Circular and sustainable indoor farming and food production are at the forefront of research conducted by Reyhaneh Gorji, a PhD student at Mälardalen University. Her primary focus lies in cultivating leafy greens and other edible crops sustainably, with a keen interest in exploring the utilization of wastewater and its by-products, such as biochar and hydrochar, as eco-friendly and alternative fertilizers. This aligns with the overarching goal of making farming and food production more sustainable and circular. In addition to her primary research, Gorji is also actively involved in the Aqua2Farm project, which integrates NIR spectroscopy and hyperspectral imaging for real-time plant monitoring.
This technology allows for timely decision-making in areas such as irrigation, fertilizer application, and disease management, ensuring optimal plant growth and resource utilization. Gorji's experiments involved testing various water streams, including tap water (negative control), liquid fertilizer (positive control), and different types of treated wastewater from the facility. Conducted in controlled indoor conditions with a growth medium simulating a hydroponic system, these experiments aimed to assess the viability of wastewater and its by-products as fertilizers. Preliminary findings from Gorji's research include the identification of certain metals like Cobalt and Chromium in wastewater-treated plant shoots within safe limits, suggesting that treated wastewater could be safely used in agriculture. Levels of other metals, such as Mercury, Nickel, Vanadium, Arsenic, Cadmium, and Lead, were below detection limits. Notably, there were no significant differences in total nitrogen and dry matter composition between the positive control and the wastewater samples before biological treatment, indicating a similar nutrient content that could support the use of wastewater-based fertilizers for enhanced plant growth. Gorji's research also revealed distinctions in physical parameters like plant height, total weight, and the number of leaves among treatments.
While the positive control consistently performed better than the wastewater samples before biological treatment, the latter showed promising results compared to outgoing water and tap water. The ultimate goal of Gorji's research is to contribute to a more environmentally friendly and resource-efficient agriculture sector by reusing wastewater and its by-products as fertilizers. This approach not only reduces waste and the environmental impact of conventional synthetic fertilizers but also promotes sustainable and circular food production. The benefits extend beyond the agricultural community to wastewater treatment plants and society as a whole. Integrated farming systems at wastewater plants, as explored in Gorji's research, offer additional advantages.
They reduce the need for resource transportation, leading to a lower carbon footprint and promoting sustainable resource management. The hydroponic farm, functioning as a circular nutrient consumer, contributes to food production, while the wastewater treatment plant benefits from an added treatment step, ensuring the purification of effluent before its release into the surrounding environment.