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Bringing the farm to the people

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Bringing the farm to the people

Siene Allen in Kodiak Island, Alaska and Zeina Salama in El Beheira, Egypt grow food in very different climates. Yet step into the perfectly controlled environment of either farm, and their crops could be sitting directly next to each other. 

Both farmers are growing in fully automated, 40-foot long containers developed by Freight Farms, a Boston-based company. The containers are equipped with everything needed for the equivalent of 2.5 acres of crops, using a soil-less method of farming called hydroponics.

Indoor hydroponics was developed by NASA scientists in the early 2000s, who wanted to support food production in space. The strategy grows plant roots in a nutrient-rich liquid, typically in contained environments that also use LED lights to simulate sunlight. Farmers can control temperature swings, eliminate pesticides, and significantly reduce water use. And because soil isn’t needed, plants can be grown vertically, substantially increasing the potential food production within a small footprint. 

A map showing the locations of Freight Farms customers Freight Farms

Hydroponics isn’t the answer to all the world’s food problems, says Daniels Wells, an associate professor at Auburn University Department of Horticulture in Alabama. But the technology can provide a new way to produce nutritious foods in places that would otherwise be difficult. “A great way of thinking about it is decentralizing food production. Controlled environments really allow us to do that very well,” Wells says.

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Long food supply chains, climate change, and food insecurity

The food on Americans’ dinner plates travels on average 1,500 miles from farm to fork. When supply chains break down and gas prices go up, food costs rise. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that at-home food prices rose by 10% from March 2021 to March 2022, and are predicted to rise an additional five to six percent through 2022. 

In food-insecure regions, food transportation is an even bigger problem. The United Nations World Food Program predicts that an additional 47 million people will become acutely food insecure in 2022, due to the extended disruption of global food shipments caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And climate change is compounding the problem: According to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global warming has already “adversely impacted food security and terrestrial ecosystems as well as contributed to desertification and land degradation in many regions.” 

But finding solutions is a major challenge for many regions of the world, who may lack the necessary soil, climate, and resources for traditional agriculture. That’s what prompted Jon Friedman, Freight Farms co-founder and COO, to find ways of moving farms, not food. Freight Farms has developed modular, easy-to-use hydroponic containers that help people grow food in places they otherwise couldn’t. 

With the success of their container farms, Freight Farms is continually evolving their product line. “We’ve seen Freight Farms have an amazing impact in communities around the world, from increasing food access to providing valuable opportunities to at-risk populations, but we wanted to do more,” Friedman says. “We realized that in order to do so, we needed to go not bigger, but smaller. We wanted to open up the opportunity to more people and communities.”

Growing greens year-round in Alaska’s remote territories

Allen decided to order a Freight Farms Greenery™, the company’s flagship container farm model, when she couldn’t find fresh produce on Kodiak Island, 30 miles off the Alaskan coast. 

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Siene Allen of BrightBox Farms harvesting lettuce Freight Farms

Kodiak is famous for its oversized grizzly bears—and its 81 inches of rain a year. But other than abundant fish and King Crab, almost all the food for Kodiak’s approximately 13,000 people comes via barge. When it doesn’t arrive, neither does their food.

When a barge delivery doesn’t arrive due to weather or shipping issues, Allen says, “I have literally seen the produce aisle completely empty. I can’t even buy crappy vegetables. There’s literally nothing there.”

A few traditional farms serve the island, growing in greenhouses. Yet even greenhouse farming is a challenge on Kodiak, with its bitterly cold, 60-mile-per-hour winds and long dark winters. 

So with Freight Farm’s help, Allen and her partner Gideon Saunders started BrightBox Farms in 2020. Within their new container, Allen and Gideon now grow food year-round. They harvest more than 50 different varieties of greens, herbs, and hearty greens like pac choi. Their customers love it, especially in the winter, and nobody drives more than 10 miles for a pickup. Some even walk to get their orders, Allen says. 

One customer recently told Allen how amazed he was by the flavor of the BrightBox greens.

