Philippines? It might also help to link this closer to the energy solutions focus in your submission?

Reply 1

John Auxillos Jul 5, 2016

Yes, we are doing this at a garage here in the Philippines.

Energy cost accounts for 25% of vertical farm operational cost and there are many aspects that can be improved. This is one aspect that needs to be addressed to make vertical farming commercially viable.

Assuming 10 pesos per kWH, our prototype gives us a baseline energy cost is 198 pesos to grow 500 grams of lettuce in 35 days in a controlled environment. There are currently lots of room to improve, including proper insulation, using focused LED spectrum specific to what the plant needs, using efficient cooling systems, designing to use alternative energy sources directly, and minimizing energy loss from conversions. All this will require research and development, which we want to establish here in the Philippines to give the young better opportunities to look forward to.

If we look at the bigger picture, solar panels currently are at 30% efficiency and this means we can use 30% of the energy coming from the sun. Photosynthesis on the other hand is 4-6% efficient (see attached picture on plant energy absorption). Assuming perfect system with zero loss, we can "in theory" grow 4-6 times more food. Now if we just grow 2-3 times more efficient, this means we can grow more food per square meter of energy we receive from the sun. This is important to increasing sustainable agriculture output for feeding 2 billion people by 2050.

We can also give renewable energy sources like geothermal, tidal, and biomass better reasons to expand their capacity by using off-peak loads (i.e. at night) to grow food.

At the end of the day, we are trying to establish a new area where innovation can happen (vertical farms), and use sustainable energy solutions from the ground up. This has the advantage to showcase everyone what can be done from cooling to system optimization.

Source of image comes from: http://sippe.ac.cn/gh/2008%20Annual%20Report/Zhu%20X-G.pdf

Reply 3

Deesha Chandra Jul 6, 2016

That's brilliant thanks for adding this extra info Jyauxi

Reply 0

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Norman Lizaso Jul 27, 2016

Do you have a demo farm that we can visit? Im also currently starting an urban farming project. I hope we could collaborate. :)

Reply 1

John Auxillos Jul 27, 2016

Our farm can come to you. Let's discuss over chat when and where we can meet up http://m.me/TechAguru

Reply 1

Norman Lizaso Jul 27, 2016

pm'ed you in messenger. thanks

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