Innovative Japan is a column that explores new technologies and innovations from Japan. It puts them into an international context and helps readers understand the impact these products can have in their societies.
Light, water, and soil are the essential elements plants need to grow, but not anymore.
Mebiol Corporation has developed a technology that allows plants to be grown without soil. And in 2011, Dr. Yuichi Mori, president of the company, made their technology public.
The film, which looks like plastic wrap, enables people to grow various plants almost anywhere. Made from hydrogel, the material absorbs water and nutrients. During a TedxTalk, Mori showed audiences how the product works.
The back and front sides of the film are wet and equally absorb the water and nutrients plants use to grow. Although the film lacks the depth of regular soil, roots are still able to cling to it. In fact, the polymer material is able to absorb so much water that a single sheet can last plants 4 to 5 years.
Currently, about 20 facilities of Japan raise tomato using the film. Melons, strawberries, and lettuce could all, potentially, benefit from the use of this new technology.
Another characteristic of this technology is the material’s resistance to harsh conditions and it’s strong enough to allow plants to be grown while suspended.
Yuichi Mori, right, and his interpreter, at a TedxTalk in 2011 speaking about their innovative new product for growing plants without soil.
This is one of the reasons why it can be used to grow plants anywhere even if the soil below is dirty from oil or agrochemicals. It could even be used in deserts.
Although hydrogel is often used in agricultural practices in arid areas it often has to be buried along with the roots of the crops. This film does that all in one stroke.
In the immediate future, if say a tsunami were to hit Japan and ruin farm land the film could help farmers rebuild their crops. The possibilities for this technology are endless.