Building integrated agriculture simulation (BIA-sim) development of a simulation based software for the implementation of building integrated agriculture in urban contexts

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Nath, Manabendra
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Electronic thesis
Architectural sciences
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Since the world's population is growing at an alarming rate, scientists and researchers are trying to find ways to increase both the quality and quantity of food available. However, the current methods used in the agriculture industry lead to the wastage of fresh water, the generation of waste, environmental degradation, and excessive energy use. Agriculture is responsible for about 30% of the world's yearly consumption of fossil fuels (FAO, 2015) and for the consumption of over 70% of the world's freshwater resources (AQUASTAT, n.d.). Aiming to reduce food and water waste, pollution, and energy needs, researchers are exploring the viability of bringing agriculture into urban areas and even buildings. On the other hand, cities are also known to be sinks for natural resources, intensively using fresh water and energy and creating waste. Buildings account for around one-third of global CO2 emissions (IEA, 2015) and account for almost 20% of total energy (EIA, 2019).While scholars are currently approaching these issues independently, I believe that by bringing these two fields together we may be able to uncover some of the answers that have been hiding within them. There is potential for agriculture and buildings to share waste products in a mutually beneficial way. It is vital that we develop a kind of software that can not only suggest design guidelines for integrating agriculture into a building, but also provide visual and quantifiable results of the benefits of Building Integrated Agriculture early in the designing stages. This will persuade people to adopt these new kinds of buildings. Efforts towards a sustainable lifestyle are expected to play a more prominent role in people's daily lives in the future. This type of software will assist users in determining which resource – food, water, air, or energy – is most critical to them according to their location/climatic conditions on the globe. It will introduce a whole new range of factors in terms of thinking of design other than the social, economic and cultural factors. The motivation for this research came from the works of several researchers who have shown great potential for improving the energy efficiency of agricultural production facilities that lies in the use of Building Performance Simulation (BPS) tools. A recent example is an initiative by MIT to develop a plugin for Rhinoceros 3D called HARVEST. This plugin can calculate the quantity of crops produced in Controlled Environment Agriculture farms. By using the HARVEST plugin as a base of study, the goal of this project is to provide the basic framework for a Building Integrated Agriculture Simulation Tool. This tool can visualize and quantify the mutually beneficial interactions between buildings and agriculture other than just crop produce including: a. Greywater generation and reuse between the building and farm b. CO2 exchange between the occupants of the building and the plants in the agricultural farms. c. Reduction in the Building operation energy due to the farm. A framework was created to establish the software's workflow. To demonstrate several use scenarios a site in New Delhi, India was chosen for an urban agriculture-integrated residential building. India is a developing country facing issues like population expansion, fast urbanization, food insecurity, and climate change. The country is no stranger to news of floods, droughts, and heat waves terrifying the nation. Additionally, Delhi, India's capital, struggles with a significant level of pollution. The tomato plant was chosen as the example for all a calculation. The software’s user input includes location, 3D site model, site and building details, number of occupants, farm type and crops. Greywater, CO2 from occupants and building energy usage are calculated. Outputs demonstrate how a software framework informed by an extensive database of plants, their properties and their farming requirements can be utilized to identify, design and exploit feedback loops between building and urban agriculture waste products. In one example, using 60% of building grey water for irrigation of tomato, we found 47% of the maximum buildable surface area would be needed for tomato production. More than 100% of the CO2 emitted by building occupants could be absorbed, and the plants' thermal mass could save 50% of cooling energy using farm layouts that, in turn, enhanced food output based on solar exposure. Several other scenarios were seen that demonstrated the broader benefits urban agriculture can have for the built environment beyond food production.
August 2022
School of Architecture
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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