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“He said, ‘This is like the most addictive stuff I’ve ever eaten in my life… I didn’t know greens could taste like this,’” Allen recalls with a laugh. “When they’re actually fresh, they are pretty amazing. You actually do want to eat them.”

Conserving precious water resources and meeting Egypt’s food needs

Two continents, 10 time zones, and 6,000-plus miles away, Salama is dealing with very different climatic conditions—and a much larger population than Allen. But she’s finding similar answers in container farming.

Egypt is hot, dry, sunny, and dusty, and a growing Egyptian population is predicted to outgrow their primary water source—the Nile River. The Nile provides 90% of Egypt’s total water consumption, with 85% of that going to agriculture.  To make matters worse, increasing sea levels and years of poor irrigation management have caused salinization in about a third of the fertile Nile Delta soils, making them untenable to agriculture.

It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation, Salama says. “This technology allows me to move the farm closer to many cities, where traditional farming is not possible,” she says.

Seif and Zeina Salama of Tulima Farms in Egpyt sitting atop their Greenery after it was delivered Freight Farms

Salama and her family opened a large, fully-automated hydroponic greenhouse operation in El Beheira in 2020. Tulima Farms is now touted as Egypt’s first climate-positive farm. They received their first two Freight Farm containers in the summer of 2021, and promptly set them up in Cairo, about an hour and a half away from their greenhouse operations. The container farms fit perfectly with their vision of revolutionizing how Egypt produces its food, Salama says.

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“The means of farming in Egypt are slowly changing by introducing new technologies,” Salama says, but not quickly enough. “The current infrastructure and cropping systems have to be changed. We have to move towards a better future. We have to save our water and try to reduce our impact on the environment, because the demand for food is higher.”

Salama’s team is growing a diverse selection of crops in their Freight Farms containers, including kale, arugula, romaine lettuce, a large variety of herbs, and mulukhiyah (or molokhia), a traditional Egyptian green typically cooked into a soup or stew. 

Salama is particularly excited at the low water use they’ve achieved. “The containers operate on 20 liters (5.28 gallons) of water a week! That’s less than running your dishwasher to grow the equivalent of 2.5 acres in a shipping container,” she says.

“Obviously, if you can grow things in a controlled environment in a box, you can grow it anywhere, as long as you have electricity, you have a water source and you have the ability to get your growing materials,” Allen says. “So that opens up a whole lot of opportunities for what you can do with this—and how you can provide food for people.”


At Freight Farms, we believe that healthy food is a right, not a luxury. For this reason, we are dedicated to making fresh food accessible to anyone, anywhere, any time with a complete platform of products and services — the Greenery™ S, farmhand®, and Client Services — to empower our global community of partners. With this global infrastructure, we aim to revolutionize local access to food for a more sustainable future — not just in terms of the environment, but by also making communities more resilient and secure. Together with our team and global network of 500+ farmers, we hope to build a future-facing and inclusive world.

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Global Warming Causes Fewer Tropical Cyclones

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Global Warming Causes Fewer Tropical Cyclones

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But having fewer hurricanes and typhoons does not make them less of a threat. Those that do manage to form are more likely to reach higher intensities as the world continues to heat up with the burning of fossil fuels.


Scientists have been trying for decades to answer the question of how climate change will affect tropical cyclones, given the large-scale death and destruction these storms can cause. Climate models have suggested the number of storms should decline as global temperatures rise, but that had not been confirmed in the historical record. Detailed tropical cyclone data from satellites only go back until about the 1970s, which is not long enough to pick out trends driven by global warming.


The new study worked around those limitations by using what is called a reanalysis: the highest-quality available observations are fed into a weather computer model. “That’s something which gets us close to what the observation would have looked like,” essentially “filling in the gaps,” says study co-author Savin Chand, an atmospheric scientist at Federation University Australia. This gives researchers a reasonably realistic picture of the atmosphere over time, in this case going back to 1850. Chand and his team developed an algorithm that could pick out tropical cyclones in that reanalysis data set, enabling them to look for trends over a 162-year period.

