This is the first post of a three-part series in partnership with YASAI.
"We grow more with less for the health of people, plants, and the planet." – Mark E. Zahran, Co-Founder & CEO of YASAI
Blossoming from the desire to feed the world sustainably by integrating the design, construction, and operation of vertical farms, the start-up YASAI was founded. Whilst most vertical farming operations only seek to help urban residents grow their own food, YASAI surpasses the industry by empowering its customers to grow more with less and create circular food production systems.
It all started with Mark E. Zahran’s Master’s thesis at ETH Zurich. Supported by Professor Dickson Despommier, author of the book ""The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century"", Mark sought to integrate vertical farming within the mountainous Swiss landscape. Inspired by Rem Koolhaas’ exhibition “Countryside, The Future”, Mark conceptualized the repurposing of unused spaces for food cultivation. With this, Mark found his answer: mining landscapes.
Within the gloomy leftovers of abandoned limestone mines in La Sarraz lay 100 m deep holes in the Swiss terrain. Covered by hills and mountains, this landscape is unsuitable for most farming methods. In this underutilized space, Mark saw an opportunity to ignite Switzerland’s Food & AgTech Industry with a focus on modularity and circularity. An opportunity to transform a quarry, located in one of the smallest countries, into the largest vertical farm in the world.
With the support of a cement producer, YASAI was able to draw up plans for this 100,000 square meter production plant with a research hub. Where most would refill and mask the mining landscape, YASAI aims to recover natural landscapes and heal the mining-induced man-made wound. YASAI built two amorphous volumina that resemble giant limestone boulders covered by vegetation. The skeleton was wrapped by a rusty metal curtain to create a new vertical canyon-like space for climbing plants to beautify the space. YASAI was able to renature this abandoned quarry by not only paying homage to the land’s industrial history, but by also restoring and promoting a biodiverse habitat for flora and fauna. (image 19.2+""Abandoned quarry in La Sarraz; image sourced from YASAI"")
This vertical farm can potentially yield 3,525 tons of fresh produce per annum, and capture 614 tons of CO2 per annum. A feasibility study proved the economical profitability of transforming mining landscapes into large scale Vertical Farms, claiming to create 300 jobs, and reducing CO2 emissions from food imports by 40,000 tons. In a world challenged by food insecurity, the lack of freshwater sources, and reducing fertile arable land, YASAI seeks to better utilize agtech and inspire others to rethink unused spaces for food production.
“Yasai integrates Vertical Farming within a circular economy to embed it within the context as an infrastructure for Smart Cities” – Mark E. Zahran, Co-Founder & CEO of YASAI
With the human population at 7.8 billion people, the food industry requires 40% of all ice-free land, 70% of all freshwater, and contributes to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. Vertical farming allows us to grow 15x more produce per square meter, with 95% less freshwater than traditional farming, and zero food miles since we can grow local and indoors. YASAI aims to integrate Vertical Farming as an infrastructure of the future smart city to reuse cities’ waste as a valuable resource to grow plants for the local community.
With sustainability, circularity, and health at their core, YASAI recycles nutrients from wastewater to create what they call “the magic sauce”. As seen in the La Sarraz quarry project, YASAI reactivated an unused space to regenerate value and create jobs for locals. They extended the project’s circularity by recycling concrete to minimize grey energy, and utilizing the existing limestone quarry setting to serve as a natural coolant for the building. (image 19.3 + ""Rendering of the Vertical Farm in La Sarraz; image sourced from YASAI."")
Additionally, rainwater is captured on the roof to supply irrigation systems, geothermal heat pumps enable internal cooling with activated ceilings, bio-waste is reused to generate electricity, and CO2 is captured by compressors to promote plant growth. In this manner, there is a direct CO2 compensation of 3,150 tons per year, while almost 23,000 tons of CO2 are saved indirectly by applying a decentralized food system.
This smart synergy between different technologies helps YASAI work towards complementing local farmers and reducing food imports with vertical farming technology, whilst also reducing food waste by having on-demand production. As a result, the overall cost of production is greatly reduced. Automation and AI lead to less labor costs, the reuse of wasted space reduces rental costs, the synergies equate to less energy costs, and the generated circular system collectively decreases resource costs.
"We want to build a world where food production does not harm our planet and contributes towards sustainable agriculture." – Mark E. Zahran, Co-Founder & CEO of YASAI