Aeroponics

Aeroponics is the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil or an aggregate medium (known as geoponics). The word "aeroponic" is derived from the Greek meanings of aer (ἀήρ, "air") and ponos (πόνος, "labour"). Aeroponic culture differs from both conventional hydroponics, aquaponics, and in-vitro (plant tissue culture) growing. Unlike hydroponics, which uses a liquid nutrient solution as a growing medium and essential minerals to sustain plant growth; or aquaponics which uses water and fish waste, aeroponics is conducted without a growing medium.[1] It is sometimes considered a type of hydroponics, since water is used in aeroponics to transmit nutrients.

NASA-Aeroponics International-lettuce-day30
Lettuce and wheat grown in an aeroponic apparatus, NASA, 1998

Methods

The basic principle of aeroponic growing is to grow plants suspended in a closed or semi-closed environment by spraying the plant's dangling roots and lower stem with an atomized or sprayed, nutrient-rich water solution.[1][2] The leaves and crown, often called the canopy, extend above. The roots of the plant are separated by the plant support structure. Often, closed-cell foam is compressed around the lower stem and inserted into an opening in the aeroponic chamber, which decreases labor and expense; for larger plants, trellising is used to suspend the weight of vegetation and fruit.

Ideally, the environment is kept free from pests and disease so that the plants may grow healthier and more quickly than plants grown in a medium. However, since most aeroponic environments are not perfectly closed off to the outside, pests and disease may still cause a threat. Controlled environments advance plant development, health, growth, flowering and fruiting for any given plant species and cultivars.

Due to the sensitivity of root systems, aeroponics is often combined with conventional hydroponics, which is used as an emergency "crop saver" – backup nutrition and water supply – if the aeroponic apparatus fails.

High-pressure aeroponics is defined as delivering nutrients to the roots via 20–50 micrometre mist heads using a high-pressure (80 pounds per square inch (550 kPa)) diaphragm pump.

Benefits and drawbacks

NASA-Aeroponics1998
Many types of plants can be grown aeroponically.

Increased air exposure

Aeroponic-propagation-soft-tissue
Close-up of the first patented aeroponic plant support structure (1983). Its unrestricted support of the plant allows for normal growth in the air/moisture environment, and is still in use today.

Air cultures optimize access to air for successful plant growth. Materials and devices which hold and support the aeroponic grown plants must be devoid of disease or pathogens. A distinction of a true aeroponic culture and apparatus is that it provides plant support features that are minimal. Minimal contact between a plant and support structure allows for 100% of the plant to be entirely in air. Long-term aeroponic cultivation requires the root systems to be free of constraints surrounding the stem and root systems. Physical contact is minimized so that it does not hinder natural growth and root expansion or access to pure water, air exchange and disease-free conditions .[1]

Benefits of oxygen in the root zone

Oxygen (O2) in the rhizosphere (root zone) is necessary for healthy plant growth. As aeroponics is conducted in air combined with micro-droplets of water, almost any plant can grow to maturity in air with a plentiful supply of oxygen, water and nutrients.

Some growers favor aeroponic systems over other methods of hydroponics because the increased aeration of nutrient solution delivers more oxygen to plant roots, stimulating growth and helping to prevent pathogen formation.[1]

Clean air supplies oxygen which is an excellent purifier for plants and the aeroponic environment. For natural growth to occur, the plant must have unrestricted access to air. Plants must be allowed to grow in a natural manner for successful physiological development. The more confining the plant support becomes, the greater incidence of increasing disease pressure of the plant and the aeroponic system.[1]

Some researchers have used aeroponics to study the effects of root zone gas composition on plant performance. Soffer and Burger [Soffer et al., 1988] studied the effects of dissolved oxygen concentrations on the formation of adventitious roots in what they termed “aero-hydroponics.” They utilized a 3-tier hydro and aero system, in which three separate zones were formed within the root area. The ends of the roots were submerged in the nutrient reservoir, while the middle of the root section received nutrient mist and the upper portion was above the mist. Their results showed that dissolved O2 is essential to root formation, but went on to show that for the three O2 concentrations tested, the number of roots and root length were always greater in the central misted section than either the submersed section or the un-misted section. Even at the lowest concentration, the misted section rooted successfully.[1]

