Practice based PhD research: The TextileGreenhouse

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Practice based PhD research: The TextileGreenhouse: fabric for food - doing our part beyond fashion

London, United Kingdomglobal drylands, deserts, arid areas
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The aim is to develop and test a prototype knitted textile system to harvest atmospheric water vapour. This water will irrigate the food crops in the Textile Greenhouse. The system is intended to utilise the extreme changes of temperature found in desert climates.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if we could grow food in deserts and counteract climate change at the same time?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

‘By 2030 … global population increasing ... to about eight billion … and the total world demand for water is predicted to increase by 30%’ Professor Sir John Beddington, chief scientific adviser to HM government ‘World population projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 with most growth in developing regions, especially Africa’ UN Press Release, 13 JUNE 2013 Water vapour is the most dominant greenhouse gas, Tim Ball

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

41% of the earths land surface is considered drylands and not used for agriculture. Water vapour or humidity is always present in the atmosphere. The Textile Greenhouse can be placed in these arid regions. Low-priced and durable, it is intended for the vast amount of small hold farmers. The Textile Greenhouse can provide food locally and generate income. Rural societies have a chance to survive by not being forced to earn money in cities. The removal of water vapour from the air will reduce the greenhouse-effect.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Comes harvesting time, there is an oversupply of perishable produce. Many vegetables can be frozen, but electricity is used and additionally costs occur. The Textile Greenhouse provides its own irrigation water and creates its own protected climate within. The regional growing season can be extended, resulting in higher degree of food security. The Textile Greenhouse provides a more constant supply and avoids the costs and emissions of refrigeration. All without depleting valuable ground water sources.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

My PhD research is intended to conclude with a working prototype of the Textile Greenhouse. Same as with any other PhD thesis, it thereafter becomes public domain. Redefining the ‘Return On Investment’ away from a mere monetary one, I do not intend to patent any of the findings. If textile companies get inspired by my research and develop their own Agrotextiles, that would be a high return in my eyes. Agrotextiles do not follow the seasonal demand of fashion items. The manufacturing of the Textile Greenhouse can fill the gaps in their regular production. As a consequence, a higher percentage of the textile workers can be employed all-year-round.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

I will continue to develop the Textile Greenhouse beyond my PhD. The sites of the field testing and the set up will be expanded. Their success documented and promoted. They will be used as hubs and training centres for farmers who are interested into growing their crops in the Textile Greenhouse. A broad scale implementation will be based and supported by these documented success stories. The change I hope for, is the change of our own as well as the public’s perception of the Textile Industry. Not just standing on the side-lines anymore: Actively making a difference!

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Mass manufacturing of the Textile Greenhouse will be organized similar to the principles of the Fair-trade foundation. Interested Textile producers (with suitable machinery) can apply to become ‘dryland crops’ certified (the logo ‘dryland crops’ is already registered). For a fee (or voluntary donation?), the ‘dryland crops’ team will provide the know how, provide technical support and help with marketing and distribution.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Concerning irrigation water: Harvesting Fog and Dew depend strongly on region and season. Humidity is always present in the atmosphere. Existing methods of extracting the air’s humidity (Atmospheric Water Generators) use mostly the principle of condensation. An exception is Florida based company ‘Aquasciences’ which charges a desiccant. They all require complex technology and need to be powered by electricity. This makes none of them suitable for irrigation water for the small hold farmer in remote drylands.

Founding Story

I am a knitter. Industrial; with computers and high-tech machinery. The left-out jumper on the garden chair in the morning feels damp. Provided the weather allows, that jumper will dry during the day. If sun-rays hit the fabric, steam can be observed ascending from the knit. Even without sun the fabric will dry eventually, which would mean the water causing the damp hand feel evaporates. Analysing this seemingly insignificant occurrence scientifically, reveals that water was harvested from the surrounding atmosphere and released later on in the day. Apparently this jumper turned water vapour into liquid water. Could we use this water to grow food?


Reiner Rockel (PhD researcher) Knitwear engineer with over 30 years of experience in development, management and training in the textile industry. Sandy Black (Director of studies) Professor of Fashion and Textile Design and Technology at London College of Fashion, she has extensive experience in both the fashion industry and academia. Sandy focuses on inter-disciplinary design-led research, in the context of sustainability. She developed the Interrogating Fashion research group in 2005, (a Designing for the 21st Century EPSRC/AHRC funded initiative), and leads the Considerate Design project. Helen Storey MBE (Co-supervisor) Professor of Fashion and Science at London College of Fashion. Her pioneering work over the last decade has brought the worlds of art and science together, producing hybrid projects, and products that have broken new and award winning ground. These include Wonderland, Catalytic Clothing, Plastic is Precious and most recently the Dress of Glass and Flame. Subhash Anand MBE; Comp.TI; CText. FTI; B.Sc; M.Sc. Tech; Ph.D; AMCST (Co-supervisor) Professor of Technical Textiles at the Institute for Materials Research and Innovation (IMRI), The University of Bolton, U.K. His main areas of research activities include; novel knitted and nonwoven structures for technical applications; healthcare and medical devices; effect of laundering on sensory and mechanical properties of textile materials; composite materials; sportswear and active wear structures; filtration; geotextiles; automotive textiles; and personal protective equipment (PPE). Catherine Cutler (Advisor) Michael Cutler (Advisor) Eden Project, Cornwall Julian Franklin (Advisor) Head of Horticultural and controlled environment at Rothamsted Research, Harpenden
Value Chain: Where does your work fit into the apparel value chain? [check all that apply]

Raw Materials.

Your Role: What is your relationship to the apparel industry? [check all that apply]

Researcher, Technologist.

Target Population: What stakeholder groups do you engage or empower in your work? [check all that apply]

Designers, Farmer or Farmer Associations, Researchers, Supplier - contractor, Technologists.

● Intervention Focus: What are you trying to achieve / influence? [check all that apply]

Environmentally Sustainable Practices, Recycling or Circular Economy.

Lever for Change: Select up to 3 ways your work is helping to transform the industry.

Standards, Technology, Other, [please specify].

Is your project targeted at solving any of the following key barriers?

Hidden from View: Conditions in Forests, Farms, and Factories are Only Visible to a Select Few.

Does your project utilize any of the innovative design principles below?

Activate Local Know-how for Driving Solutions: Build Opportunities for Workers to Become Leaders.

Innovation Inspiration: When you first conceived of your project, did you think of it as applicable to the apparel industry?


If you answered "no" to the previous question, which industry was your project originally aimed at transforming?

● Replicating in the Apparel Industry: If your project didn't initially target the apparel industry, how are you specifically tailoring it to do so now?
Are you nurturing or inspiring others to be changemakers? If so, how?

Presenting at conferences & networking

● Tell us about the partnerships that enhance your approach. How have you collaborated with others in the industry to increase your impact?

Member of the 'Textile Institute', 'Society for Experimental Biology' and the 'eden project'


Factinating but opaque : no-where in your présentation do you state that the greenhouse is made of textile and this is the medium by which water is produced to irrigate the plants within. I had to find out by looking at the 3rd photo and I guessed!!