Hackaday Prize Entry: Vertical Aeroponics

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [MIPS ARMSTRONG] is working on an open-source terrarium that will be one of the fastest way to grow foodstuffs or other edible greens. He’s calling it Project EDEN, and it’s shaping up to be one of the most advanced homebrew horticultural devices ever made.

There are a few things that make this indoor greenhouse unique. The most obvious is the incredible number of LEDs used as grow lights. [MIPS] is using 900 Watts worth of Royal Blue and Deep Red LEDs. To water these plants, [MIPS] is taking a cue from NASA and building a High Pressure Aeroponics system – a device that shoots droplets of water only 50 microns in diameter directly onto the roots of the plants.

One of the more interesting aspects of EDEN is the CO2 system. The bulk of plant biomass – like humans – comes from carbon, and plants get their carbon from the atmosphere. Studies have shown that increasing the concentration of CO2 in a grow chamber can increase plant growth. There is a limit before CO2 becomes toxic to plants, so [MIPS] will have to keep a close eye on the CO2 levels with gas sensors.

With high-pressure watering, a CO2 system, and an amazing array of LEDs, this is one of the most advanced homebrew horticulture projects on the planet. It’s also a great fit for this year’s Hackaday prize theme of ‘build something that matters’, and we can’t wait to see [MIPS]’s future developments of his awesome aeroponic terrarium.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

32 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: Vertical Aeroponics

  1. Try something grow and harvest could be unique in this type of projects…

    What is the price of a rapidly growing and efficient aeroponic system compared with other options hydroculture cultivation?

    IMHO: LED has better power efficiency but HPS beat LED solution in term of cost. Quality and equal power grow LED panels cost much more then several years of growing with HPS which consume more energy.

    And why not add CO2 active when the sensor is already present?

    1. HPS (W/ballast and reflector) is something like 1/5th the cost of equivalent LEDs. And when you have enough LED’s to simulate the radial throw of a single HPS bulb, you are still consuming about 2/3rds the power of what HPS consumes. It’s a hard sell right now. I keep waiting for the Chinese to get in the game and radically drop the LED panel costs.
      BUT…and here’s the kicker, LED’s hit the PAR frequency perfectly. If you want beautiful growth, you want LED.

    2. FYI: artificial light hydro/aqua-ponics are considered very inefficient. The BEST way to grow is to create a sealed greenhouse with transparent roof. Time the lighting to kick in before and after midday sun. You cut out on a lot energy usage and at peak sun you are blasting your plants with amazing PAR intensity.

        1. It’s a fair point though – on a sunny day you could be getting your PAR needs filled for free from the sun. This could be huge savings. It must be feasible to measure the solar PAR levels and simply allow the LED’s to make up any shortfall / night grow.

  2. I think there would be more growing area if he grew the plants around the circumference of the enclosure and put the grow lights in the center instead of the grow tower.

    Here is a YouTube video that shows what I mean.

  3. It would leave a little more grow area, however that design would require multiple nozzles. It may also require more solenoids due to that, otherwise there would be a pressure drop in the lines and it results in larger droplet sizes.

    1. What about this project does not scale? Volume? Amount of chambers used?
      The c4 way may ALSO change the way the world produces food, but that seems a long way away from being achievable by people on hackaday. While this project is.

        1. So? That’s not necessarily that the invention itself doesn’t work, rather that the inventor has moved on to something else. I have had many projects that I’ve started and never fully finished, because I’ve already moved on to something else. In fact, as soon as I find out that it works, I loose interest.

          Point is: this invention could scale fine.

      1. with 6 sides, 8 inch offsets, thats about 50 heads of lettuce per harvest. From clone to vegetable I estimate around 6 week harvest time. So approximately 400-420 heads a year of high quality produce.

  4. Strange… No one dinged on all the editor hyperbole yet.
    Even using the qualifier “one of the most..”advanced home brew horticultural devices EVER made is.. Supremely over enthusiastic.

    Cool project. More like it please. Enthusiasm encouraged. But let’s not go overboard… Start sounding like really bad kickstarters or worse; /.

  5. The reason NASA is using high pressure with droplet size is that they are dealing with zero gravity. Has anyone documented that the 50 micron mist has significant benefits over a standard $3.00 low pressure mister while in a gravity well?

    1. About mist: It´s same (from experience, on Earth). Be it big drops or thin mist, results are identical, the only important point is to keep roots wet but not soaked.

      And there is a big bad point with the lighting system:
      LEDs can (must) be placed closer from the plant. In the present setup, the top plants get enough light to benefit from CO2 boosting, and the bottom plants will be in the shade. Splitting the lighting system into several modules that can be closer to the plants would yield a more homogenous lighting and better efficiency.