Other benefits of air (CO2)

Plants in a true aeroponic apparatus have 100% access to the CO
2
concentrations ranging from 450 ppm to 780 ppm for photosynthesis. At one mile (1.6 km) above sea level, the CO
2
concentration in the air is 450 ppm during daylight. At night, the CO
2
level will rise to 780 ppm. Lower elevations will have higher levels. In any case, the air culture apparatus offers the ability for plants to have full access to all of the available CO
2
in the air for photosynthesis.

Growing under lights during the evening allows aeroponics to benefit from the natural occurrence.[1]

Disease-free cultivation

Aeroponics can limit disease transmission since plant-to-plant contact is reduced and each spray pulse can be sterile. In the case of soil, aggregate, or other media, disease can spread throughout the growth media, infecting many plants. In most greenhouses, these solid media require sterilization after each crop and, in many cases, they are simply discarded and replaced with fresh, sterile media.[1]

A distinct advantage of aeroponic technology is that if a particular plant does become diseased, it can be quickly removed from the plant support structure without disrupting or infecting the other plants.

Aeroponic-plants
Basil grown from seed in an aeroponic system located inside a modern greenhouse was first achieved 1986.

Due to the disease-free environment that is unique to aeroponics, many plants can grow at higher density (plants per square meter) when compared to more traditional forms of cultivation (hydroponics, soil and Nutrient Film Technique [NFT]). Commercial aeroponic systems incorporate hardware features that accommodate the crop's expanding root systems.

Researchers have described aeroponics as a "valuable, simple, and rapid method for preliminary screening of genotypes for resistance to specific seedling blight or root rot.” [3]

The isolating nature of the aeroponic system allowed them to avoid the complications encountered when studying these infections in soil culture.

Water and nutrient hydro-atomization

Aeroponic equipment involves the use of sprayers, misters, foggers, or other devices to create a fine mist of solution to deliver nutrients to plant roots. Aeroponic systems are normally closed-looped systems providing macro and micro-environments suitable to sustain a reliable, constant air culture. Numerous inventions have been developed to facilitate aeroponic spraying and misting. The key to root development in an aeroponic environment is the size of the water droplet. In commercial applications, a hydro-atomizing spray at 360° is employed to cover large areas of roots utilizing air pressure misting.

A variation of the mist technique employs the use of ultrasonic foggers to mist nutrient solutions in low-pressure aeroponic devices.

Water droplet size is crucial for sustaining aeroponic growth. Too large a water droplet means less oxygen is available to the root system. Too fine a water droplet, such as those generated by the ultrasonic mister, produce excessive root hair without developing a lateral root system for sustained growth in an aeroponic system.[1]

Mineralization of the ultrasonic transducers requires maintenance and potential for component failure. This is also a shortcoming of metal spray jets and misters. Restricted access to the water causes the plant to lose turgidity and wilt.

Advanced materials

NASA has funded research and development of new advanced materials to improve aeroponic reliability and maintenance reduction. It also has determined that high pressure hydro-atomized mist of 5-50 micrometres micro-droplets is necessary for long-term aeroponic growing.

For long-term growing, the mist system must have significant pressure to force the mist into the dense root system(s). Repeatability is the key to aeroponics and includes the hydro-atomized droplet size. Degradation of the spray due to mineralization of mist heads inhibits the delivery of the water nutrient solution, leading to an environmental imbalance in the air culture environment.

Special low-mass polymer materials were developed and are used to eliminate mineralization in next generation hydro-atomizing misting and spray jets.

