UAE - The 18-metre tall vertical farm with over 9,000 plants and herbs, and an oyster mushroom nursery inside that formed the centrepiece of the Netherlands pavilion, drew thousands of curious visitors during Expo 2020.
Though the pavilion has closed to visitors since the world fair has ended, Dubai residents can visit the farm or even savour the locally-produced mushrooms soon.
Local entrepreneur and educator, Dima Al Srouri, purchased the oyster mushroom farm and the system from the Dutch pavilion.
She said she has plans to open the farm by summer and supply to local restaurants and use it for educational purposes.
“The Netherlands pavilion was a perfect example of an ecosystem where oyster mushrooms produced Co2 and the plants consumed it. We have purchased the farm and will soon be transporting into a new location in Dubai,” said Srouri, who teaches Urban Planning at the Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi. The plants will go back to the local supplier and will be turned into compost there, serving as food for other plants.
During the six months of Expo, 'tonnes of mushrooms' were cultivated using circular climate system that linked water, energy and food within the biotope of the pavilion, said the organisers. A perfect prototype of the circular economy was created, inspiring visitors to think about integrated solutions for sustainable ways of living.
A chimney at the top of the cone absorbs air and water was produced using a condensation process powered by solar panels on the pavilion’s rooftop. A brainchild of Dutch company SunGlacier Technologies and designer Ap Verheggen, the system could produce up to 1,200 litres of water a day that was used to feed the plants and herbs on the exterior of the cone. The mushrooms grew inside the darkened interiors of the giant cone.
Locally-produced mushrooms to hit the shelves
Srouri said she will continue to grow newer and exotic varieties of mushrooms in the new farm. She says there will be plenty of buyers as the UAE market is maturing and there are lot of people who are passionate about sustainable living and supporting locally-produced goods. Her produce will cater to that niche.
“The UAE market has mostly imported mushrooms. They have a short shelf-life. Having high-quality, locally-produced mushrooms will significantly contribute to our food and nutrition security,” said Srouri, who also owns Biospheric City Lab, a boutique consultancy that provides sustainable development strategies and solutions with a focus on cities and the built environment.
The dismantling process is ongoing, and mushrooms are kept in container at Expo site. Srouri said the location of the farm will be disclosed at a later stage.
Srouri said she also plans to use mushrooms to produce mycelium, replicating the example used in the Dutch pavilion. The floors and panels in the Netherlands pavilion were built using mycelium.
Unlike building materials from fossil sources, bio-based building materials like mycelium store carbon dioxide and take much less energy to produce and, after its use, mycelium is compostable.
She is also looking into future collaboration with other local parties to apply mycelium as building material
“I am looking at collaborations with local firms to use mushrooms for producing mycelium. The idea is to apply the circular economy model and don’t throw away anything,” she said.
At her production space, mycelium panels from the Netherlands pavilion will be displayed to the public, allowing people to see, feel and learn all about these building materials of the future.
Retrofitting of the pavilion
In keeping with Expo’s sustainable goals, the Netherlands pavilion is among the country pavilions that are constructed as a temporary structure which can be fully dismantled, and its raw materials reused and recycled. Only country pavilions like India, UAE and Saudi Arabia will remain and form part of the Expo legacy.
Carel Richter, Commissioner-General for the Netherlands Pavilion, said since the pavilion is built without the use of any concrete, not even for its foundations, they will leave the plot as they found it in 2018. “An empty piece of desert land.”
For instance, the 2,000 tonnes of steel sheet piles were leased locally. They will be taken back by Meever & Meever, a Dutch company and will be used for new construction projects in Dubai. No concrete was used in the construction.
The mycelium tiles made from mushroom and biodegradable curtains will be reused or recycled.
Local sand was used to fill the floor mats and that will be reused in local construction. So, are the solar panels used by the pavilion. The irrigation systems with equipment will be dismantled and reused for a local greenhouse.
“Our legacy is to give back to nature and leave the land as we found it," said Richter. “Our physical footprint will be minimal. Our story about creating a sustainable future continues,” said Richter.."
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