German start-up offers eco-efficient urban container farming

German start-up offers eco-efficient urban container farming

A small German eco-innovation company is attracting attention after winning a most-promising start-up award in the "agriculture, water and waste" category at the Cleantech Open Global Forum, a major cleantech innovation event held in Silicon Valley, California, in November 2013.

The company, ECF Farmsystems, based in Berlin, produces the ECF Containerfarm, a mini farming unit designed around a shipping container, which can efficiently produce food in urban settings. The container holds an aquarium for fish farming, while above it, a greenhouse is constructed to grow vegetables.

The system uses fish waste and carbon dioxide produced in the aquaculture part of the container to boost the growth of the plants in the greenhouse above the container. And the water that goes into the system is used twice – for the fish tanks, and then for the plants.

The container farms are easily transportable by road. They can be used to grow a wide range of vegetables and come pre-stocked with tilapia fish, a commonly farmed species. The container system uses a technology developed by the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries – the ASTAF-PRO aquaponic system.

ECF (Efficient City Farming GmbH) started up only in 2012. It has installed its container farms in a number of locations, including the Malzfabrik creative centre, a converted industrial area in Berlin, and the town square in Pocking, southern Germany. Its objective is to establish an international franchise of urban farms, with franchisees earning revenues by delivering vegetables and fish locally.

The company claims a number of environmental benefits for the Containerfarm: a water saving of up to 90%, and a space-use reduction of up to 70% compared to conventional agriculture. It also makes use of unwanted shipping containers, and can be integrated into existing buildings to make use of their waste heat.

ECF is a Climate-KIC start-up. Climate-KIC (knowledge and innovation communities) is based in London and is an initiative of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. It brings together a number of public and private sector backers to support innovation projects that can help tackle climate change. A second Climate-KIC start-up, Eternal Sun, also won an award at the Cleantech Open Global Forum. Eternal Sun is a Dutch company that with a technology for testing the performance and reliability of solar energy systems.

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