Plants have been a major part of humanity since the beginning and if the projects being undertaken in this article are anything to go by, they will continue to be, well into the future. Here are 5 ways that plants will be a major factor in how we will live in the future.
Electricity from plants
This is one I have touched in a previous article, but a Dutch company named Plant-E has figured out how to create electricity from plants. The researchers discovered that as they grow, plants always produce more sugars than they need, and the excess is cast out through their roots into the surrounding soil and break down into protons and electrons. So I guess kind of like plant poop. Plant-e’s system uses electrodes in the soil to await the breakdown of this plant waste, thus conducting electricity.
Engineers will be placing a tube horizontally below the surface of large plant lands such as wetlands, peats and bogs, even rice paddys, in order to be able to create enough electricity to power a house, or maybe even a school or office block. The hope is that one day the technology will be good enough that a 100m2 area of plants will be enough to power the average home.
Plant based meat
Plant based meat sounds like a carnivores worst nightmare, after all for those who have tried current meat alternatives you will be well aware that it is no match for the juicy goodness of a medium rare steak — however all that is changing. Scientists in multiple locations around the world have been reverse engineering what we consider meat, from the proteins to the structure of the fibres in order to create plant based meat that looks, smells, tastes and has the texture of meat without a single bit of animal product in it. In fact they have gotten so good at this they have even managed to make it bleed. And the result — well I actually tried some plant based prawns and you would never know the difference.
The reason this is so important is it changes how we can feed the world. According to Impossible Foods, making the plant-based meat uses 99 percent less land, 85 percent less water and emits 89 percent less greenhouse gas than traditional beef production. As we start preparing to have a human population of 10 billion, plant based meat is one solution that is looking promising. Interestingly enough, plant based meat is not only saving the environment, it is saving humans as well. Nutritionally, the Impossible Burger is a lot like a classic beef burger (but with more protein and no cholesterol, hormones or antibiotics) and because it is plant based, there are no worries about food safety. Plant based meat is already available in most western countries should you wish to go out and try some.
Gone are the days of cities being seen as grey, dreary and polluting. A new era has spawned with many cities — particularly industrial cities are realising the only possible path for a decent future for their citizens requires turning their cities green.
Take China, A country synonymous with environmental degradation and smog, but also a country where things have gotten so bad, they now realise there is no other alternative, than to start turning green. Italian Architect Steffano Boeri has already started the construction of green towers that will be built in the city of Nanjing. However Boeri is also working on another plan to turn an entire city green and by 2020 China may have its first ‘Forest City’ in the city of Shijiazhuang. Forest city will be built within the current city limits and will house 100,000 people. Much the same way that Masdar green city sits on the edge of Abu Dhabi it seems it is easier to start from scratch with an experiment, than it is to try transform an older city green. However that hasn’t stopped Madrid, where pretty much every unused space will soon be covered in plants.
The city is spending millions to expand existing parks, and as many roofs and walls will be covered with greenery as possible. Twenty-two vacant lots will be turned into urban gardens. Paved squares will become parks that can suck up rainfall. Near the river that runs through the middle of the city–where a major highway was torn down in 2003–the city is spending over $4.3 million to finish filling in the banks with trees.
As the city starts to ban cars from central streets, the Department of the Environment is considering turning some of those streets into linear, tree-filled parks, too.
Planting gardens on roofs, and adding plants on outdoor walls, helps insulate buildings so they can save energy, and helps reduce street noise. But it also helps bring down local temperatures by shading pavement and by releasing evaporated water that can create clouds. In pilot green roof tests in some Madrid neighborhoods, temperatures went down more than four degrees.
By the year 2050, nearly 80% of the earth’s population will reside in urban centers and the population will increase by an additional 3 billion. A very large amount of land may be required depending on the change in yield per hectare. Scientists are concerned that this large amount of required farmland will not be available and that severe damage to the earth will be caused by the added farmland. According to Despommier, vertical farms, if designed properly, may eliminate the need to create additional farmland and help create a cleaner environment.
Vertical farming can produce crops all year round, which multiplies the number of times you can grow a certain crop. The average being 4–6 times more in vertical farms as opposed to land based farms, with the strawberry being 30 times more. Moreover vertical farms do not suffer from severe weather, temperature changes, changes in seasons as this can all be controlled from within the walls of the farm.
Better yet, because vertical farms allow the crops to be grown closer to the consumers, it can allow traditional farms to be returned to their original state. Deforestation and desertification from farming (not to mention the pollution and waterway damage) is a major issue created by the farming industry. Imagine the impact we could have on the planet if we could return these farms back to nature.
Plants are actually a fantastic source of material for building houses from. Yeah obviously we have been build houses from wood since the dawn of time, however, one plant we have completely forgotten about which is an abundant resource for building homes is straw.
Now this might bring flashbacks of the three little pigs, however when bundled together into bales, straw is actually a magnificent building material. Plaster it with lime and straw becomes a natural insulation keeping the house cool in summer and warm in winter. The best thing about building houses from straw is it is a readily available material that often gets burnt or thrown away in many parts of the world. Take Asia, where after every rice harvest the leftover stalks etc are just dried out and burnt. This style of building could dramatically decrease building costs not only from the material costs, but also due to the fact that straw homes are so easy they can be built by pretty much anyone.
Another building initiative that will start making its way into the home in the coming years, is the idea of the living wall. The living wall uses plants and stones to naturally filter rain water from the roof, sending it through numerous filtration systems before becoming completely drinkable. This filtration system is so thorough that it can even treat raw sewage, although due to current laws it is not yet legal to be considered potable.
So it looks like plants will still play a major part in how humans live, if not becoming more important as we remember and rediscover just how useful plants can be. From becoming our major food source, to bringing food to the masses and even building our cities from them, plants will be a critical element in our cities over the next century.