by Maria Vasileiou
ROTTERDAM, The Netherlands, Nov. 27 (Xinhua) -- Innovative projects such as farms and landscapes on the water or food production as part of urban life are fledgling in the Netherlands, adding new elements to the country's decades of years of endeavor at sustainable development.
In mid-December, a floating dairy platform will start to be constructed in Rotterdam. It will be secured to the northern banks of Mass in the old port of Merwenhaven, an area being gradually transformed into a site of innovative business in the fields of clean tech, medical and food.
Peter van Wingerden, mastermind of this project, called it "a high-tech lab" that is "completely sustainable". "The world population is growing, whilst the number of arable land is decreasing. The big question is how and where we can produce healthy food. We can do it on the water, eliminating the journey from farm to store completely as most large cities are built near water," he told Xinhua.
If completed in July 2016 as scheduled, this pilot platform is expected to house 60 cows and produce fresh products all-year round, including raw and pasteurized milk, yoghurt, cream, butter and cheese at a later stage. Researchers will work on the platform on better food production process, waste and water treatment.
The platform will have artificial floor designed to mimic actual pastures, and trees and bushes to provide shade. Cow urine will sink through immediately to be collected into an air tight container and used as liquid fertilizer, and cow manure will be collected by a robot and processed separately. Cow feed will be grown on the platform by the use of solar and wind energy. And the milk, also collected by a robot, will be cooled by the surrounding waters.
Prices of products from this floating platform will be 10 to 15 percent higher than those in the supermarkets and van Wingerden is confident that his model will run on profits immediately and depreciate investment in 10 years.
Also floating and also in Rotterdam, a park made of recycled plastic litters is scheduled to open in September next year in Rijnhaven near the center of the port city.
"By placing specially designed litter traps at the curves and the mouth of a river, we could collect a substantial part of plastic litter before it reaches the oceans where it becomes part of the plastic soup," Ramon Knoester from the Rotterdam-based Whim architecture bureau told Xinhua.
"The plastics in the New Mass are relatively fresh and have therefore a good recycling potential," he explained.
His company will construct hexagon building blocks, the building units of the park, with recycled plastic litter, using technique developed by Wageningen University. Vegetation including bushes and trees will grow on the building blocks, which will vary in height and depth, while the rough finishing at the bottom of the platform will provide shelter for fish.
Knoester said he is in talks with authorities and organizations in Anwerp and London to implement similar projects. "Rivers running through cities do not have enough deep water to provide a good natural environment for fish, sea flora and fauna. By retrieving plastic at the harbors of Rotterdam, Anwerp and at the mouth of Thames we could block the three main gateways of plastic entering the North Sea," he said.
Tieme Haddeman of Urban Green aims at increasing green areas in harbors, a difficult project since shore lines built near water are mostly made of stone.
However, his company has launched a 300 square meter floating landscape in a densely populated area on the banks of Mass in Rotterdam two months ago. By using modules made of high density polyethylene, which can be welded, Haddeman's floating platforms can vary in size, combine various kinds of use, while being transportable.
"By creating floating parks cities have access to more green space, while the quality of the water improves for the fish and the fauna habitat," he told Xinhua. Rotterdam's water board finances the 160,000 euro (169,300 U.S. dollars) project and will monitor the platform's sustainability results for two years.
Rotterdam is considering a second floating park, which would also function as a marina and a recreation area hosting restaurants, and Leiden plans a floating roundabout to monitor traffic at a busy water crossing, according to Urban Green.
Haddeman said he is also preparing to build floating gardens around a complex of floating houses in Dordrecht, a small port in the south of Netherlands, while Amsterdam aims at creating a 600 square meter ecosystem-friendly shoreline park around Zeeburg Island in the east part of the city.
For Gus van der Feltz, global director of City Farming at Philips Horticulture, growing vegetables no longer depends on sunlight. With energy efficient LED horticulture lighting system, the Dutch giant in technology and innovation makes growing crops possible in closed environments.
"We are looking into making city farming a way to a better and more secure crop production," Gus van der Feltz told Xinhua. The company's indoor farming facility called "GrowWise", a high-tech horticulture lab in the Netherlands' technology hub of Eindhoven, is equipped with specially developed LED lighting system placed in climate controlled chambers.
The lighting system at the farming center is built to emit different color light, influencing the behavior of plants. By using optimum color composition researchers at GrowWise regulate the yield, the shape and size, and even the chemical content of the herbs and greens that they grow. Crops are planted in four-layered mechanized racks.
"Our investigation aims at understanding further how to develop the technology that makes it possible to grow tasty, healthy and sustainable food virtually anywhere," van der Feltz explained. Part of the appeal of growing indoors is that crops aren't vulnerable to the extremes of weather.
"At the same time we are active in commercial projects helping large food producers supply their customers with superior quality vegetables, locally produced in a sustainable and secure way," he added.
Philips cooperates with partners in the Netherlands, the United States, Britain, China and Japan providing tailor-made LED light growth recipes for vegetable and fruit. In China a local team specialized in horticulture supports the company's local customers, according to van der Feltz.