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They found the 13 percent global decrease in tropical cyclones over the period of 1900 to 2012, compared with 1850 to 1900 (the latter is widely considered a pre-global-warming reference period). There was an even larger decline of about 23 percent since around 1950, around the time global temperatures started to noticeably rise. The declines vary in different parts of the ocean. For example, the western North Pacific saw 9 percent fewer storms, and the eastern North Pacific saw 18 percent fewer over the 20th and early 21st centuries. And the North Atlantic results indicated a peculiar trend, showing an overall decrease over the past century—but with an uptick in recent decades. That shorter-term increase could be linked to natural climate variations, better detection of storms or a decrease in aerosol pollution (because aerosols have a cooling effect, and tropical cyclones thrive on warm waters).


The study provides crucial ground-truth information for evaluating climate model projections of further future changes in cyclone frequency, says Kimberly Wood, a tropical meteorologist at Mississippi State University, who was not involved with the paper.


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Chand and his colleagues link the decrease in tropical storm frequency to changes in atmospheric conditions that constrict convection—the process where warm, moist air surges upward in the atmosphere, which allows tropical cyclones to develop from small weather disturbances that act as the “seeds.” The researchers think those changes are caused by warming-driven shifts in global atmospheric circulation patterns. “It’s a pretty holistic view,” Wood says of the analysis.


But even if there are fewer tropical cyclones overall, a larger proportion of those that do form are expected to reach higher intensities because global warming is also raising sea-surface temperatures and making the atmosphere warmer and moister—the conditions these storms thrive on. “Once a tropical cyclone forms,” Chand says, “there is a lot of fuel in the atmosphere.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

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    Andrea Thompson, an associate editor at Scientific American, covers sustainability. Follow her on Twitter @AndreaTWeather Credit: Nick Higgins

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    The effect of breast cancer screening is declining

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    The effect of breast cancer screening is declining

    Screening for breast cancer has a cost. This is shown by a Danish/Norwegian study that analysed 10,580 breast cancer deaths among Norwegian women aged 50 to 75 years.

    “The beneficial effect of screening is currently declining because the treatment of cancer is improving. Over the last 25 years, the mortality rate for breast cancer has been virtually halved,” says Henrik Støvring, who is behind the study.

    According to the researcher, the problem is that screenings lead to both overdiagnosis and overtreatment, which has a cost both on a human level and in terms of the economy.

    Overdiagnosis and overtreatment

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    When the screening was introduced, the assessment was that around twenty per cent of the deaths from breast cancer among those screened could be averted. While this corresponded to approximately 220 deaths a year in Denmark 25 years ago, today the number has been halved.

    The study shows that in 1996 it was necessary to invite 731 women to avoid a single breast cancer death in Norway, you would have to invite at least 1364 and probably closer to 3500 to achieve the same result in 2016.

    On the other hand, the adverse effects of screening are unchanged.

    “One in five women aged 50-70, who is told they have breast cancer, has received a ‘superfluous’ diagnosis because of screening — without screening, they would never have noticed or felt that they had breast cancer during their lifetime,” says the researcher.

    One in five corresponds to 900 women annually in Denmark. In addition, every year more than 5000 women are told that the screening has given rise to suspicion of breast cancer — a suspicion that later turns out to be incorrect.

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    Peaceful, small nodes — but in who?

    Henrik Støvring notes that the result is not beneficial for the screening programmes. According to him, the Norwegian results can also be transferred to Denmark. Here, women between 50 and 69 are offered a mammogram screening every second year. This is an X-ray examination of the breast, which can show whether the woman has cellular changes that could be breast cancer.

    The Danish screening programme became a national programme offered to all woman in the age group in 2007 — three years after the Norwegians. Approx. 300,000 Danish women are invited to screening for breast cancer every year.

    According to the researcher, the challenge is that we are not currently able to tell the difference between the small cancer tumours that will kill you and those that will not. Some of these small nodes are so peaceful or slow-growing that the woman would die a natural death with undetected breast cancer, if she had not been screened. But once a cancer node has been discovered, it must of course be treated, even though this was not necessary for some of the women — we just do not know who.