Nutrient uptake

Aeroponic-roots
Close-up of roots grown from wheat seed using aeroponics, 1998

The discrete nature of interval and duration aeroponics allows the measurement of nutrient uptake over time under varying conditions. Barak et al. used an aeroponic system for non-destructive measurement of water and ion uptake rates for cranberries (Barak, Smith et al. 1996).[4]

In their study, these researchers found that by measuring the concentrations and volumes of input and efflux solutions, they could accurately calculate the nutrient uptake rate (which was verified by comparing the results with N-isotope measurements). After verification of their analytical method, Barak et al. went on to generate additional data specific to the cranberry, such as diurnal variation in nutrient uptake, correlation between ammonium uptake and proton efflux, and the relationship between ion concentration and uptake. Work such as this not only shows the promise of aeroponics as a research tool for nutrient uptake, but also opens up possibilities for the monitoring of plant health and optimization of crops grown in closed environments.[5]

Atomization (>65 pounds per square inch (450 kPa)), increases bioavailability of nutrients, consequently, nutrient strength must be significantly reduced or leaf and root burn will develop. Note the large water droplets in the photo to the right. This is caused by the feed cycle being too long or the pause cycle too short; either discourages both lateral root growth and root hair development. Plant growth and fruiting times are significantly shortened when feed cycles are as short as possible. Ideally, roots should never be more than slightly damp nor overly dry. A typical feed/pause cycle is < 2 seconds on, followed by ~1.5-2 minute pause- 24/7, however, when an accumulator system is incorporated, cycle times can be further reduced to < ~1 second on, ~1 minute pause.

As a research tool

Soon after its development, aeroponics took hold as a valuable research tool. Aeroponics offered researchers a noninvasive way to examine roots under development. This new technology also allowed researchers a larger number and a wider range of experimental parameters to use in their work.[6]

The ability to precisely control the root zone moisture levels and the amount of water delivered makes aeroponics ideally suited for the study of water stress. K. Hubick evaluated aeroponics as a means to produce consistent, minimally water-stressed plants for use in drought or flood physiology experiments.[7]

Aeroponics is the ideal tool for the study of root morphology. The absence of aggregates offers researchers easy access to the entire, intact root structure without the damage that can be caused by removal of roots from soils or aggregates. It’s been noted that aeroponics produces more normal root systems than hydroponics.[8]

Terminology

Aeroponic growing refers to plants grown in an air culture that can develop and grow in a normal and natural manner.[1]

Aeroponic growth refers to growth achieved in an air culture.

Aeroponic system refers to hardware and system components assembled to sustain plants in an air culture.

Aeroponic greenhouse refers to a climate controlled glass or plastic structure with equipment to grow plants in air/mist environment.

Aeroponic conditions refers to air culture environmental parameters for sustaining plant growth for a plant species.

Aeroponic roots refers to a root system grown in an air culture.

Types of aeroponics

Low-pressure units

In most low-pressure aeroponic gardens, the plant roots are suspended above a reservoir of nutrient solution or inside a channel connected to a reservoir. A low-pressure pump delivers nutrient solution via jets or by ultrasonic transducers, which then drips or drains back into the reservoir. As plants grow to maturity in these units they tend to suffer from dry sections of the root systems, which prevent adequate nutrient uptake. These units, because of cost, lack features to purify the nutrient solution, and adequately remove incontinuities, debris, and unwanted pathogens. Such units are usually suitable for bench top growing and demonstrating the principles of aeroponics.

High-pressure devices

High-pressure aeroponic techniques, where the mist is generated by high-pressure pump(s), are typically used in the cultivation of high value crops and plant specimens that can offset the high setup costs associated with this method of horticulture.

High-pressure aeroponics systems include technologies for air and water purification, nutrient sterilization, low-mass polymers and pressurized nutrient delivery systems.

Commercial systems

Commercial aeroponic systems comprise high-pressure device hardware and biological systems. The biological systems matrix includes enhancements for extended plant life and crop maturation.

Biological subsystems and hardware components include effluent controls systems, disease prevention, pathogen resistance features, precision timing and nutrient solution pressurization, heating and cooling sensors, thermal control of solutions, efficient photon-flux light arrays, spectrum filtration spanning, fail-safe sensors and protection, reduced maintenance & labor saving features, and ergonomics and long-term reliability features.

Commercial aeroponic systems, like the high-pressure devices, are used for the cultivation of high value crops where multiple crop rotations are achieved on an ongoing commercial basis.

