Letter of Intent
Project Size: 
Large, >$1,000
Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: 
$30,000
Letter of Intent: 

 

CSF Coordinator

Campus Sustainability Fund – Phase4 project

University of Washington

 

Dear CSF Coordinator:

 

We are writing to gauge the Campus Sustainability Fund’s (CSF) interest in supporting the feasibility study of using fourth phase water on the most advanced indoor agriculture technique, aeroponics, to help to grow fresh food not only effectively and organically but also locally, here on the University of Washington campus.

 

Introduction

Why Fourth Phase Water?

Water, the blood of plants, must not be taken for granted when attempting to solve the global food crisis. In two decades of research, Prof. Pollack has discovered a fourth phase of water, the newly identified interfacial phase of water, that commonly exists in nature, and in both animals and plants. To date, there are ample of scientific reports show that the fourth phase water is different from bulk water physically and chemically. Most importantly, there was the study[1] published early this year demonstrated that the fourth phase water can improve germination and sprouting of plants dramatically. The improvement was confirmed by an UW spun-out, 4th-Phase, Inc., that using fourth phase water, the root length can be improved by 50% on average, sample size is close to 100.

Why Aeroponics?
Aeroponics is an indoor agriculture technique that grows plants in a mist environment without soil. However, unlike hydroponics, it uses fine droplets to deliver necessary water and nutrient to the root of plants. When the droplet size is controlled within the range similar as the porous size on the root, the plant can absorb the water and nutrient more efficiently. This not only helps to further preserve water but also allow the plants to uptake the nutrient more effectively. Moreover, because the root is exposed in air with easy access to oxygen, generally, aeroponics plants thrive better than hydroponics plants.

In sum, combining the advantage of the water engineering from Pollack’s lab (Bioe, UW) and the advanced aeroponics agriculture technology, Phase4 aims to demonstrate the potential societal/environmental impact of maximizing water’s ability to fuel plants.

 

Environmental Impact

It is estimated that global crop production will need to double by 2050 to feed the population[2], and it is clear that we need to find a solution to feed a growing population. Indoor farming is believed to be the future of agriculture. However, even growing crops aeroponically has been proved to be able to save 95% of the water (in USA, 75% of water is used in agriculture) with higher yield than the traditional farming, but the cost is still too high. Improving indoor farming efficiency and reducing its cost is a large-scale problem that many engineers and scientists are working towards. Efforts are focused on reducing labor costs by increasing the degree of automation, reducing utility costs by using more efficient lighting, and using smart control system enabling advanced AI in agriculture to improve yields. But this doesn’t seem like enough. The rate of growth in global crop yields is not growing fast enough[3], and doubling the world’s food production will require many breakthroughs in crop science using technology that is new, groundbreaking, and has the potential to feed billions.

 

With the CSF support, Phase4 can help to solve the global food crisis collaboratively by conducting the feasibility study to demonstrate the potential benefit of combining fourth phase water and aeroponics technology.

Student Leadership and Involvement
Our team is well equipped to complete this project successfully. Kurt Kung, our team leader, has 8+ years of experience on the fourth phase water research and rapid prototyping development throughout his doctoral education at the UW. Our project currently has a staff mentor, Dr. Gerald Pollack, who has been an integral part of this project and will continue to support our group throughout the duration of the project timeline. Jacob Rodriguez, our team member has 3 years of R&D experience and currently enrolled in the Master program in Material Science, UW.

Education, Outreach, and Behavior Change
The problem Phase4 try to solve is by no means trivial. Anything that we can do to raise the public awareness on this shortcoming global food crisis and engage more students and staff on campus to be part of our project can improve the odds of success. Besides requesting support from CSF, we also plan to participate the Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC) and the Business Plan Competition (BPC) at UW in early 2018. From experience, we know competition is one of the best way to recruit students on meaningful project and expose the project quickly and effectively in the local community medias.

In addition to being led by a group of UW students, this project will also engage the campus community by being visible in prominent campus buildings. We are currently conducting outreach to Fluke Hall to install the feasibility test aerponics system in the green house on the top floor of Fluke Hall. The residents of Fluke Hall are UW CoMotion center and Student MakerSpace, which are beneficial to the Phase4 project for the talents recruitment and the technical support to engage more resource at UW.

 

Feasibility, Accountability, and Sustainability
The CSF has expressed a special interest in growing food not only efficiently with the minimum footprint but also organically and locally on campus. Our aeroponic system will fulfill that goal while also engaging the campus community around this cutting-edge technology.

