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An underwater farming revolution with digital twin solutions

Siemens Nemos Garden Xcelerator 01Nemo’s Garden, a startup focused on sustainable underwater cultivation of crops, has come up with an underwater greenhouse

Resembling a bloom of giant jellyfish anchored to the ocean floor, these large clear domes, or biospheres, are a unique new type of underwater greenhouse. These biospheres harness the positive environmental factors of the ocean – temperature stability, evaporative fresh-water generation, CO2 absorption, and natural protection from pests – to create an environment ideal for growing all manner of produce. 

The project was especially dedicated to those areas where environmental conditions, economical or morphologic reasons make plants growth extremely difficult.

Siemens Digital Industries Software has announced that Nemo’s Garden has deployed Siemens’ Xcelerator portfolio of software and services to shorten its innovation cycles and move more rapidly towards industrialisation and scale.

Over the past decade, Sergio Gamberini and the team at Nemo’s Garden have been working to prove that cultivating fruit and vegetables under water is possible. They have not only successfully harvested a variety of crops from their prototype biospheres but also discovered that the plants grown in this environment were richer in nutrient content than those grown using traditional methods. The next big obstacle was to turn their prototype into a solution that could be installed globally – but they knew they did not have another 10 years to make this happen, and knew they needed to find a way to employ new technology. 

The brainchild behind Nemo’s Garden is  Gamberini, president of diving equipment manufacturer Ocean Reef, who in 2012 was challenged by a friend to combine his experiencing designing diving equipment with his passion for gardening – but he had no idea that it would turn into a new business with a vision of creating more food for the population. 

Nemo’s Garden turned to TekSea, a consulting firm focused on applying industry 4.0 technologies to help organisations deliver sustainable solutions. TekSea’s Matteo Cavalleroni identified Siemens Software as a technology partner who could help transition the prototype into a viable alternative agriculture solution that could be manufactured and installed anywhere in the world. Nemo’s Garden began to implement the Xcelerator portfolio of software and services, and the collaboration expanded from the automation of sensor monitoring to developing a digitalisation strategy centered on a Digital Twin of the biosphere.

Reinventing the biosphere

Data collection is important for any type of engineering project; however, it is especially critical when trying to do something entirely new like growing food under the sea. The Nemo’s Garden team had collected a wealth of historical sensor data in previous seasons, which was especially useful for developing the digital twin. Temperature, CO2 / O2 concentration, inclination angles, water levels, and power consumption data was compared with predictions from the initial simulations to validate the digital twin of the Nemo’s Garden domes and surrounding ocean.

With a virtual model and test bed available, design iterations started again in earnest without costly physical prototype builds or iterative fine tuning on a sub-sea environment. Rather than rely on a passive growing environment, the conditions within Nemo’s Garden could be tuned as the ocean and biomass changed during the season.  

This enabled the engineers to answer critical questions – such as: How many plants should be grown in each enclosure? How much sunlight should be let through to the plants? What is the minimum dome thickness and anchor strength required to handle the pressures and forces acting on the structure during both normal and abnormal conditions? 

Using 3D design and simulation software, including Siemens’ NX and Simcenter software in the virtual environment, the team was able to push the limits on the design and construction of the biospheres and imagine better biospheres. Previously, changes needed to be made incrementally so all involved could accurately measure the impact.  But by leveraging the digital twin of the biosphere with a simulation of the Bay of Noli, the team is now able to make much more impactful changes, more quickly. They are modeling elongated domes to fit more plants per enclosure and reducing thickness of the material to reduce weight, which also makes transportation and installation easier. The new biospheres could also be constructed with thin polymer lines, which will further reduce deployment struggles, while also reducing the manpower required.  

“When I first saw Siemens’ digital twin technology, I was mesmerised. Nemo’s Garden is a one-of-a-kind system and we need to adapt to each environment where it is to be installed. If you can model that environment virtually before you start, you can foresee the challenges and address them in the best way,” said Luca Gamberini, co-founder, Nemo’s Garden. “We have seen benefits in understanding the flow of water around the shapes of our biospheres. We have a greater understanding of the points of stress on the structure around the biospheres. We also understand how the different interactions of the solar radiation, the temperature and all the physical factors, act on the plants. All thanks to the ability of the digital twin to replicate our system,” she added.

“Digitalisation isn’t only for big companies. In fact, great gains can often be realised in smaller or start-up companies. The work we do with startups can amplify the impact they have on the world, aiding in and speeding up innovation,” said Eryn Devola, vice president of Sustainability, Siemens Digital Industries Software. 




Soil is the most potent carbon capture solution: EASAC

EASAC soilA new report released by Europe’s National Academies of Sciences provides evidence that a transformation to regenerative agriculture holds promising keys to reducing climate risks while providing the growing world population with food and enhancing biodiversity

The report states agriculture is the main driver of global deforestation and land conversion, and food systems account for more than a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, making it a major contributor to climate change.

“Transforming agriculture is the planet’s greatest untapped treasure for coping with the climate crisis. Today’s large-scale conventional agriculture has a huge negative impact on soil. Soil erosion, the loss of flora and fauna and thereby nutrients in soils, has become a major factor in Europe,” explains Thomas Elmqvist, professor and one of the lead authors of EASAC’s first-time scientific analysis of the potential of regenerative agriculture. The report shows that restoring biodiversity in soils, particularly in grasslands can dramatically increase their capacity to capture and store carbon.

While being responsible for a third of global carbon emissions, agriculture is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as shifts in temperature and rainfall. The study further makes a claim that a growing number of farmers, particularly the smallholders that produce about a third of the world’s food, are struggling with harvest and livestock losses while trying to adapt to the increasingly irregular weather conditions caused by a changing climate. 

“We are literally sawing the branch that we are sitting on,” says Orsolya Valkó of Hungary’s Institute of Ecology and Botany.

No contradiction between modern plant and animal breeding technologies

EASAC’s results demonstrate that many of the analysed practices show synergies between carbon capture and storage and enhancing biodiversity, while not having largely negative effects on food production in the long term. The scientists underline that regenerative agriculture does not contradict the use of modern plant and animal breeding technology, tilling, use of mineral fertiliser or pesticides. Instead, it aims for a limited, more targeted use. 

The use of chemical pesticides, for example, can be reduced by using biological alternatives, employing gene-edited crops that are pathogen-resistant, or even introducing predators.

Potent carbon capture storage

Regenerative agriculture can take large amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere and tie it back into the soil. “We are literally standing on the largest and most potent carbon capture storage of the planet,” Orsolya Valkó opines. “Many field tests show how high the soil’s storage performance is. If we want not only to preserve biodiversity but also expand food production and at the same time fight climate change, there is no alternative to regenerative agriculture!”

Insufficient implementation of strategies

EASAC recommends that regenerative agriculture should be prioritised by the member states when implementing the new ‘Common Agricultural Policy’. This includes more diversification within and among crops, the introduction of permanent and perennial crops, expanded agroforestry and intercropping, keeping green plant cover on all farm fields during all seasons, and reduced tillage.

The report welcomes the European Union’s Biodiversity and farm-to-fork strategies as steps in the right direction but underlines that governments have done little so far to implement them. “We need sharp policies and sharp economic instruments,” says Elmqvist. “Targeting the farm-scale is insufficient. Financial schemes should also benefit communities and associations of farmers managing landscapes in a coordinated way.”