Project IF Phase IEstimated Amount to be requested from the CSF: $30,000
Letter of Intent:
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.
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 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.
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.
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. 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, 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.
Kurt Kung Jacob Rodriguez
Senior Research Fellow Master Student
Bioengineering, UW Material Science, UW
 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.