Project Status

Final Status: Design Night

      All through April and the first week of May Team HydroTower worked even harder to finish the prototype. The month of April saw the addition of our second growing level and some new plants. Other major accomplishments made before Design Night were completion of the pH and EC sensors, a working User Interface on the touchscreen, and a spiffy new paint job! Team HydroTower was really glad to see the project finally come together. On May 7th the Engineering department held their annual Senior Design Open House where the team answered questions and took comments about the HydroTower. Later that evening the team gave a presentation detailing some of the work and challenges they faced during the past year.

Shiny! Look and please touch.

      Team HydroTower is also very pleased to announce that HydroTower is a finalist in the IEEE President's Change the World Competition. The project has been selected as one of 15 finalist entries and the top three winners will be announced at the end of May. Also, Team HydroTower will be featured in an article in an upcoming issue of Calvin's Spark magazine.

Image courtesy of John Corriveau


March: BizPlan and Tomatoes

      If anyone from Team HydroTower thought February was a busy month, they were mistaken as March was far busier. The implementation and building of the prototype continued to gain speed and peaked before Spring Break. All efforts in automating the HydroTower for Spring Break were accomplished and HydroTower successfully ran for the 10 day break.

      First and foremost, the plants were officially moved to their new home inside HydroTower and survived the transplanting. Prior to transplanting the foam spacers were tested and installed. Pumping and drainage were cycle tested to ensure proper operation before the plants were moved. However, by the time Spring Break came, the pump, lights and fans were connected to the microcontroller which allowed HydroTower to survive Spring Break and continued to allow the plants to grow.

      A water reservoir was built and tested and the first level drainage valve was installed and connected to the microcontroller. Brian and Jacqueline also learned to TIG weld Aluminum in order to build a frame for the water reservoir.

Here is our water reservoir. Jaqueline's TIG welding-handiwork!

Team HydroTower is also excited to announce that it has made it to the

      The LEDs were revised and finalized and a new mounting system was built and installed. The LEDs now focus lights towards the center of HydroTower for better plant growth. Plants have continued to grow and thrive in HydroTower, especially the tomato plants and lettuce. The Team is confident vine ripe tomatoes will be available before the project is completed.

Brandon and Nate wiring the LED array. We have tomatoes!!!

      Another nice accomplishment was that after Spring Break Brenton and Jacqueline presented on behalf of Team HydroTower in the 2nd annual BizPlan Competition for Calvin. HydroTower took second place overall and was awarded $600. The BizPlan competition was presented by the Calvin Entrepreneurship Club, the Business Department and the Engineering department and it was sponsored by Soundoff Signal, Inc. and the Kern Foundation. Team HydroTower is very thankful for the BizPlan Competition and all those involved as well as for the opportunity and experience of presenting to the panel of judges. The Team is hoping to take the insights gained and apply them to the remainder of the project.

Brenton and Jacqueline taking 2nd place at the BizPlan Competition.

      April will be another very busy month as the Team will install many more components and continue crossing off line items on the final To-Do list. Keep checking back for updates as the Team moves towards the final HydroTower prototype to be displayed May 7th.

Our plants welcome their new LED Overlords The HydroTower looking closer to being finished.


February: Prototype Progress

      The month of February was a busy one for Team HydroTower with many updates occurring. In order to progress towards the final design night, the Team began implementing design decisions to get the prototype towards working condition. Brian and Jacqueline installed the water-proofing liner for the first grow level and also installed the drainage slope, bulk head and manual valve. Water testing was successful with no leaks and Styrofoam blocks were added to the grow level to reduce the overall amount of water used.

This image shows the Square-ish HydroTower!

      Brenton made significant progress regarding the pH sensor and began working on the electro-conductivity (EC) sensor. Both of Brenton’s sensors will be used in the final prototype of HydroTower because February also found the team ending research options and switching to the back-up plan. The electrode sensors, Ultraviolet-Visible (UV/Vis) system and Ion Chromatography (IC) system all proved inadequate for measuring in real-time the depleted nutrients from the recycled water. Jacqueline and Brandon will finish researching UV/Vis and IC, but even if research shows a design could work, the Team has officially decided to fully implement the back-up plan of monitoring pH and EC.

      Brandon and Nathan resolved the issues with the lighting system to determine that more LEDs are necessary to replicate sunlight as well as directing and focusing the light more towards the center of each grow level. Nathan has also been working on the Arduino board to begin programming the user interface and will soon begin to program the nutrient control system with the pH and EC sensors along with the lighting controls.

This image shows the Square-ish HydroTower!

      Overall, much progress has been made, but much progress is still needed to accomplish the goals and objectives Team HydroTower has for the design night in May. Keep checking back for updates!


January: Competitions and New Prototype

      The HydroTower team has entered in several engineering and business competitions. In November the team had taken third place in the Elevator Pitch competition held by Calvin College’s Entrepreneurship Club. Team HydroTower has also entered the ASME Idea Show and the IEEE Presidents' Change the World competition.

      During the month of January Team HydroTower enjoyed the respite of interim. The project was long from forgotten and new progress was made in the automation of the HydroTower. The tedious task of manually maintaining the lighting conditions of the plants was handed off to some automatic circuitry. Also fashioned were the automatic controls for the nutrient pump. The plants are much happier now that their day can be well regulated. Version 2.0 of the HydroTower prototype has also begun construction. Below you can see the new square footprint and plants waiting for the finished prototype when they can finally grow freely out of the plastic boxes.

This image shows the Square-ish HydroTower!


Fall Progress: Hoaglands, Flooding and LEDs

      Team HydroTower’s first task was to learn about hydroponics and how it could be used in the project. We toured Mud Lake Farm, a hydroponic lettuce growing farm in Hudsonville MI, and they learned main choices for the system would be flood and drain system, drip system, or float system.

      Professor Dornbos taught the team about Hoagland's solution and that it could be used to grow plants. He also provided the team with resources from the biology department laboratories to use to grow plants.

This image shows that plants grow in water!

      Team HydroTower’s initial design was to use a flood drain system for many different reasons but mostly because our recovery rates of nutrients would be about 80-90%. The main problem is knowing and measuring the leftover nutrients in order to maintain the ideal Hoagland's solution concentrations. This problem could result in a change in the water system to the plants to either the drip system or float system.

      Regardless of the nutrient supply system or water distribution, a light source is needed to grow the plants. We received blue and red LEDs from Sound Off Signal. Heat sinks were designed, attached, and LEDs were implemented in the HydroTower prototype.

This image shows the LED Array!

Team HydroTower is continuing its research and hard work for the spring semester.