Sustainable Lighting for UW Farm, Phase 1

Executive Summary:

Food scarcity in urban populations is a significant and growing problem that the world is beginning to address. Indoor farming is a solution that many are adopting. Growing food indoors allows food to be localized in densely populated areas, which can significantly decrease costs and increase quality and quantity. The largest obstacle to realizing these benefits is the prohibitive operating costs associated with traditional horticulture lights. The University of Washington is dealing with this same problem in the wide variety of greenhouses throughout campus. There is a clear need to retrofit these structures with energy efficient alternatives.

In partnership with the University of Washington (UW) Farm, as well as IUNU, a Seattle-based startup comprised of UW Alumni and graduate students, this project will increase the efficiency of the University’s indoor horticulture lighting systems. This project’s aims can be broken down into two separate phases; 1) to conduct a feasibility study to compare the energy usage and plant output of the High Pressure Sodium (HPS) indoor horticulture lighting systems currently used by UW Farm with the high-efficiency plasma lighting systems developed by IUNU; and 2) install the high-efficiency lighting systems in the newly constructed UW Farm greenhouse for supplemental lighting.

The feasibility study will aid the subsequent Education and Outreach of this project by collecting data over a twelve-week period on the energy usage and plant output of both the HPS and plasma systems. This data will be provided to the UW Farm so that they have evidence to justify retrofits and materials for education and outreach.

In order to conduct the feasibility study, lettuce, alliums, basil, and brassica will be grown as this is what the UW Farm intends to grow with the lights once they are installed in Phase Two. These varieties of vegetation were also chosen under the guidance of Liz Van Volkenburgh who is a professor in the Biology Department at the university and a specialist in plant physiology. In order to set metrics for the feasibility study, pounds per watt will be used to measure the energy efficiency of the two lighting systems. This metric uses the pounds of produce grown and compares it to the input-wattage used by each lighting system in order to display output in the context of efficiency. To test the quality of the produce grown, we will conduct a blind taste test and shelf life analysis.

Furthermore, plasma lighting is a relatively new technology and there is a demand for more research into its potential horticulture applications. Growing interest surrounding energy efficiency and indoor horticulture are driving these demands. Plasma light is estimated to be 30% more energy efficient than LEDs and 50% more efficient than high-pressure sodium systems. The UW’s ownership of plasma lighting fixtures will provide a resource for UW undergraduate and graduate students to have an opportunity to produce unique, marketable research in future endeavors.

In order to complete this project, $1,788.49 is being requested for Phase One of this grant: the feasibility study, and an additional $8,029.99 is being requested for Phase Two; the purchase and implementation of the lights in the various greenhouses, the total cost of this project being $9,818.58 between the two phases.

Student Involvement:

Phase One of the grant implementation will only require two to three people for setting up the materials for the study. The set up will require the help of UW Farm staff, who have generously offered space to be used for the study in their facilities’ storage rooms. The cooperation of IUNU staff will ensure that the lighting systems are properly set up for their maximum operating efficiency. The feasibility study will be conducted in two side-by-side grow tents, one housing the new IUNU Dual Plasma system, and the other housing the High Pressure Sodium system. These tents will be held under the same conditions and the same four types of plants will be grown to assess the quantity and quality of the vegetation produced. Pictures will be taken on tripods throughout the course of the ten-week study in order to get a visual comparison of the vegetation produced under the different conditions. The majority of the data gathering can be conducted by a single person who will be taking pictures and measuring both electricity consumption and plant output throughout the ten-week study. This position will be funded with a stipend of $1,400, based on 10 hours of work per week over 10 weeks.

 

Phase Two, the implementation process and subsequent education and outreach, has many possibilities for a wide variety of both student and faculty involvement. The initial implementation will require only two people to install and configure the three additional IUNU Dual Plasma units being installed in the UW Farm greenhouse. However, cooperation from the UW Farm staff will be necessary to facilitate the educational opportunities presented by this grant’s implementation. Educating the staff of both of these organizations will allow for a trickle down effect, spreading information about the new high-efficiency lighting systems to tour groups and other groups interested in the technology. Given that UW Farm staff lead 35 to 50 tour groups around the facilities each year, their involvement is essential in educating the public about this grant’s implementation.

 

UW Farm also hosts around 40 to 60 service learning students each quarter that will be educated about the new lighting systems. This allows for groups of students to learn about the new technology each quarter and walk away with a better understanding of how the UW Farm is striving for more sustainable growing infrastructure.