The goal of the Phase4 project is to develop the state of art aeroponic system using fourth phase water technology to provide enough vegetable for the cafeterias to feed students, staff and faculties on UW campus and eventually expands the technology for broader applications. With the support from CSF, we can conduct the feasibility study as the first step to achieve our goal. The success criteria in the feasibility study phase is to demonstrate the improvement on total biomass of plants by using fourth phase water, and provide the critical data to estimate the cost and square footage to feed the people on campus.

We estimate the total cost of this project to be $75,000. These funds will be used specifically for the development of the fourth phase water enabled aeroponic test system to be installed on the UW campus. We are fortunate enough that we already have a commitment from Professor Pollack to support 1/3 of the fund ($25,000) and a commitment from 4th-Phase, Inc., an UW spun-out start up, to support another 1/3 of the fund ($25,000). So we only need CSF to match the last 1/3 of the fund ($25,000) to kick off the project. We will provide a more detailed budget if we are selected to submit a full proposal.  Moreover, potentially, we will have additional funding from UW EIC and BPC to provide extra support to the Phase4 project. Our team emphasizes the importance of diversifying our funding sources, and will continue our ongoing search for funding opportunities throughout the entirety of our project timeline.

Funding provided from the CSF will go directly toward the development of our product. In the immediate term, we’ve broken our project’s timeline into two phases. The first phase includes the physical development and installation of fourth phase water enabled aeroponics system over the next six months. The second phase includes plants testing, data collection, and further improvement on the system if needed.

We hope to have the opportunity to submit a full proposal with additional information for your further review. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or comments in the meantime. Thank you very much for your time and consideration, we look forward to hearing from you.

 

Sincerely,

 

Kurt Kung                                             Jacob Rodriguez                                          

Senior Research Fellow                       Master Student

Bioengineering, UW                             Material Science, UW

206-685-2744                                      425-736-0439

ckung@uw.edu                                    jaroddy@uw.edu

 

         

 

 

 

[1] Abha Sharma et al., “QELBY®-Induced Enhancement of Exclusion Zone Buildup and Seed Germination,” Advances in Materials Science and Engineering 2017 (2017): 1–10, doi:10.1155/2017/2410794.

[2] Yield Trends Are Insufficient to Double Global Crop Production by 2050

[3] Yield Trends Are Insufficient to Double Global Crop Production by 2050

Contact Information
Primary Contact First & Last Name: 
Kurt Kung
E-mail: 
ckung@uw.edu
Full Proposal

This will display after the CSF committee has reviewed and approved your LOI, and after you have received the link to edit your application.

Executive Summary: 

Project IF (Indoor Farm) is a feasibility study to run indoor farm facility on UW campus by student to provide fruits and vegetables to the cafeterias on campus. With the high potential for food crisis during the impending rise in population, we feel the urge to produce food in the most sustainable way possible at where we spend most of our time, UW.

With the funding and the assistance from UW CSF and Bioengineering department, we will have two modern farming techniques (hydroponics and aeroponics) included in the Project IF feasibility study. Hydroponics is a rather established farming technique for many years of practice. Aeroponics has proven to be the most advanced and efficient crop growing platform because of its water efficiency and root growing capability. It is even used by NASA to grow crops in the space stations. We are not only excited about to put the modern farming techniques into practice first time ever on the UW campus, but we also want to raise public awareness about the importance of preventing the forthcoming global food crisis.

This feasibility study is only a glimpse of a larger vision. It is important that we gain practical hands-on experience through this study, so we understand operational costs like utilities, labor, maintenance, and consumable cost. If successful, we plan to partner with UW campus cafeterias to build a high-efficiency indoor farming system which could be run by students and campus staff. This on-campus farm would enable the UW community to enjoy fresh organic greens that are affordable, hyper-local, and pesticide-free, help strengthen UW’s role as a leader of environmental sustainability, and act as a natural platform for the advocacy of food sustainability. By bringing food production right on to campus, we can inspire the next generation of minds to consider a sustainable, local future of food.