    “The women who are invited to screening live longer because all breast cancer patients live longer, and because we have got better drugs, more effective chemotherapy, and because we now have cancer care pathways, which mean the healthcare system reacts faster than it did a decade ago,” says Henrik Støvring.

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    Story Source:

    Materials provided by Aarhus University. Original written by Helle Horskjær Hansen. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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    Thin-film photovoltaic technology combines efficiency and versatility

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    Thin-film photovoltaic technology combines efficiency and versatility

    Stacking solar cells increases their efficiency. Working with partners in the EU-funded PERCISTAND project, researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have produced perovskite/CIS tandem solar cells with an efficiency of nearly 25percent- the highest value achieved thus far with this technology. Moreover, this combination of materials is light and versatile, making it possible to envision the use of these tandem solar cells in vehicles, portable equipment, and devices that can be folded or rolled up. The researchers present their results in the journal ACS Energy Letters.

    Perovskite solar cells have made astounding progress over the past decade. Their efficiency is now comparable to that of the long-established silicon solar cells. Perovskites are innovative materials with a special crystal structure. Researchers worldwide are working to get perovskite photovoltaic technology ready for practical applications. The more electricity they generate per unit of surface area, the more attractive solar cells are for consumers

    The efficiency of solar cells can be increased by stacking two or more cells. If each of the stacked solar cells is especially efficient at absorbing light from a different part of the solar spectrum, inherent losses can be reduced and efficiency boosted. The efficiency is a measure of how much of the incident light is converted into electricity. Thanks to their versatility, perovskite solar cells make outstanding components for such tandems. Tandem solar cells using perovskites and silicon have reached a record efficiency level of over 29percent, considerably higher than that of individual cells made of perovskite (25.7percent) or silicon (26.7percent).

    Combining Perovskites with CIS for Mobility and Flexibility

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    Combining perovskites with other materials such as copper-indium-diselenide (CIS) or copper-indium-gallium-diselenide (CIGS) promises further benefits. Such combinations will make it possible to produce light and flexible tandem solar cells that can be installed not only on buildings but also on vehicles and portable equipment. Such solar cells could even be folded or rolled up for storage and extended when needed, for example on blinds or awnings to provide shade and generate electricity at the same time.

    An international team of researchers headed by Dr. Marco A. Ruiz-Preciado and tenure-track professor Ulrich W. Paetzold from the Light Technology Institute (LTI) and the Institute of Microstructure Technology (IMT) at KIT has succeeded in producing perovskite/CIS tandem solar cells with a maximum efficiency of 24.9percent (23.5percent certified). “This is the highest reported efficiency for this technology and the first high efficiency level reached at all with a nearly gallium-free copper-indium diselenide solar cell in a tandem,” says Ruiz-Preciado. Reducing the amount of gallium results in a narrow band gap of approximately one electron volt (eV), which is very close to the ideal value of 0.96eV for the lower solar cell in a tandem.

    CIS Solar Cells with Narrow Band Gap- Perovskite Solar Cells with Low Bromine Content

    The band gap is a material characteristic that determines the part of the solar spectrum that a solar cell can absorb to generate electricity. In a monolithic tandem solar cell, the band gaps must be such that the two cells can produce similar currents to achieve maximum efficiency. If the lower cell’s band gap changes, the upper cell’s band gap has to be adjusted to the change, and vice versa.

    To adjust the band gap for efficient tandem integration, perovskites with high bromine content are usually used. However, this often leads to voltage drops and phase instability. Since the KIT researchers and their partners use CIS solar cells with a narrow band gap at the base of their tandems, they can produce their upper cells using perovskites with low bromine content, which results in cells that are more stable and efficient.

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    “Our study demonstrates the potential of perovskite/CIS tandem solar cells and establishes the foundation for future development to make further improvements in their efficiency,” says Paetzold. “We’ve reached this milestone thanks to the outstanding cooperation in the EU’s PERCISTAND project and, in particular, thanks to our close cooperation with the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research.” Important groundwork was done in the CAPITANO project funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK).

    Story Source:

    Materials provided by Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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