Hackaday Prize Entry: Automated Hydroponics

This team project for the Hackaday Prize is a solution to a rather important problem. Imagine growing plants for use as biomarkers for pollution. It’s a great idea, but how do you grow the plants in the first place? This team is building a space-saving hydroponic system that packs the most green into the least amount of space. It’s simple, and can be built almost entirely with parts from the local home supply store.

The design of this hydroponic system is based on a few PVC pipes, arranged vertically, joined together with a few 90 degree bends. In each course of pipe, a few holes are drilled to accept a plastic cup. This cup is filled with some sort of growing medium, and the Genuino-based controller takes care of everything else. Watering the plants, turning the lights on and off, and recording the nutrient concentration of the water is all possible with a simple microcontroller.

Right now the team has a huge stack of perforated PVC pipe and a Genuino-based brain box that takes care of everything plants need. It’s going to take a bit of time for the plants to grow, but this is still one of the most compact hydroponic systems we’ve seen.

You can check out a video of the entire setup below.

25 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: Automated Hydroponics

        1. Plasticisers are used to soften PVC — think rubber ducks (which are really often PVC/plasticiser at a 50:50 ratio, rather than rubber), medical tubes, artificial leather, etc. Rigid PVC pipes don’t have to contain any. Of course, small amounts may be added to improve manufacturability, but AFAIK that’s not really necessary.

        2. Can’t be too all that bad. I’ve kept some very sensitive fish species alive and thriving for many years in a tank which used PVC filtration and circulation systems. Never saw any signs of stress or other toxin-induced symptoms.

          I’ve been around long enough to recognize the “terrible product of the month” issue, and it usually isn’t actually terrible at all.

        1. And their .io page is a bit thin on details. Most of it is a build log of their equipment and not too much about what they plan to do with it. A bit about chemical paranoia, health culture & nutritional benefits but nothing about how they’re actually planning to trace these biomarkers or what pollution they’re interested in tracing.
          Apparently they’re planning on growing Stevia, but no indication on what they’re doing with it.

  1. PVC isnt generally used to transport potable water, but then again, non potable reclaimed water and runoff is used to water your crops. I think regular PVC only breaks down at high temps. You could go sched. 80 or CPVC. Hole sawing copper doesn’t sound like fun.

  2. The problem arises because of PH of the water leaching said plasticizers in PVC. Drinking water is typically PH adjusted to the 8ph or 9ph where as hydroponic nutrient solution is in the 5ph to 7ph. Basic water won’t leach as much as acidic nutrient solution will. Municipal water suppliers typicall add ash to the drinking water to prevent corrosion of pipes. Suffice to say, I would look into abs plastic or PET pipes.

    1. Most PVC plasticisers are phthalates, which are (non-ionic and hydrophobic) esters of the phthalic acid. They don’t dissolve in slightly acidic media any more readily than in slightly basic media; in fact, if anything, they will degrade in basic pH slightly faster (by base hydrolysis), although at near-neutral pH the rate of the reaction is likely negligible. Also, I don’t know about water where these guys live, but here in Moscow tap water has a pH of something like 6, so it looks like no ash was added.

    1. Or save yourself shipping charges from Wyoming and cut slits in your own PVC tube.
      Depending on the plant, the vertical growth method popularized by Nate & his comapny may not work as well as horizontal trays. Also since they’re using this to start seedlings having individual containers makes it easier to swap them into experiments or other growing conditions.

      Lastly, what you grow your plants in is less important than the conditions you grow them under. A lab investigating pollution almost certainly has access to the same and more information than whatever proprietary magic solutions any hydroponics retailer sells. These retailers save the average hobbyist time, but all the information they profit from is available for free online scattered across various forums and open access journals.

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