Letter of Intent
Estimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: 
Letter of Intent: 

February 2020



In our initial request, we mentioned that while University of Washington agriculture groups are among the greenest operations on campus, currently all horticulture and agriculture groups are using plastic pots for their needs. With the technology, expertise, and resources available in the UW Wollenberg Paper and Bioresource Science Laboratory, there are opportunities for producing biodegradable pots on campus to replace the thousands of disposable plastic pots.

In 2017, our student team was awarded $70,000. Shortly thereafter, the manufacturer of the proposed pilot equipment confessed that they could not actually produce our design. A 4-month search commenced and a new manufacturer was found. They confirmed that the original design exceeded the capability of the raw materials with respect to the limits we placed on total fiber content. Working with the Center for Urban Horticulture, a new, slightly smaller, pot was designed, and progress began again. The new manufacturer also pointed out the original technology would not have met our criteria either. They worked with us to design a pilot machine that would deliver our desired product, but it came at a significantly higher cost - $125,000. Current tariff requirements have also raised the cost. The PI for the lab was able to secure a commitment from an organization in New York to cover the gap in funding. After a year and half and many teleconferences, it became clear that our urgency wasn’t shared.  

Additionally, our team sees an opportunity to expand our project’s impact to sustainability on campus with a second mold for a second sustainable product made from the same pilot machine. For instance, molded trays used by food services across campus produced from 100% wood fibers can be replaced by a new mold that uses some non-wood fibers. We request that you consider additional funding to match the cost gap of the pilot machine while also adding value by adding a new sustainable mold.

Environmental Impact Expansion

Currently, molded clam-shell trays used by food services on campus to serve food are produced from wood fibers. Although they are produced from recycled fiber, they are still based on wood pulp. As with the biodegradable pots, we could replace some of the wood pulp in our clamshell mold with wheat straw, enhancing the sustainable footprint.  A potential collaboration with the University of Florida may also present additional non-wood opportunities in the form of kenaf fibers.

Additionally, after meeting with The UW Society for Ecological Restoration (UW-SER), they proposed another way to make the project more sustainable. They are currently in the process of removing ivy and blackberry growth across campus, which are both invasive species. The UW-SER inquired as to whether we could use these plants as material in our molds. This is a topic of research our team is dedicated to delve further into.

Student Leadership and Involvement

This project is overseen by a core of four Bioresource Science and Engineering sophomores, juniors and seniors as well as students from UW-SER, each specializing in different areas. With support from the UW Wollenberg Paper and Bioresource Lab, each member of the team has a specialty in analytics, chemical composition of the pots, machinery, molding technologies, or black liquor fertilizer implementation, soil and plant community ecology.

As stated in our initial project, this grant covers a new molding system which can provide UW students a chance to apply classroom concepts in the lab, experiencing a production line from starting bio materials to end-product. This machinery can specifically be used for Bioresource Science and Engineering curriculum, providing students with hands-on experience with pilot-scale industry machinery to produce a sustainable finished product.

Education, Outreach, & Behavior Change

This interdisciplinary project currently involves a close partnership across majors and campus groups. Currently, our closest partnership is with UW SER. By servicing UW SER alone, we will replace the need for approximately 500 seedling containers per year. Once this product can be produced to scale, we can provide our biodegradable pots to any interested group on campus. Expanding our capability with a second mold to initially support one of the foodservice cafeterias on campus would displace approximately 200 trays per day. 

Feasibility, Accountability, & Sustainability

This team of students is competent in their respective specialties, has experience in the Paper and Bioresource Labs and the Center for Urban Horticulture. This team will be overseeing the full implementation of the project throughout,  with continuity of the team ensured by bringing representatives from all classes.


After submitting this letter of intent, our team will dive further into researching the feasibility for each mold. Within the next couple weeks we will contact HFS to find out how much their current clamshells cost, and to discuss the possibility of replacing them with our molded clamshells. Additionally, we will begin researching how to implement the woody mass from ivy/blackberry bushes into the molds, so that the project can have further impact on campus sustainability. All of this research will be culminated into a presentation that will take place in April. If our proposal is accepted, we will then order the mechanical equipment from the contractor, which will have a variable arrival date. After the equipment is installed, tests will begin to verify our molds are effective. Beyond that, the project will continue by collecting  plant mass and producing/distributing the molds to the proper entities.

