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Edenworks: urban ‘aquaponics’ uses energy modeling to farm under water

Urban food startup, Edenworks, creating its first experimental greenhouse atop a steelworks in East Williamsburg.

Edenworks is an urban agriculture startup based in East Williamsburg in the finals for the NYU Social Venture Competion this Friday. The competition kicked off in September, but the aquaponics venture led by Jason Green has come to the very end. We first learned about Edenworks as it made it to the finals for NYCEDC’s  “NYC Next Idea” Global New Venture Competition, which wrapped up April 10.

While farming may not sound very high tech, the team is using lots of software and technology as well as a startup approach to launching its first demonstration farm. The basic idea is to create a scalable, modular aquaponics farm that grows leafy, fruiting and root vegetables in symbiosis with tilapia, catfish and freshwater prawn.

Aquaponics is the idea that fish can be grown in tanks and their waste can be recycled into water that delivers nutrients to plants growing entirely in a water environment. The approach is mainly used for growing greens and herbs, but Green’s experiments at home have shown they can get into more substantial foods.

“Man cannot lives on greens and herbs alone,” he said.

Here are some of the technical components that are going into their first farm, which lives atop a steelworks building near the border with Bushwick.

  • There was no previous plug and play system for monitoring an aquaponics greenhouse’s sensors, so they had to build it.
  • By using energy modeling for the site of their first greenhouse, they realized it would work better if the southside was translucent, collecting light, and the back side was insulated. The whole structure was built to Passivhaus standards.
  • The system is collecting all sorts of data, including checking the flavor of plants against the palate of their head of product and its nutrition as measured by food science labs.
  • Systems can be monitored remotely. The team hopes to add robotic visual monitoring soon and even robot pickers.

The goal is get the operations cost and environmental impact as low as possible. Current estimates suggest the team can make a farm profitable within 18 months. Its first farm should take its first plantings this summer. The team has three restaurants lined up to buy its food now.

The long term vision is to create a distributed network of Edenworks farms across the city, and, eventually beyond. Old industrial buildings with their heavy structures work especially well. Host buildings will also find an 30% improvement in the performance of their HVAC systems beneath an Edenworks greenhouse, according to modeling the team has done thus far, both in Winter and Summer.

Green is the only person working full time on the project, with a seven person part time team. The project has been entirely bootstrapped so far but they will begin pitching for an investment round soon.

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Series: Brooklyn

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