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Singapore, Netherlands marry nature and technology at Dubai Expo

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By Reuters

DUBAI – Amid the soaring temperatures of the United Arab Emirates, visitors to Expo 2020 Dubai can take refuge at the Singapore pavilion’s mini rainforest.

With 80,000 plants from 170 different species, the multi-layered structure is a green oasis amid the arid desert climate. A self-sufficient ecosystem, the hanging gardens and vertical plant walls help keep temperatures down, aided by a robot prototype designed to monitor humidity levels and plant health.

“We use the sun energy to draw up ground water from within the pavilion,” explained Yap Lay Bee, deputy commissioner-general, Singapore Pavilion. “The water is then used back to irrigate the plants and meet the needs of the operations.” 

Singapore is among almost 200 exhibitors at Expo 2020 Dubai, the first world fair to be held in the Middle East. The fair expects to attract 25 million visits after having been delayed for a year by the coronavirus pandemic.

Expo organisers have made sustainability a key focus of the fair, which was built in what was once desert.

The Netherlands’ pavilion is also almost entirely self-sustaining, using Dutch technologies to showcase a circular system that harvests water and energy and produces food in a vertical farm.

“We harvest our own water from the air, we grow our own food, we get our own energy from our solar panels,” said Niels Bouwman, director of the Netherlands Pavilion.

The farm is growing 9,500 edible plants and crops, including mint, basil, asparagus, tomatoes and mushrooms. The mushrooms have even been used to create the pavilion’s floor tiles. 

The pavilion extracts between 1,000-2,000 litres of water per day from the air, while its rooftop solar panels – transparent to allow light to come into the structure – cover more than 40% of its electricity needs.

“We are proud that we produce a lot of food and we export it to the rest of the world,” Bouwman said. “But we like to also showcase that you can do this yourself as well … harvest your own water, produce your own food, create your own energy.”