Underground infrastructure was a revolutionary approach for expanding people's facility network. However, after a project is completed, these facilities tend to become useless. Abandoned mines, old road tunnels, military structures are some of the underground costructions that are not used. Scientists have initiated a research project to determine how such tunnels can be turned into underground farms that will grow crops and will absorb carbon dioxide.
Population growth has increased the demand for more space. Underground facilities have been widely used to overcome this issue by constructing buildings into the ground. This is the first time that this space will be utilized for agriculture purposes. Prof. Saffa Riffat, chair in sustainable energy at Nottingham’s faculty of engineering, is working on a project that will focus on such activities in China and UK. “In the UK there are over 1,500 redundant coal mines, and in China, there are over 12,000 abandoned coal mines (0.6 million m3), 7.2 billion m3 of tunnels and about one billion m3 of civic air defense tunnels.”
In order to achieve agricultural activities, scientists much overcome some serious issues. Firstly, the plants will not be able to receive sunlight, therefore LEDs with the optimum wavelengths will be utilized in order to enable the photosynthesis procedure. Moreover, hydroponic or even aeroponic systems will be used in order to grow the plants in a nutrient-rich environment. Both planting and harvesting will be manipulated by fully automated systems. Sensors will record the health of the crops, adjusting the underground conditions. These facilities will be powered by renewable energy.
Prof. Riffat commented on the difficulties of the project: “Vertical farms are a relatively recent adaptation of the traditional greenhouse and are suitable for use in cities, as their tall glass structures provide high crop yields on a small land area. However, vertical farming systems are expensive to manufacture and install, and require a large amount of water and energy for heating and cooling. They are also vulnerable to extreme weather conditions, wars and terrorism.”
If the attempt is realized, the growing crops could be produced all year round as they will no longer depend on natural conditions such as weather and temperature. They will also be able to grow in hostile places such as cold regions and regions where there is not enough sunlight.
Researchers will also investigate the possibility of connecting those abandoned tunnels with new networks.