How toxic waste and robotic farms could save us from global drought
13:03

How toxic waste and robotic farms could save us from global drought

Science
[MUSIC] Why will this be different? Why will it be so catastrophic, the droughts will last longer, they will be drier. So you could go from something like this into something like this correct. We're 100 times plus more productive than a square foot of farmland and we're saving that 95% of the water at the. The same time,>> But it's good to know that even in the apocalypse, I'll be able to garnish my pizza. [MUSIC] [BLANK_AUDIO] [BLANK_AUDIO] [MUSIC] I have bad news for you, we are running out of water, climate change. It has led to Epic droughts.>> 95% of California is in severe drought.>> Cape Town, South Africa could become the world's first major city to run out of water. When the apocalypse comes, it might not be a giant asteroid. How big.>> It's the size of Texas, Mr. President.>> Or a robot uprising that kills us all. Hell no. In fact, it's more likely that we're going to die a far more slow and terrifying death staggering through a desert wasteland desperate for something to drink. Turns out humans need water to survive, but we love overusing it Unit. Global water use has been climbing by 1% a year since the 80s. But, it's not just that. Climate change is pushing temperatures higher and making land dry up. Water resources are dringling. And according to the UN, as many as 700 million people could be displaced by 2030. Just because they don't have enough water. When the water wars come, I don't want to die alone in the desert. So I'm on a mission to find out what we can do about this problem to find a high tech solution to the global water crisis away out of the drought apocalypse. Here in sunny California Water is front of mind. Don't let this beautiful reservoir fool you. The state has just come out of one of the worst droughts in its history. Heather Cooley has seen the problems firsthand. She's the director of research at the Pacific Institute, a California based policy group that wants to change the way the world thinks about water. And while the world is currently going, we need to change our ways fast. We see clear science of how water channels is getting worse, we see more and more people experiencing drought and water scarcity and we see more and more people vulnerable to floating. So our challenges are getting worse. I'm driven by continued growth, population and economic growth, but also driven by climate change which is affecting both water supply and water quality. But water isn't just for drinking and showering It's at the root of just about everything we do. We need water for our basic health, but we also use water it drives our economy. Water is in all of our clothes that we're wearing. It's in all of our devices. We're using it to produce our cars. So it is fundamental to everything we do and it's under threat from climate change. Drought isn't just a problem in California, it's a global issue. Our world is on track to become a dried out wasteland, dust bowl as far as the eye can see. Imagine it like a global burning man except without the [UNKNOWN] We're seeing more severe droughts than we have seen in the past. California just had a very severe drought that lasted for five years. They were talking about Day Zero, a day when they were going to run out of water and people would have to go and queue up in line. In order to get basic amounts for their needs we see in Australia, Brazil, all of these places have been experiencing very severe droughts, the most severe they've had on record, they are becoming more severe. They're becoming more frequent to just as what we expect to happen under climate change. We're clearly going to have to get smarter about water use. But if we're running out of clean water Could dirty water be our savior? [MUSIC] Here at Columbia University in New York, researchers have found a way to make clean drinking water out of industrial waste. This technique is called temperature swing solvent extraction. It sounds complicated, but essentially these researchers have mixed salty wastewater, which has died blue with a special solvent which they've colored red. The solvent draws the pure water up and out of the salty liquid below. Then the scientists take that solvent and water mix and heated to about 70 degrees Celsius. At that temperature, the solvent separates out, leaving clean water below. It might be more than you learned in high school chemistry, but the important part to know, is that it removes more than 98% of salt from wastewater, and it's super efficient. The process that we have developed is probably. 10 times or 20 times more energy efficient than just simply boiling off the water. This technique was designed to treat wastewater from things like oil and gas production. That waste is seven times saltier than seawater and it's a massive problem if it seeps into the groundwater supply But this process doesn't just work on hyper salty water. It also works on landfill leachate, which is the scientific name for garbage juice. So this is garbage water. Yes. All right so if I open it up what's it gonna smell like? It's gonna smell like concentrated garbage. Okay good. You can tell me that this Liquid here, could be turned into regular drinking water through your whole process? Yes, with our technology, we can remove a lot of the impurities, the contaminants from it, and bring it pretty much to drinking water standards. Okay, so you could go from something like this into something like this? Correct. [MUSIC] The team at Columbia is still working on small quantities in the lab. But in the future, this could be a large scale solution to treating massive amounts of water. We see a very clear path from this technology being