The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that food production will need to increase by 70% to feed an expected global population of 9 billion in 2050. In the UK, the food supply chains have been a topic under scrutiny lately with the impact of Brexit and coronavirus, particularly around heavy reliance on fresh food imports. Producing large quantities of quality crops year-round using advanced vertical farming methods is becoming increasingly popular as it can reduce the land use requirements for cropland and be less affected by environmental conditions. Vertical farming is an innovative agricultural approach where food crops are grown indoors in stacked layers under a controlled environment. Indoor vertical farming is considered to be a climate-resilient method that allows for repeatable and programmable crop production.
Vertical Farming offers many solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing agriculture. However, vertical farming is an energy-intensive operation and requires a significant amount of electrical and thermal energy demand which is a critical challenge from both the economic and sustainability points of view. Therefore, there is a growing interest in the application of renewable resources such as solar photovoltaic technologies for vertical farming.
The main theme of the PhD research project is to design and develop a climate-smart net-zero vertical farm based on a circular-economic approach. The study would involve both experimental and theoretical analysis.
The proposed project could be based on the following design concepts
- Use of renewable energy technologies to cover electricity and heating demands
- Electrical and thermal energy storage during cloudy periods and at night
- Grid connection for surplus export
- Use of waste heat to enhance healthy growing conditions of the plants
- Smart control techniques to optimise indoor conditions
- Energy efficient lighting usage
The applicant will need to have a solid science, engineering or technology background to be able to carry out the research project. A minimum of 2:1 (or equivalent) undergraduate qualification in one of these disciplines is required. A relevant Master’s level qualification and/or experience in International Development would be advantageous.
The successful applicant will be required to be competent across a diverse range of disciplines including engineering design, computation analysis, experimental evaluation and fabrication and assembly techniques, directly drawing on the wide range of knowledge and skill sets available at Ulster.