History

Aeroponics unit shown to EPA chief administrator at EPA P3 competition

Lettuce growing successfully in pilot CEHRF

In order to test the feasibility and productivity of a CEHRF in a climate where food production is limited by a short summer growing season, Clarkson University students have undertaken a project to design, build and testing a pilot scale CEHRF structure. The pilot consists of a single story with three growing rooms and a back room for workspace and storage. Three sides of the building are structural insulated panels and the south side where most sunlight is received is made of translucent plastic material. A long-term goal of the university is to make the CEHRF part of an integrated system, which includes an anaerobic digester, renewable energy sources, food waste source and food demand.

Clarkson University’s CERHF project is a part of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s P3 (People, Plant, and Prosperity) competition where each entry undergoes judging and approval for the next level of competition. For this project a pilot scale structure was designed, built and is currently being tested.

As shown in the timeline, this project was initiated and envisioned by Daegan Gonyer (BS Ph ’09), who developed the initial concepts with support from the McNair Scholar’s program. Gonyer and a team of three other students then wrote the first US.EPA P3 proposal and were awarded a $10,000 grant for a preliminary feasibility study.

2008:

  • Daegan Gonyer envisions cold-climate CEHRF and identifies the need for quantitative engineering analysis.
  • Team of Clarkson students submits a proposal for an EPA P3 Phase I project.

2009:

  • EPA grant awarded and preliminary testing of aeroponic growth initiated.

2010:

  • Phase I feasibility study completed by students in senior capstone design class, results in EPA Phase II grant awarded at design competition in Washington DC
  • Students from Engineering and Management capstone design class win third place award at the TechValley business plan competition in Albany NY
  • Pilot scale CEHRF greenhouse design and construction commences

2011:

  • Pilot construction completed and instrumented, produce growth trials initiated.
  • Clarkson students incorporate new company to promote development and design work – Blue Sphere Industries, Inc.
  • Clarkson students and Blue Sphere Industries win several business plan design competition and entrepreneurship awards

Phase I: The preliminary feasibility study, focused on the advantages of the CEHRF and how it could help to solve some issues with current farming practices. Phase one included lab-scale proof that aeroponics were successful for growth, preliminary design of pilot and full scale (seven story) systems, environmental lie-cycle assessment, and a business plan to market this idea to the community. This project proves to people in the community, and promotes sustainable practices for the planet, both of which promote prosperity, all requirements of the P3 competition. At the P3 competition in Washington DC in spring of 2010, the project was selected to move to the next round and received $75,000 in funding to support the of development and performing testing operations of the pilot scale CEHRF.

Phase II: The phase two project included an extensive business plan, environmental impact report, estimation for and economic plan of the full-scale design and detailed information about each of the P3 criteria goals. This phase of the project is intended to investigate the full integration of all of the mechanisms systems of the pilot structure. These components include the aeroponics growth chambers, efficient artificial lighting, and an insulated structure with one transmissive wall and three insulated structural panels, and climate control systems. The operation of the pilot structure is also testing multiple growing conditions, developing an optimization model to determine the best approach for the CEHRF system, completing the environmental life cycle analysis of the CEHRF, and finalizing the business plan for commercialization.

Current Project Status: The pilot scale structure has been constructed and is operational for the growth of plants. The heating system, aeroponics system, and water system have been installed and lighting system will soon be in place. The CEHRF system components are being testing and data collection of water, energy and nutrients usage has begun.