497-246: UFarmIIT: Innovative Automation Using Renewable Energy

Meeting Days/Time:
Thursdays from 1:50 to 4:30 pm
IIT Wanger Institute for Sustainability & Energy Research (WISER)
Hamid Arastoopour (WISER and ChBE), in consultation with advisory group that includes Alvin Lee (Institute of Food Safety & Health (IFSH)), Brent Stephens (CAEE) and Mohammad Shahidehpour (Galvin Center for Electricity Innovation, WISER and ECE)
Appropriate Disciplines:
Applied Mathematics, Architectural Engineering, Biology, Business, Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, Civil Engineering, Computer Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Engineering Management, Environmental Engineering, Information Technology & Management, Mechanical Engineering, Molecular Biochemistry & Biophysics, Political Science
Technical Innovation

The overall purpose of this IPRO project is to explore innovative solutions to automating UFarmIIT based on a sustainability strategy for water, energy and Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and tapping the power of renewable energy technology and remote monitoring and control via embedded sensor networks and communication.

The Urban Agriculture Environment Today. Urban food systems comprise several common forms for more localized food production near population centers, including: (1) traditional small plots of land with or without physical coverage (i.e., high tunnels or hoop houses), (2) greenhouses, (3) rooftop gardens and greenhouses, and (4) high-density indoor agriculture using hydroponics or aquaponics systems. Urban food systems continue to develop along two major pathways:

  • One approach involves independent growers or community groups, working on a small scale with facilities arranged in vacant or underutilized spaces within and around cities (i.e., community gardens, hoop houses, or greenhouses). One recent study suggested that, dedicating the majority of vacant lots, a small fraction of residential lots, and more than half of every commercial and industrial rooftop in the city of Cleveland, OH, to traditional food production could meet between 46% and 100% of the fresh produce needed, nearly 100% of poultry and eggs, and 100% of honey. However, a number of technical and perceived challenges to widespread implementation of small-scale urban agriculture exist, including issues with soil quality, air quality, safety, policy, and energy and water use requirements.
  • Another approach involves larger commercial efforts that require new construction or retrofitting existing buildings and adapting underutilized spaces for more intensive indoor agricultural production activities. These systems typically rely on hydroponic growing methods using recirculating water to grow plants with much less water withdrawal than soil-based agriculture, or more advanced aquaponic growing methods that build upon hydroponic systems by integrating fish tanks from which the waste streams are used to enrich the recirculating water to grow plants while simultaneously raising fish for consumption, effectively cycling nutrients from fish wastewater into edible plants.

Given the above context, this IPRO project has three overall objectives that will use UFarmIIT as a testbed as much as possible:

  • Analysis of energy, water, and Green House Gas (GHG) footprints of local urban food systems;
  • Optimization of water needs by using moisture sensor technology and remote irrigation; and
  • Integration of solar energy systems to provide entire energy requirements for UFarmIIT.

IPRO Team Approach. The Fall 2016 IPRO team will organize as three sub-teams that focus on the three objectives identified above and described below in greater detail, namely: Analysis of Energy, Water, and GHG Footprints of Local Urban Food Systems; Optimization of Water Needs; and Integration of Solar Energy Systems. The three sub-teams will meet weekly to provide updates, solicit input and support to address problems encountered, brainstorm new ideas and how they might be addressed, and agree on next steps. During the last two weeks of the semester, the three sub-teams will collaborate more intensively to synthesize their findings and recommendations, document their work for a follow-on IPRO team, and prepare an integrated report and presentation.

Analysis of Energy, Water and GHG Footprints of Local Urban Food Systems. The IPRO team will use the on-campus and off-site existing urban food production facilities to better understand the energy, water, and GHG footprints of each system, applying quantitative methods used in assessments of other engineered commercial and industrial systems. The IPRO team will adapt standardized methodologies to evaluate these measurable outputs in urban agriculture facilities and establish methods for evaluating and comparing production capacities, food safety, energy use, waste, and the overall costs of doing business of both new and existing facilities. The proposed analysis will include:

  • kWh consumed per pound of market-ready produce: All food production systems consume electricity as their primary energy resource. This is the simplest and most obvious metric for direct energy-related requirements.
  • CO2-equivalent GHG emissions per pound of market-ready produce: This metric evaluates the contribution of food systems to climate change by including the energy consumption and ecological impacts associated with the acquisition, maintenance, and operation of materials and stock associated with food production systems. This includes the CO2-equivalent emissions associated with the: (a) transportation of feed stocks from their sources to the farms, (b) direct energy use of the growing facilities, (c) indirect embodied energy-for-water requirements, (d) final delivery of market-ready produce from the unit to appropriate markets, and (e) CO2 offsets from plant growth.
  • Gallons of water used per pound of market-ready produce grown: Evaluating water consumption per pound of produce.

Optimization of Water Needs. Urban farms have a tremendous reliance on water for many different purposes that include irrigation, equipment cleaning, crop preparation, and crop processing. The IPRO team will have an impact on reducing water consumption by designing and installing an array of moisture sensors to monitor humidity of the soil for each crop from a remote station in the microgrid control room at our Wanger Institute for Sustainability and Energy Research (WISER) in the IIT Tower.

Integration of Solar Energy Systems. The IPRO team will complete installation of a solar energy system for UFarmIIT that incorporates battery storage and DC pumps for water irrigation. This will have two benefits:

  • Store extra solar energy produced in a set of batteries and use DC pumps to store water in tanks at higher elevation for future use; and
  • Operate UFarmIIT independent of both gas and electricity grids by using energy generated from our renewable energy supplies and battery storage.

Student representing the following disciplines are especially critical to this IPRO project and encouraged to register: Architectural Engineering, Architecture, Business, Chemical Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.

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