      The CO2 installation is overkill. Way too expensive. There are simpler solution like sugar+yeast in the same room, producing CO2, distributed with a tube with small holes. Or better than just sugar, yeast and water: make BEER.

      And keep in mind if you boost CO2 level (We´re talking about ppm here, not %) one must also boost:
      temperature, humidity, and lighting. Enclosed in a semi air-tight growing space.

      1. The vegetating plants go closer to the LEDs than the fruiting plants to avoid a canopy. Although I’m open to that idea.

        I’m controlling all of the things you mentioned. Slightly higher heat is acceptable with higher co2 in some cases.
        I don’t think my goal was to create co2 as much as it was to recycle the co2 thats already out there being pulled from the atmosphere.

      2. Sugar and yeast cannot product enough CO2 to have effect due low production and ventilation. Higher temperature above maximal recommended for stable grow is possible due higher CO2 concetration, thats not a problem (in range of few degrees of Celsius).

    2. I will test it! HPA is more effective than DWC as far as I’ve researched. A root submerged under dirt or water hardens into a taproot, where with mist a more feather root structure forms. I would attribute that to the water particle size and amount of oxygen the roots are exposed to. But hey, less pressure, less cost – so I will do a few experiments when its ready.

    3. I think indeed you are right. Water will clump up into giant balls and surface tension causes it to “stick” to surfaces. Neither of those are good for plants. It would drown the roots. Droplets need to be small enough to rapidly absorb before coming into contact with each other (thus becoming larger and larger droplets, till too large for a root to drink up in one gulp).
      In gravity, its no problem. The droplets just roll down the roots, gradually being absorbed as it goes.. What is left drips off.
      I have no data to support the theory, but:
      I could IMAGINE that a finer mist WOULD have some rapid feeding advantages, but would also come with associated scheduling complications. Roots actually need to ‘breath’ just as much as leaves do. Alternating cycles of air, nutrient, air could be accelerated if the mist is finer and absorbs faster. I assume.
      But is it financially worthwhile down here on the ground? Likely not, unless you were a production hydro farm. (which DO exist: http://pruned.blogspot.jp/2008/02/subterranean-farms-of-tokyo.html)

    4. Droplet size has nothing to do with gravity.
      To clarify a point [bin] glosses over, smaller droplet sizes allow for more precise watering controls. With 50 micron droplets common in high pressure or fogging rigs the roots stay damp but not dripping. The moisture allows for better nutrient and oxygen uptake, which translates into shorter time to harvest.
      You can use well oxygenated water and low pressure to attempt to match the results of small droplets but if both parts are readily available you’re not really saving any hassle or part counts by opting for low pressure heads.

      [Bin]’s point about CO2 is only partially correct. Many professional places do indeed enrich CO2 in excess of 1% concentrations. As far as needing to also increase humidity and other aspects, that depends. IF none of those things aren’t already optimal, you won’t see an increase in production that makes CO2 enrichment worthwhile. However, if everything else is dialed in already enriching CO2 will increase yields. If you want to run 1.5% (1500ppm) CO2 you can expect nutrients, pH, and humidity to need some attention too. Here’s a decent read on things to consider for enriching CO2 http://fifthseasongardening.com/regulating-carbon-dioxide

      Think of CO2 a bit like adding nitrous to a car, there are cheaper and simpler way to increase your output, but once you’ve done those it adds some impressive increases of its own.

    1. no it doesn’t, 99% of science (an re-iterated by the EAP) says CO2 will re-adjust the atmosphere’s equilibrium. Reference those earlier comments about temperature, etc.

      Politics determine whether that new equilibrium merits prevention or disregard.

    2. The methane from plant waste that goes to landfills produces more of a threat. The methane released traps far more heat than co2 is capable of. Both are greenhouse gases, but CO2 is beneficial to the plant respiration cycle and the carbon atoms are absorbed releasing oxygen.

    3. Pollution is energy in the wrong place.
      It’s not that CO2 is inherently bad, it’s that it’s RAPIDLY disturbing the equilibrium in which we live and our ecosystem is adapted for. The rate of change is rapid enough to cause drastic, likely catastrophic changes.

      Methane has a residence of about 4 years in the atmosphere, CO2 has as residence time of 5 years, but is largely inert. Methane gets eaten or reacts chemically, CO2 gets absorbed in the oceans and causes it’s own issues in the ocean. So Methane is bad but it breaks down, CO2 just moves to cause damage in another aspect of the environment.

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