Budget Estimate


KZ-80 Pulping System Cabinet: $2,500

ZJW2-6650K Mould Machine: $79,000

Pressure Washer: $1,000

Forming Mold Set  1 - Square pot: $24,000

Forming Mold Set 2 - Food Tray: $24,000


High pressure water pump: $1,000

Vacuum Pump: $5,500

GZ Auto drain system: $4,500

Air compressor: $4,500

Air Tank: $500


KZ-80 Pulping System Cabinet: $2,500

KH40B Forming/vacuum system cabinet: $2,500


Wiring MCC: $5,000


Freight To Jobsite: $5,000

Tariff (25%): $37,875


Previous Project Funding: $70,000


Project Total: $129,375

Contact Information
Primary Contact First & Last Name: 
Ryan Setera
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: 

Our project centers around obtaining a pulp moulding machine capable of creating pulp molds that can replace a variety of plastic products across campus. The machine would be housed in the Wollenberg Paper and Bioresource Science Laboratory in the basement of Bloedel Hall. Our main mold aims to replace the plastic pots currently used by the UW Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) in the Center for Urban Horticulture (CUH). Our second mold is a clamshell tray designed to replace those currently in circulation at campus dining halls, however, as we have currently not been able to contact HFS to discuss the feasibility of this mold our main focus in this proposal will be the molded pots. Prior to receiving the machinery, we are aiming to create some prototype molds to test how the pots would perform structurally, however, these feasibility tests will not be conducted until we have access to campus again.


Total amount requested from the CSF: 
$129 375
This funding request is a: 
ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
KZ-80 Pulping System Cabinet$5,0001$5,000
ZJW2-6650K Mould Machine$79,0001$79,000
Pressure Washer$1,0001$1,000
Forming Mold Set$24,0001-2$24,000-$48,000
High Pressure Water Pump$1,0001$1,000
Vacuum Pump$5,5001$5,500
GZ Auto Drain System$4,5001$4,500
Air Compressor$4,5001$4,500
Air Tank$5001$500
KH40B Forming/Vacuum System Cabinet$2,5001$2,500
Wiring MCC$5,0001$5,000
Previous CSF Funding-$70,0001-$70,000
Sustainability Impact: 
Living Systems and Biodiversity
Sustainability Challenge: 

The molding machine will serve as an example of sustainable manufacturing on a pilot scale.

Plastic pots are often used by agricultural and horticultural campus groups. Even though they can be reused, they are still washed out with excess water and bleach. The production of biodegradable pots hopes to decrease the carbon footprint, water usage, and waste associated with these groups. Additionally, the biodegradable pots could improve the soil for plant growth through nutrients in the pulp.

Environmental benefits of these biodegradable pots include:

  • Better aeration for roots
  • Decay of the pot allows roots to grow out into surrounding soil
  • Prevention of transplant shock
  • Compared to peat pots, digested fiber pots require less fertilizer, reducing the possibility of burnt roots
  • Use of brewer’s spent grain - a waste product of a local industry
  • Use of  on-campus plant waste, such as ivy, in the pulp mixture

The additional mold for either food or beverage containers would replace even conventional paper containers. The main difference is the use of non-wood materials in the mold such as wheat straw and brewer’s spent grain. In addition, the products would be made on-campus, reducing transportation.


Explain how the impacts will be measured: 

The way we can measure the impacts of our project is two-fold. As the saying goes “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” and that is also in order of importance. A plastic pot, even if reused or recycled, still has carbon emissions associated with its production, and it will eventually end in a landfill or nature as litter. SER estimates that they go through 800 1-gallon plastic pots a year. A clear measure of our progress is how many plastic pots we can divert from being purchased. Every biodegradable pot that we produce, will fill the need of one plastic pot and thereby preempt the purchase and manufacture and transport of a plastic pot. Another important measure to take into consideration is the carbon emissions that go into the transportation of the plastic pots. Plastic pots, even made locally, are still damaging to the environment but that damage scales the farther away they are manufactured. Often these pots are sourced overseas and require a great deal of polluting transportation to make it to our campus. Once we know where the pots are sourced from we can perform a life-cycle calculation of the carbon emissions that go into one pot to produce it and transport it to Seattle and scale that up to our production of biodegradable pots. We are also working with SER to see if we can utilize some of the plant waste they gather from their clean-up efforts across campus and incorporate it into our pulp mixture.