 

Taking student and faculty involvement a step further, having new technology implemented on campus allows for research opportunities for many students coming from a variety of disciplines. The Biology Department has already seen groups who are interested in studying plant physiology, and have requested and received grant money to purchase devices measuring the physiological properties of plants grown on campus. These students will be encouraged by staff to study the new emerging technologies for growing plants such as plasma lighting systems, and develop well-structured studies that concentrate on the physiological properties of plants grown under different lighting systems. In briefly speaking with Liz Van Volkenburgh, it is my understanding that the university’s Biology Department has great interest in conducting cutting edge research on the affects of different supplemental lighting systems on plant physiology. Having new lighting systems on hand, such as the plasma systems that are being funded by this grant, would allow for furthered research in this largely untouched field of academia. 

 

The scope of this project reaches beyond the feasibility study and the implementation of the lighting systems. This project presents an opportunity for students to learn about new indoor farming technologies, energy efficient technology development, and the creative ways that the UW is cutting energy consumption. 

 

Education & Outreach:

To educate the university community about this project, several steps will be taken. The planned education and outreach goals, along with explanation detailing how to reach them are outlined in chronological below:

1.    Compile and distribute a report on feasibility study findings, condensing data into a single document, including a PowerPoint presentation. Displaying the findings in multiple formats will help individuals consume and distribute information. 

 

2.    Publish findings on the UW Farm website. Since energy efficiency is a key component of the UW Farm’s mission, a report detailing how indoor food production can be made more efficient will be a welcome addition to the website. 

 

3.    Create signage to post in the greenhouses with installations including data and a brief description of IUNU as a company, and why their product is being implemented. People are often confused why greenhouses may need more lighting, and providing an explanation is important. Supplemental lighting in greenhouses allows for vegetation to obtain the required amount of light to grow in months where the natural lighting cannot provide in regards to suboptimal sunlight angle on the horizon and the amount of sunlight provided during daytime hours. Additionally, few people actually realize the consumptive nature of the high-pressure sodium lights currently used in most greenhouses. 

 

4.    Use data to educate UW Farm and Botany Greenhouse staff about the new technology and encourage them to mention the efficiency of IUNU lighting systems in their tours. Considering that the UW Farm gives about 35-50 tours annually to a variety of different groups, this will be a great opportunity for the public to be educated about the new, energy-efficient technology that was implemented through this grant and also give the opportunity to highlight the success of UW alumni in the sustainable indoor farming industry, a great selling point for the universities sustainability goals. Due to the number of people that are reached through these tours, a large amount of publicity will be generated from the tours alone. The UW Farm also maintains social media outlets, which reach thousands of people. A highlight of the new sustainable measures implemented through this grant will make for great, sustained postings, as plants grown through this new technology continue to grow delicious fruits and vegetables for UW students and faculty to consume.

 

5.    Contact the University of Washington Environmental Stewardship Advisory Committee to include implementation of lighting systems in future Climate Action Plan (CAP) for the university. A greenhouse lighting retrofit is an untapped energy saving resource that that few Universities have considered. Reducing this energy waste will be an important accomplishment to note in the UW’s CAP. 

 

6.    Educate students and professors, upon request, about the new lighting systems in order to garner interest in further studies on a variety of biological impacts of plasma lighting systems. This may include classroom presentations, brown bag presentations, or simply personal visits with graduate students and professors. There are many preliminary reports suggesting that plasma lighting and the full spectrum that it produces may have benefits that go far beyond just energy savings. Increased shelf live, reduction in diseases, and better quality produce are just a few. Research, with the scientific rigor that the UW is known for, will surely advance indoor horticulture, and the University of Washington’s reputation. 

 

Through these Education and Outreach goals, we can reach as many people as possible through continued education and study of the implementation of this grant.

 
Environmental Impact:
  • Energy Use
  • Food
Project Longevity:

The education and outreach portion of this project will be continuous and largely unfunded. The report and outreach material will be conducted mostly by myself in writing the report and contacting the mentioned groups, something that is a byproduct of the feasibility study. The UW Farm staff will be educated about the new lighting systems upon the completion of the feasibility study, and will thus be able to provide details about the new lighting systems to tour groups as part of the routine tours given.

Maintenance of the IUNU Dual Plasma systems is incredibly simple and requires very little attention. The majority of the attention required will be the actual tending of the plants that are grown from the supplemental lighting, which is an action already done by the UW Farm staff.

Furthered implementation of more lighting systems and retrofitting current greenhouse lighting systems around campus would be greatly encouraged and this operation could be funded by future CSF grants or money from the different departments hosting the various greenhouses. Furthered study of the plants is also greatly encouraged and this will be taken under control by the hosting department of the research study.

