After sleeping in late recovering from an all-night Chinatown-Express bus ride into NY, I hopped over to Hudson River Park to check out the Science Barge, first project of the NY Sun Works for sustainable engineering.
The Science Barge
Sarah Hanna, Educational Coordinator for the barge, gave us a tour of the facility, which is an engineering solution to the problem of providing sustainable produce to city populations. Currently, food must be shipped or trucked into the city over long distances, and the Science Barge provides a surprisingly effective solution to this problem, while providing additional benefits to the city as well, serving as both an educational and research facility.
A barge was chosen to simulate a building rooftop, with the accompanying problems of load balance. It is also mobile, vacationing in Redhook during the winter, and visiting Harlem and other areas as a mobile educational site, as well as being visible, accessible, off-grid and off-pipe.
Nearly everything on the barge is recycled. From the refurbished shipping container housing the office space, to the recycled plastic lumber making the deck and picnic tables, to the “Build it Green” wood, salvaged from construction waste.
Photovoltaic cells provide the barge’s primary form of energy, with 12 panels that can absorb 10 hours of sunlight and provide 25 hours of energy. These arrays track the sun across the sky without using electricity, but rather tubes filled with freon rebalance the arrays according to which tubes are being heated in the sunlight. A set of five small wind turbines provide some energy, but, as Sarah explained, would work better on a rooftop with larger generators. Finally, a backup tank of biofuels serves as an energy-source of last resort. A battery bank stores two days worth of electricity for the barge as well.
Hydroponics Results in Short Root Systems
Twin greenhouses allow for maintaining two growing environments on the barge, a leafy and vine bay. Tubes running along the roofs of these greenhouses capture rainwater for the plants inside. This architecture will also provide additional benefits for buildings by preventing rainwater runoff from causing weathering damage. A hydroponics system and nutrient film trays used to grow the plants require only 1/7th the water traditional agriculture requires, and, unlike traditional agriculture, all nutrients stay on the barge, eliminating the nitrogen runoff currently creating dead zones in our oceans.
Limited growing space means growing upwards, with stacked pots for strawberries, and vines that grow up to the ceiling and are then folded over to grow back down. Instead of using pesticides, pests are kept in check using ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and other predators as needed. Environmentally friendly substrates such as rice husks, coconut shells, and Earth Stone (recycled glass), are used to aerate the root systems for the plants.
Most fascinating of all was the Aquaponic system for providing nutrients to the plants using catfish. Nutrients from the plants and worms feed the catfish, who produce nitrogen-rich waste, which feeds the plants. Tilapia were originally used, but eventually replaced with catfish, which were better suited to the climate.
Strawberry Plants Stacked
The result of all this effort is a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables given out to all the children who visit the barge. These were the greenest greens I’d ever seen, tomato plants with 10-month growing seasons, and the whole set up smelled of wonderful herbs and fresh air. We were each given some cucumbers to take with us, which were also delicious.
Imagine having one of these setups on your patio or rooftop, cool water, fresh fish and greens always available without the fuel costs to bring them hundreds of miles to you and preserve them for the journey. Imagine the wealth of nutrients we’re missing out on, lost in the shipping. The Science Barge is a collection of sustainable innovations, all worth adopting.
Check out the Science Barge Website here.
Check out the complete flickr set here.