Every year millions of tonnes of goods are shipped across the world in shipping containers. Global trade patterns mean that whilst these 20,000,000 containers set off packed full of goods, many make their return journey empty.
Imperial design engineering student Phillipe Hohlfeld has developed Growframe, a collapsable hydroponic farm that can be set up to grow crops in otherwise empty shipping containers on their return journeys.
Phillipe's research found that in the market between China and North America alone there is aproximately 7,500,000 containers returning empty each year.
When set up in a 20 foot container Phillipe estimates that Growframe will be able to produce around $1,500 - $2,000 of crops in a journey. When not in use it collapses to 1/10th of its original size making it easy to transport on the outward journey before being put to use on the return trip.
“For routes between China and every other continent so many of the containers go back empty because so many goods are produced in China,” Phillipe said. “The empty container was an opportunity. There’s 12sqm of land in a container, it’s essentially free, it’s sealed and you can do anything you want in it.”
As part of the project Phillipe looked at a range of options to get the most value from the empty container before settling on his farming idea. As well as producing something of benefit to the shipping companies, he was also keen to make sure that the product could be of a benefit to China when it arrived.
“I wanted to create something that could exist autonomously over three weeks in the sealed container and help fulfil a need in China,” Phillipe added. “I learnt from a study by the Met Office that China is having a lot of problem with crops due to pollution. Growframe could provide a clean, secure and safe source of food for the Chinese market.”
The product is currently in its testing stage, having produced successful on-land harvests of vegetables such as pak choi, lettuce and beansprouts. Phillipe is currently working to take Growframe to sea for its next big test.