Vertical Farm Building Costs?

Chamarra McCrorey's picture
Chamarra McCrorey
Writer
October 7, 2017

How much would it cost to build a complete green vertical farm? One that could feed 50,000 people and supply fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, fish, and poultry all in the same building, but separate chambers. All while using solar, hydro, and wind power to supply electric. The use of all types of ponic farming can be used, but no soil (dirt) should be used. Thanks again.

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Mara Freeman's picture
October 7
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Vertical farms exist in various parts of the U.S. including Seattle, Detroit, Houston, Brooklyn, Queens, and near Chicago... AeroFarms, a vertical farm located in Newark, New Jersey, is perhaps the best known vertical farm. It exists inside an old steel warehouse and has raised venture capital. There is also a well-known vertical farm at the Valcent Paignton Zoo Environmental Park project.

In estimating the cost of a vertical farm, I think it’s prudent to start out with how much space we’ll need on the vertical farm (i.e. food we’d need to be growing) for 50,000 people. For the answer, I turned to Columbia University professor Dr. Dickson Despommier’s “Vertical Farm” (he has been credited for coining the term) classroom project in which he tasked his students to determine the answer to a similar question. A recent article on AeroFarms in The New Yorker details his 10 year class study.

Despommier's findings estimated that two hundred buildings, each 20 stories high, each with a footprint of 4,000 square feet would feed the New York City population in 2050. The NYC population in 2050 is expected to be 27,768,743 according to the University of Ontario. Divide that number by 200 (which is the number of buildings needed as described above) and you can see that each building feeds 138,843 people. So, for 50,000 people, we would need a building that is roughly 1/3 the size of Despommier's buildings in this example.

So, for a 7 story building with a 4,000 square foot footprint, in New York City, cost of construction would be about $500 per square foot, according to data from The Real Deal.

That means, if this were just an 7 story building the cost range could be $140,000,000 in a city like New York, just for construction costs. Taking into account the advanced systems that would need to be included in the building design to accommodate plant and animal life, as well as the renewable energy you mentioned, the cost might be an additional $100/sf, totaling in excess of $168,000,000.

Obviously these are just order of magnitude type numbers, and don't take into account the specific costs for each type of chamber that would be required (fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, fish, and poultry), and design concerns for adding structural support for wind turbines, or enhanced animal management filtration systems that would be required (similar to a zoo environment, I’d assume).

For that specific of an answer I’d assume that it would take a team of estimators approximately a week’s worth of work to come up with conceptual designs and ideas then associate costs with them, which could incur an additional cost of something like $64,000 in design costs.

A detailed vertical farm cost analysis including operation, transportation, fertilization, crop success rates, renewable energy, and employment benefits would be required to determine the cost effectiveness of a vertical farm compared to a traditional farm to determine if a vertical farm project is feasible from an ROI standpoint.

Lloyd Alter pointed out in a recent article for TreeHugger that Aerofarms has nullified most of the problems that were traditionally associated with vertical farming. They have re-purposed an abandoned warehouse, they use efficient LED lighting, hardly any water due to a growing media invented by Ed Harwood where the plants are suspended in a fabric made from plastic bottles. Their salad greens can reach New Yorkers in less than an hour as opposed to greens from California or Florida that might ride in a truck for days.

While vertical farming can be a viable solution to the water problem, the fertilizer problem, the transportation problem, and the lack of available land use for agriculture, it is not the solution to the energy or carbon problem.

Many people are still concerned about the costs and consider vertical farming to be a non-sustainable solution to farming, or simply a "less bad" one.

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