the lab and taking it to commercialization where we can start treating hundreds of gallons of industrial wastewater permitted. In the future am I gonna be taking showers in water that's been treated through this solvent process? That is a possibility. I can't be wait until our toxic waste gets clean enough to drink. We need to get smarter with the clean water that we have before we have to start slugging down cold glasses of garbage juice. Thankfully, there might be another solution. A warehouse in New Jersey is probably the last place you'd expect to find a farm. But inside this building one high tech company set out to prove that the future of farming doesn't need lots of water or even natural sunlight. And it could be the answer to growing food when water starts to run dry. This is Berry, a Silicon Valley style startup that's disrupting farming and doing it with 95%. And less water. Bowery builds vertical farms in the middle of cities and industrial estates where spaces tight and fresh food is in high demand. Stepping inside is like walking into a lab. You're like I'm going to Mars. I had to suit up so I wouldn't bring any dirt in with me To a farm, but where we're going, we don't need it. Okay, so ready to go. Let's do it. What you can see is that we're standing in a farm and it obviously doesn't look like the kind of farm that you would imagine. So what we do Valerie is we build large warehouse. A house scale indoor farms. And we stack our crops vertically from the ground all the way to the ceiling, we grow under lights that actually mimic the spectrum of the sun, and we grow in a totally controlled and contained environment. And that means that we can grow 365 days of the year, completely independent of weather and seasonality. [MUSIC] New Jersey in winter is probably the closest you'll come to the apocalypse. But the controlled environment in here doesn't just mean barmy temperatures all year around. It also means more output than a regular farming field. We actually have the capacity to grow more than twice as fast as a field for a number of our crops. We get more crop cycles a year than the field does when we get more yield in every crop cycle. So we're 100 times more productive than a square foot of farmland. And we're saving that 95% of the water at the same time. [MUSIC] Inside the farm, yep, I still feel weird calling it that. There are rows of leafy greens planted all the way up to the ceiling. It's a hydroponic setup so the plants sit in trays with roots that grow down into water. Barry purifies that water and carefully controls the nutrients for a better crop. They also recirculate the water so there's less waste. This crop is able to pick up exactly what it needs from a nutrient perspective in a water perspective. And we can monitor everything that's going on here. The whole system is automated So trays of plants can be moved around on a robotic conveyor for harvesting. And every single element of the farm from the light, to the water levels, to the temperature. All leads back into the central Bowery operating system. You can think about it like the brains of our farms. It's like our central nervous System. And so the first thing we're doing is we take millions of data points in real time from a sensor and control system that we've developed. And the data that we're ingesting impacts how it's a crop growing, its health, its texture, even its taste and flavor, certainly its yield. So all that data gets taken in and adjusted Not only that, but Bowery has cameras taking photos of all its crops in real time to provide feedback on how the plants are growing.>> It's running those photos through deep learning algorithms that we've developed. And it's analyzing what is happening with this crop right now. What am I seeing and what's going on? And then tweaks and changes to that environment are suggested, and actually pushed out automatically into our farm. And those adjustments get made in real-time. It's clearly working, and I was kinda surprised to say, the end result tasted really good. So what we're gonna try here is some of our butterhead. And what you're gonna taste is a crispy, crunchy leaf It's gonna have a little bitterness at the end and it should taste extremely fresh because we did just harvest it. Okay, it smells like lettuce. So, it also tastes like lettuce. Now this is really gonna blow your mind. Okay. This is a Wasabi Arugula. So do you like spicy? I do. Okay. [BLANK_AUDIO] [LAUGH] Okay, that's good. Sure, surviving an apocalyptic drought by trading bushels of wasabi arugula sounds pretty boozy. But I could see how this setup could be the answer to farming with less water and less waste. And as our cities get bigger, and we have less usable land, this kind of vertical urban farm could be the future. But it's going to take way more than this to stop our planet from becoming a desolate wasteland. Without taking action. We're going to face more challenges around water and it will mean a loss of human life. I mean It'll have impacts on our ecosystems. It'll have economic impacts. [MUSIC] We need to develop smart technologies to recycle and recover the water we use. And we're going to have to get smarter about how we use the precious freshwater that we have in the first place. Because the way the climate is going, if we want to survive, we may not have a choice. [MUSIC] [MUSIC] That wasn't good. Sorry. Getting so good at that, my good, okay. It might be a bit cheesy if I'm like, what's in here and then he's like, No, don't do it yet. We're gonna be potentially Nope. I'm like, no sorry, can I do that again I get that up. That's already as I say it. It's a terrible idea. I didn't know how to end that. So that's what you got. [BLANK_AUDIO]

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