All-in-all, the continued management of the education and outreach materials is what provides longevity for this project, and this is maintained by the trickle-down knowledge of the lighting systems from person to person.

Environmental Problem:

Many greenhouses around the University of Washington campus, including those run by the UW Farm, currently use High Pressure Sodium (HPS) lighting systems in their supplemental lighting of produce and other vegetation, which are an older, more energy intensive lighting source. IUNU’s Dual Plasma lighting systems consume 50% less energy and produce 70% less heat than comparable HPS lighting systems, greatly reducing energy used during operation. HPS lights waste energy by producing heat, rather than light. In turn, there is a significant reduction in the operating cost while using IUNU lighting systems, as well as a significantly decreased environmental impact from the reduction in energy usage.

 

In addition to IUNU Dual Plasma’s high efficiency, these systems also utilize plasma bulbs that emit light in the photosynthetically active radiation spectrum (PAR). The PAR output of the Dual Plasma is accompanied by a healthy amount of UVA and UVB, which creates light more similar to the sun. This full spectrum output produces better tasting and healthier vegetation in comparison to the current HPS systems being used. This means that the energy being consumed by these lights is a more effective way to grow plants. 

 

Year round food supply is becoming a larger demand as our climate changes and the amount of people on the planet continues to increase. As such, food is becoming harder to grow as demand continues to rise. It is essential that we have reliable and efficient methods of growing food. Plasma lighting is at the forefront of the indoor lighting technology, in both plant output and energy efficiency, and with more evidence scientifically proving this, the feasibility of indoor farming to supplement traditional farming methods becomes increasingly more substantial

 

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

Metrics for the feasibility study are where the majority of the impacts of this project will be measured. In order to show the energy efficiency comparison between the plasma and HPS systems, we will consider pounds of produce per watt consumed by the lights. The side-by-side comparison completed during the feasibility study shows the amount of energy consumed in relation to the amount of produce grown. This data can be used to determine the amount of kWh’s of electricity saved by the implementation of the plasma lighting systems. The data can then be extrapolated out to determine how much energy over a given time the new, high-efficiency plasma lighting systems will save. Projections show that each plasma fixture saves 6.75 kWh of energy per day relative to traditional fixtures. Based on average national energy prices of $0.13/kWh, this equates to energy savings of $319/fixture/year. 

 

To assess the quality of the vegetation produced, a more qualitative approach can be taken. The shelf life of the produce grown by each of the lighting systems will be determined and reported in order to show the quality of the produce. A blind taste test will determine the flavor of the different produce grown between the two systems. This will insure that the quality of the produce grown by the plasma system meets or exceeds the quality of the HPS system, ensuring that it qualitatively produces equal or better tasting produce. Another measure taken throughout the feasibility study will be the “greenness” of the different vegetation. This method is used by plant physiologists and was recommended by Liz Van Volkenburgh, to assess the quality of plants produced. By using paint chips in the green spectrum, the shade of the vegetation is compared to the different paint chips, the darker green on the spectrum that the plants have, the healthier it can be assumed that the plants are.

 

Biomass will also be used as a determinant of the quality of the vegetation produced through a more quantitative method. Assessing the biomass of the vegetation produced by each lighting system will allow us to determine the biological material that each plant being researched produces. This will better give us a quantitative measure for the quality of the vegetation produced.

 

Because food scarcity is the largest issue that indoor farming addresses, it is necessary that quality is a primary objective while considering the implementation of new lighting technologies. Poor quality produce is generally wasted. Without consistent access to quality produce, food scarcity will remain an issue.

 
Total amount requested from the CSF: $9,819
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:

Budget:

ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
Feasibility Study (Phase One)
Labor$1,4001$1,400
GripTight GorillaPod Stand$32.802$65.59
Apollo Horticulture 60"x60"x80" Mylar Hydroponic Grow Tent for Indoor Plant Growing$149.952$299.90
Brassica Seeds$4.001$4.00
Basil Seeds$1.501$1.50
Lettuce Seeds$1.501$1.50
Alliums Seeds $2.001$2.00
Scythe SY124010L Mini KAZE 40mm Silent Case Fan$6.992$13.98
IUNU Dual Plasma$2,0001$2,000
$1,818.48
Implementation (Phase Two)
IUNU Dual Plasma$2,0003$6,000
Signage$29.991$29.99
$6,029.99

Non-CSF Sources:

Discount from IUNU$500 off each unit
Project Completion Total: $9,819

Timeline:

TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Feasibility Study Set-up1 week2/11/15
Feasibility Study10 weeks4/22/15
Data Report1 week4/29/15
Implementation of Lighting Systems1 week4/29/15