Hydroponics System Created With 3D Printer
What is hydroponics?
Hydroponics is the production of plants in a nutrient-rich water solution, instead of in soil. In most hydroponic systems, some medium is provided to the roots as a support structure, here clay pellets are used.
This soil-free method can use 90% less water, take up 4 times less space for the same amount of produce, and can grow crops twice as quickly if ideal conditions are created. No herbicides or pesticides are necessary. Additionally, no run off or leachate of phosphorus is created. All waste is in a controlled environment, and because no pesticides or herbicides are used and the unused nutrients recycle through the system, little to no waste is created. Hydroponic systems are also good for experimenting on crops because the environment can be entirely controlled: including temperature, light, nutrient ratios, amount of water received, pH, etc.
By 2050, the predicted human population (9.5 billion) will require more food than available arable land can currently produce. Because hydroponic systems can be indoor systems, skyscrapers of farms could be created, multiplying the amount of produce grown per area of land. A 30 story vertical farm can yield as much food as 2,400 acres of farmland, with less waste and harm inflicted on the environment.
My Hydroponic System
The hydroponics system in front of you is different from most in a number of ways. The only output of the system is the produce or flowers grown. In this system, no waste is created. An input of water and nutrients must be added to the system periodically, so it is not a completely closed-loop system. However, it recycles 100% of added materials that do not go into the plant the first time around. The solution from the basin is pumped into the top crop. The water this plant doesnÃ¢ÂÂt use trickles down into the next crop. Any nutrient-rich water this crop doesnÃ¢ÂÂt use is returned to the basin. More crops could be added to the system, however, I was only able to obtain two plants.
Additionally, this system uses half or less of the electrical energy input of most hydroponic systems; this is also due to the systemÃ¢ÂÂs ability drip from the top crop to the lower ones. Most systems employ one pump for each crop level, rather than one pump for the entire system. Most deliver water from the basin to each crop separately. In this 3D-printed hydroponics system, the use of tiny holes in the vessels, along with gravity allow for half of the electrical energy to be used. For example, if three plants were in this system, it would use 1/3 of the energy typically used for a 3 crop system, etc. While this may not seem like a big deal, if an entire skyscraper was dedicated to producing crops, this reduction in electric use and costs would become much more valuable.
One major problem with most hydroponic systems is root rot. Leaving a plant in water for too long can cause a plantÃ¢ÂÂs roots to rot, or for them to die of oxygen deprivation. Hydroponic systems most often have the plant in a mesh of clay pellets, merely for root support, with the tips of the roots dipped in a water solution. Here, however, the roots are entirely covered in clay pellets, which have sufficient spacing between them for oxygen to reach the roots. Then the water is added directly to the clay pellets. Clay pellets absorb some water, and will release it over time. This allows the plant to constantly receive water, even when the pump is not on during the night, without causing it to be in standing water. This should prevent root rot and oxygen deprivation.
Use of the 3D printer allowed me to create the changes in hydroponic systems that I wanted to see. Additionally, it allowed me to create multiple prototypes of the design (some of which you see here) for very little money. Using the online design tool, 123D design, I was able to examine and manipulate my design before printing, and then again after I had printed a prototype that needed to be refined. The flexibility of the program and 3D printer gave me the opportunity to rework my design over and over again, until my design finally succeeded. After the designs had been completed and all of the parts printed out, the printed material was not strong enough to support the water-soaked clay pellets. However, the customization abilities of the printing program allowed me to increase the density (by increasing the infill) of my finished product, creating the durable and strong material you see before you.
A Larger Picture; Hydroponics in The World
Many architects have created concept art for urban farms, or vertical farms, that take advantage of passive solar energy. This means the building is designed to make natural light usable for the plants. This way, heat lights do not have to be used as much, creating essentially a giant greenhouse. Cities simply do not have the opportunity for fresh foods and local farms as rural areas do currently. Creating these urban farms would not only reduce emissions and fossil fuels used to transport food into cities, but would also provide citizens with fresher foods. Despite the concept designs that have been produced, few have been created (a vertical forest is currently being built in Milan, Italy). This is for two apparent reasons, one of which is soil. Besides financial issues, much of what has ended these projects is the realization of how much soil would be required to create these structures, and the damage to the environment digging up that much soil would cause, particularly in terms of erosion. Not using dirt, and instead using a massive hydroponics system, would solve one of the vertical farms major issues. These indoor farms could also help save plant species. Much diversity of crops has been wiped out for a variety of reasons; one is disease. Most crop diseases are soil-borne. Creating a controlled, soil-free, branch of farming could help save crops from more loss of genetic diversity.
UPDATE: HYDROPONICS IN SPACE
Hydroponics could also become a useful form of agriculture for sustainable life on other planets or moons. For example, soil on mars is toxic and cannot sustain plant life. Hydroponics could be a serviceable alternative form of agriculture on mars. Water use on other planets and moons would be limited and hydroponics can use 90% less water than traditional agricultural techniques. This prototype of a system I have uploaded to thingiverse conserves even more because of the drip system that recycles 100% of unused water.
*Picture of food shows the basil grown in the system being used in a meal.
All References Used Throughout Project
Aeroponic Garden, Vertical Garden | Tower Garden
Britta Riley: A garden in my apartment | Video on TED.com
High-Tech Hydroponic Farm Transforms Abandoned Bowling Alley | Wired Science | Wired.com
In-home hydroponic garden (concept) | Peak Geek
Microbial Home by Philips Design ÃÂ» Yanko Design
Parasite Greenhouse FaÃÂ§ade | Plantagon
Rooftop Greenhouse Will Boost City Farming - NYTimes.com
Self-Contained Robotic Farms Offer Glimpse of Lunar Food Factories | Raw File | Wired.com
Sleek hydroponic unit lets you grow a garden in your kitchen : TreeHugger
This is what farms will look like in the future
TIME 100: A New Harlem Renaissance - Video - TIME.com
VINCENT CALLEBAUT ARCHITECTE C.V.
What is a Windowfarm? - Windowfarms
How to Transplant Hydroponic Basil | Home Guides | SF Gate
Why plants die from too much water, and Hydroponics basics.
Frequently Asked Questions - Greentrees Hydroponics
Vertical Forest in Milan on Vimeo
What Can You Grow With Hydroponics?