Development of a School Version of the Small Plant Factory “Mirai Hatake”
A First Step in Monitoring Operation of Educational Plant Factories-Installation in Elementary and Junior High Schools in Tomioka-machi, Fukushima Prefecture to Demonstrate Use in Science Lessons and Dietary Education
February 16, 2012
Mitsui Fudosan Co., Ltd.
Sankyo Frontier, Co., Ltd.
Chiba University, together with Mirai, Inc., Mitsui Fudosan Co., Ltd., and Sankyo Frontier, Co., Ltd. is jointly developing a school version of its plant factory “Mirai Hatake” (size about 3.3 m2). These plant factories will be installed in elementary and junior high schools in Tomioka-machi in Fukushima Prefecture, a region that has been providing education in temporary schools that were set up in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. After being installed, “Mirai Hatake” will be used to grow salad greens, lettuces and other vegetables, while teaching courses are developed in such fields as science and dietary education in order to conduct research into ways to use plant factories in schools.
“Mirai Hatake” are plant factories that grow vegetables through chemical-free tank farming, scientifically termed “hydroponic cultivation”, using artificial light sources inside an enclosed unit. Since 2009, a roughly 6.6 m2 type of “Mirai Hatake” has been installed in LaLaport KASHIWANOHA, a retail facility within the Kashiwanoha Campus City Project in Kashiwa City, Chiba Prefecture. This “Mirai Hatake” has been used to demonstrate how an urban plant factory can be used by local residents who harvest vegetables and hold food-tasting and other events. The new school version of “Mirai Hatake” is half the size at approximately 3.3 m2. In January 2012, one unit was installed out of doors, and in the following March one even smaller unit was installed indoors that is small enough to be moved in and out through a standard-sized school entrance.
The entire town of Tomioka-machi in Fukushima Prefecture has been designated as a security zone due to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake. As a result of fears about possible radiation exposure, pupils from the four elementary and junior high schools in the town were evacuated approximately 40 kilometers away from the town, and a temporary combined school for all the pupils was opened by making use of a plant in Miharu-machi, Fukushima Prefecture. Because it is now difficult for pupils to encounter vegetables and plants out of doors, Mitsui Fudosan is allowing them to share in operating some “Mirai Hatake” units as a gesture of support. “Mirai Hatake” is an enclosed unit and so it is unaffected by the atmosphere or the soil outside. The units are expected to contribute to the recovery of farming in the afflicted region.
An educational version of plant factories has been adopted by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology as one program of their Campus Asia Base Project. This project entails personnel exchanges between Asian universities, including those in Japan, China and South Korea. “Mirai Hatake” forms one part of the Plant Environment Designing Program being run by Chiba University. To develop people with a deep understanding of the technology and systems of plant factories, which are attracting attention worldwide, and who are able propose applications and designs for them, Mitsui Fudosan, will also cooperate with overseas students in operating “Mirai Hatake.” Furthermore, “Mirai Hatake” also provides an opportunity for elementary and junior high school students to have international exchanges, and on February 3 this year 11 overseas students visited the elementary and junior high schools in which one “Mirai Hatake” unit was installed. Looking ahead, plans call for regular exchange activities of this nature.
Chiba University has been assigned the "Model House-type Plant Factory Demonstration, Exhibition and Training Project" of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. Since 2011, the university has been conducting a large-scale demonstration trial at the Kashiwanoha Campus. Together with a consortium of private companies, the university is also conducting research into a small “urban plant factory” that can be installed anywhere in a city. These initiatives will demonstrate the feasibility of using school plant factories in elementary and junior high schools. Going forward, Mitsui Fudosan plans to coordinate with this urban plant factory consortium and work to popularize the introduction of plant factories in elementary and junior high schools nationwide.
Exterior of the first “Mirai Hatake” unit installed in elementary and junior high schools in Tomioka-machi.
Main Features of “Mirai Hatake”
Security and Safety
- The unit enables hydroponic cultivation inside tightly sealed enclosed-type housing; it uses only artificial light sources and does not use any agricultural chemicals.
- Approximately 97-98% of the lettuces are edible after excluding stalks and other sections that cannot be eaten. (Estimate)
- Compared to facilities that use only conventional fluorescent lighting, “Mirai Hatake” can reduce power consumption to 30% and operating costs to 80% by using red and blue colored LED light sources.
Stable supply of food and local production and local consumption
- A computer controls the factors necessary for plant and vegetable growth such as temperature, light, water and nutrients, thereby ensuring production is not affected by climate changes.
- Aiming for zero food mileage (the distance the food has to travel), and local production and local consumption in which the food can be eaten close to where it is produced.
Facility overview of “Mirai Hatake”
|(Outdoor unit) 1.8m (width) x 1.8m (depth) x 2.2m (height)
|(Indoor unit) 1.4m (width) x 1.8m (depth) x 2.2m (height)
|Lettuce: (ordinary lettuce, romaine lettuce, frilly iceberg lettuce, others)
Herbs: (mizuna, karashi mizuna, basil, others)
| 80-90 plants per month (estimated)
Mirai, Inc., is a pioneering company specializing in plant factories that has developed both the hardware and systems technologies for many plant factories. It has achieved tangible results, not only installing its plant-factory systems in private companies, but also selling and developing “Mirai Vegetables” that it cultivates and harvests in its own plant factories. Moreover, the company's plant-factory technology has been officially adopted for use in Japan's Showa Station, a research facility in Antarctica. The company's technological capabilities mean that it can provide consulting services remotely, and looking ahead, the company will develop a variety of small plant factories to suit various scales in urban settings and retail facilities.
The Mitsui Fudosan Group is engaged in the creation of attractive urban neighborhoods and homes in line with the intent expressed in the Group Statement of “Bringing Affluence and Comfort to Urban Living.” In the Kashiwanoha Campus project, the Group is forging ahead with the creation of a “smart city” under the themes of “environment friendly,” “health & longevity,” and “creation of new industries.” Furthermore, Mitsui Fudosan is focusing on urban agricultural production that will lead to both local production and local consumption and also environmental preservation. In addition to active deployment of plant factories, Mitsui Fudosan is taking various steps that link people's lives and agricultural production, including the setting up of rooftop vegetable gardens inside retail properties and the support of local residents' club activities concerned with agriculture.
Sankyo Frontier, Co., Ltd. builds prefabricated houses and creates optimal “functional spaces” by flexibly changing them to suit their purpose and use. A wide range of uses includes office spaces in companies, retail shops, event facilities and temporary residences for people in emergencies. Prefabricated housing is said to have the function of “mobility” because it is relatively easy to move, and hence whenever it is necessary Sankyo Frontier is able to quickly provide the space that is needed at the location where it is needed. In this way, the company is helping to achieve a recycling society through its provision of environmentally friendly “mobile buildings.”