Education & Outreach: 

To increase the market size for the biodegradable pots after production, we plan to give away samples of our product to applicable campus groups. This involves contacting UW grounds, botanic gardens, and possible food vendors on campus to see if our products are viable replacements for their plastics.

In addition, there are several TAPPI and BSE-related events in which free samples and/or demonstrations could be incorporated. Specifically, TAPPI holds an annual Christmas fundraiser, during which our products could be sold to the public. Sustainability-focused booths and tables at campus events in Red-Square can feature our product.

In terms of education, the technical process detail can be integrated into the BSE curriculum across multiple classes, involving freshmen through senior students in sustainable production processes. ESRM/SER students, and those taking ESRM 412, could also be directly impacted in the education of biodegradable containers in particular. More details in the ‘Student Involvement’ section.

Student Involvement: 

This project can be continuously student-led by undergraduates in BSE and supplemented by ESRM students involved in SER. BSE undergraduates, especially members of the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry (TAPPI), are more likely to be involved because running the machinery and producing these products is relevant to their industry. Learning about this technology is highly applicable to the industry, as plastic products are being replaced by molded pulp products at an increasing rate. These students would be in charge of production, quality control, and continued campus outreach. Production of these products could also be integrated into the BSE curriculum as a permanent part of the Paper and Bioresource Center. This would include an introduction to the machinery in 200-level BSE courses, which would prepare process engineering students to study sustainable production lines later in their undergraduate career. In the students’ senior year during BSE 436, they would learn how to analyze and improve upon the pulp products created from the machine. Lastly in the design-based BSE 480-481 courses, students could explore design economics and perform a full LCA on the machine’s process. In total, the incorporation of this process into the curriculum accounts for 40 students consistently working on production, analysis, and improvements.

Another possible avenue for student involvement is opening an opportunity for an ESRM student to take the data on the end-use of the biodegradable pots. This would provide valuable information for the production and improvement teams, and more data for the project’s progress.


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Final ProposalApril 15, 2020
Make Prototype MoldsHopefully we could get started on these in fall, assuming campus is openOctober 2020
Order the equipmentIf approved, the equipment would hopefully be ordered in MayMay 2020
Equipment TransportationThe equipment will take 5-7 months to arrive at campus, so we can expect an October/December arrival if the order is placed in MayOctober-December 2020
Testing PhaseOnce the equipment arrives/is installed we can begin making test molds to determine the best consistencyNovember 2020-January 2021
Make and distribute the potsOnce the equipment is ready and the correct consistency is determined, we will hopefully be ready for production by JanuaryJanuary 2021
Amount Awarded: 
Potential Funding Reductions: 
We understand that we are asking for a large amount of funding. In the event that there is a 10% or 20% reduction in our funding, the most logical step would be to only purchase the plant pot mold at this time. Additionally, as itemized on our budget document, if we were to order the machine right away there would be an associated tariff imposed by the Federal Government since it is coming from overseas. Depending on the funding cut, we could try waiting until November and seeing if the tariffs change or are eliminated, saving us money, or reapplying in the fall if we know then that the tariffs are gone. If there was a 50% reduction in the funding, however, then we would need to seek other funding sources as there would not be enough money to purchase the required equipment.
Project Longevity: 

This will be an ongoing project run by students, most likely in the BSE major. Kurt Haunreiter, the BSE lab technician and staff supervisor for the project will ensure the project will have a team of students working on the continuation of the project, as well as making sure the equipment stays in good shape. As for future maintenance, Kurt has done some research and determined that any of the parts that might wear out over time are easily obtainable in the US and that he would be able to purchase them if they are damaged. Future students will be in charge of running the machine and producing the pulp pots for continued production. Additionally, this project has the possibility to evolve and increase in scope. Once the machine is obtained, other molds can be obtained for $24,000 each. Therefore, if students on this project find a different product they can produce to increase sustainability on campus, they only need to obtain funding for the mold.

Project status: 
Active: Planning phase