Upcycling for Hydroponics in Singapore

Researchers from Singapore discovered that hair keratin can aid local vegetable production and food security. Hair and other biowastes can be a sustainable agricultural inputs for hydroponic agriculture.

The majority of the meals consumed in Singapore are imported, According to Singapore Food Agency (SFA). In addition, with a variety of competing requirements for land, just one percent of the land in Singapore is reserved to be used for agriculture. Poh Bee Ling, Director of the SFA’s Urban Food Solutions Division, informs Food Tank.

To lessen dependence on other nations and provide food security To ensure food security and reduce reliance on other countries, the SFA strives to diversify food sources and encourage local production. “We are working with our local agri-food industry to achieve our ’30 by 30′ goal, which is to build our capability and capacity to produce 30 percent of our nutritional needs locally and sustainably by 2030,” Poh states.

On the other hand, at the end of supply chains, the SFA offers funding to help local production and the use of new technologies. Poh claims that through the assistance of the SFA, farmers can build their capacity to realize their vision of an innovative, high-tech, and sustainable agriculture system that makes the most of Singapore’s scarce available land resources.

Hydroponic farming is essential for Singapore to grow food. “This is important in land-scarce Singapore as vegetable farms using hydroponics could be set up in spaces such as on rooftops or inside buildings,” Poh states. The method helps growers improve the environment to boost yields, quality, or flavor. “This can translate to cost-effective, quality-assured products that can be sustainably grown in the long run.”

However, Poh acknowledges a significant disadvantage of hydroponic agriculture. She states some systems use non-recyclable polyurethane cubes to help plants through the process of growth. Producers are searching for alternatives to sustainable, renewable substrates that do not need extra costs for inputs. Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) seek the best solution to tackle this issue: Keratin sponges.

Dr. Ng Kee Woei, professor and associate chair of research at NTU’s School of Materials Science and Engineering at NTU discovered that many substances used in hydroponic farming are not biodegradable or recyclable. “And to top it off, they are innate materials, meaning they do not supply any nutrients on their own to the plants,” Ng says to Food Tank.

Its NTU study team combined plant waste cellulose with Keratin extracts to create an organic sponge that hydroponic plants feed. Keratin can be extracted from various biowaste sources like feathers, hooves, hair wool, horns, and horns. These are useful for sustainability and as a consumable product in agriculture systems.

An academic study at the University of Bonn cites bioresources that include waste and recyclable raw material as possible developing sources of soilless systems. Organic waste from grocery storesbiochar, biochar, and wood fibers provide examples of biomass successfully used to grow hydroponic plants.

As a natural resource, keratin is biodegradable. “And being proteins, as they degrade, they release amino acids which become part of the nutrient supply for plants,” Ng says on Food Tank.

However, scaling up this method in Singapore is challenging. “The number one challenge is the lack of supply of keratins,” Ng informs Food Tank. “If you want to commercialize this, you’re going to need a manufacturer that can provide us a supply of consistent quality and large quantities of keratins.”

With no industry for keratin inputs, the conventional ones remain a lot cheaper. “At this point in time, if we compare costs, we will never be able to match up with the existing sponges that farmers use,” Ng declares.

“I do believe that if we do the proper cost-benefit analysis, then we can look into how much savings the farmer can benefit from if they use keratin-based sponges,” Ng says to Food Tank. As for the future, Ng says there are possibilities to tailor the sponges to suit different types of crops or for other conditions.

“By adopting technology and smart farming features, we can build the capacity and capability of our agri-food industry to strengthen Singapore’s food security,” Poh informs Food Tank.


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