Total amount requested from the CSF: 
$30 000
This funding request is a: 
Grant
Budget: 
ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
Half of Kurt's stipend as a post-doc in Bioe$25,0001$25,000
Compensation for committed students$2,5002$5,000
Half of Kurt's stipend as a post-doc in Bioe$25,0001$25,000 (from Pollack Lab)
Material cost of the aeroponics system$25,0001$25,000 (from 4th-Phase, Inc.)
Non-CSF Sources: 
potential funding sourcepotential funding amountdate of potential fund receivable
NSF SBIR$225,000July 2018
UW HIC$15,000March 2018
UW EIC$15,000April 2018
UW BPC$25,000May 2018
Project Completion Total: 
$80 000
Sustainability Impact: 
Food
Water
Sustainability Challenge: 

It is estimated that global crop production will need to double by 2050 to feed the population, and it is clear that we need to find a solution to feed a growing population. Indoor farming is believed to be the future of agriculture. Growing crops hydroponically and aeroponically has proven to save 95% of water compared with traditional farming and with higher yield. Improving indoor farming efficiency and reducing its cost is a large-scale problem that many engineers and scientists are working towards. Efforts are focused on reducing labor costs by increasing the degree of automation, reducing utility costs by using more efficient lighting, and using smart control system with advanced AI to improve agricultural yields. But this won’t be enough. The rate of growth in global crop yields is not growing fast enough, and doubling the world’s food production will require much larger indoor farm footprint that operates locally and has the potential to feed billions of people in cities. And Project IF is going to take the first step at home of UW campus.

Explain how the impacts will be measured: 

The impact of the Project IF will be measured in 3 categories: the evaluation of proposed feasibility study, student involvement level, and public awareness.

In the feasibility study, we will gain hands-on experience and measurable data on the operational cost in detail and the actual crop growth efficacy. These experience will help us reach our next goal – growing food on campus with state of the art technology to provide healthy, affordable vegetables to our UW community members.

We estimate at least 10 students will be involved in the core team for the proposed CSF project and UW competitions mentioned above. The number of student volunteers and the level of involvement of each individual will be reported in the quarterly CSF report.

To measure the impact on public awareness, we will collect opinion and attitudinal data from indoor farming and agricultural sustainability from the campus community. As part of this effort we will promote this project through digital media channels to develop public relations with the local community and media.

Education & Outreach: 

The problem that Project IF is trying to solve is by no means trivial. Anything that we can do to raise public awareness on the future global food crisis and engage more students and staffs on campus to take part in our project will help the food sustainability movement. Besides the

support from CSF, we have participated in the Science Technology Showcase (STS 2018), the Health Innovation Challenge (HIC 2018), and the Environmental Innovation Challenge (EIC 2018). In fact, Project IF won the third place at the STS and the Judges’ Favorite Award at the EIC. From experience, we know competitions are one of the best ways to recruit students for meaningful projects, and expose the project quickly and effectively to local media outlets. Moreover, Kurt Kung recently received $10,000 postdoc fellowship from the Mistletoe Research Foundation, and he intends to use most of the fellowship grant on the Project IF.

Student Involvement: 

Our team is well equipped to complete this project successfully. Kurt Kung, our team leader, has 10+ years of experience on advanced research and rapid prototyping development throughout his doctoral education at the UW. Our project currently has a staff mentor, Dr. Gerald Pollack, who has been an integral part of this project and will continue to support our group throughout the duration of the project timeline.

To date, we have recruited more than 10 UW undergrad student from various of departments and majors who are actively contributing to the project. The information regarding the roles and responsibilities of each student team member will be posted on the forthcoming Project IF official website.

Timeline: 
TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Hydroponic and aeroponic platform design and development, including testing sub-componentsJuly 2018 – December2018
Recruiting and training UW student volunteers (Environment and Engineering majors) to participate the Project IF.July 2018 – December2018
Beta test (basil and lettuce are the target test plant)January 2019 – June 2019
Recruiting and training student volunteers (Communications, Marketing, Business, MPA, and MBA majors) to help raise public awareness.January 2019 – June 2019
Year Tag: 
Amount Awarded: 
$30,000
Potential Funding Reductions: 
This project is well-equipped to handle an award of nearly any size, though any reduction in award size would impact the involved matching parties for this project. A 5-10% reduction in the award would result in limiting the student position in marketing and public relationship. A cut of 10% or higher would still enable us to proceed the feasibility study; however, this may jeopardize the amount of time Kurt Kung can spend developing the test unit, recruiting, and training student members. As a consequence, there is a likely delay of the deliverables if the team is unable to secure enough funding elsewhere.
Project Longevity: 

Project IF is a 12 months long project started July 1st 2018.

During the first phase [first 6 months], we will focus on designing, developing, and testing the hydroponic and aeroponic systems. In parallel, we will recruit and train engineering students to help accelerate progress and involve the student community.

During the second phase [last 6 months], we will test the system and collect viable data: utility costs, crop growth efficiency, labor maintenance, etc. to help us prepare ourselves for the next move – starting the sizable UW IF indoor farm on campus. In parallel, we will recruit students with marketing communications and public relations skills to develop a public relations media strategy for the project.