Advanced commercial systems include data gathering, monitoring, analytical feedback and internet connections to various subsystems.[9]

History

In 1911, V.M.Artsikhovski published in the journal "Experienced Agronomy" an article "On Air Plant Cultures", which talks about his method of physiological studies of root systems by spraying various substances in the surrounding air - the aeroponics method. He designed the first aeroponics and in practice showed their suitability for plant cultivation.

It was W. Carter in 1942 who first researched air culture growing and described a method of growing plants in water vapor to facilitate examination of roots.[10] As of 2006, aeroponics is used in agriculture around the globe.[11]

In 1944, L.J. Klotz was the first to discover vapor misted citrus plants in a facilitated research of his studies of diseases of citrus and avocado roots. In 1952, G.F. Trowel grew apple trees in a spray culture.[6]

It was F. W. Went in 1957 who first coined the air-growing process as “aeroponics”, growing coffee plants and tomatoes with air-suspended roots and applying a nutrient mist to the root section.[6]

Genesis Machine, 1983

GTI-Aeroponic-rooting system-1983
GTi’s Genesis Rooting System, 1983

The first commercially available aeroponic apparatus was manufactured and marketed by GTi in 1983. It was known then as the Genesis Machine - taken from the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The Genesis Machine was marketed as the "Genesis Rooting System".[12]

GTi's device incorporated an open-loop water driven apparatus, controlled by a microchip, and delivered a high pressure, hydro-atomized nutrient spray inside an aeroponic chamber.

At the time, the achievement was revolutionary in terms of a developing (artificial air culture) technology. The Genesis Machine simply connected to a water faucet and an electrical outlet.[12]

Aeroponic propagation (cloning)

GTI-Aeroponic-Genesis Rooting-1983
GTi's apparatus cut-away of vegetative cutting propagated aeroponically, achieved 1983

Aeroponic culturing revolutionized cloning (propagation from cutting) of plants. Firstly, aeroponics allowed the whole process to be carried out in a single, automated unit. Numerous plants which were previously considered difficult, or impossible, to propagate from cuttings could now be replicated simply from a single stem cutting. This was a major boon to green houses attempting to propagate delicate hardwoods or cacti – plants normally propagated by seed due to the likeliness of bacterial infection in cuttings.

Aeroponics has now largely surpassed hydroponics and tissue culture as means for sterile propagation of plant species. With the Genesis Machine, or other comparable aeroponics setup, any grower could clone plants. Due to the automation of most parts of the process, plants could be cloned and grown by the hundreds or even thousands. In short, cloning became easier because the aeroponic apparatus initiated faster and cleaner root development through a sterile, nutrient rich, highly oxygenated, and moist environment (Hughes, 1983).[1]

Air-rooted transplants

GTI-Aeroponic-propagation-1983
Cloned aeroponics transplanted directly into soil

Aeroponics significantly advanced tissue culture technology. It cloned plants in less time and reduced numerous labor steps associated with tissue culture techniques. Aeroponics could eliminate stage I and stage II plantings into soil (the bane of all tissue culture growers). Tissue culture plants must be planted in a sterile media (stage-I) and expanded out for eventual transfer into sterile soil (stage-II). After they are strong enough they are transplanted directly to field soil. Besides being labor-intensive, the entire process of tissue culture is prone to disease, infection, and failure.

With the use of aeroponics, growers cloned and transplanted air-rooted plants directly into field soil. Aeroponic roots were not susceptible to wilting and leaf loss, or loss due to transplant shock (something hydroponics can never overcome). Because of their healthiness, air-rooted plants were less likely to be infected with pathogens.[6] (If the RH of the root chamber gets above 70 degrees F, fungus gnats, algae, anaerobic bacteria are likely to develop.)

The efforts by GTi ushered in a new era of artificial life support for plants capable of growing naturally without the use of soil or hydroponics. GTi received a patent for an all-plastic aeroponic method and apparatus, controlled by a microprocessor in 1985.

Aeroponics became known as a time and cost saver. The economic factors of aeroponic’s contributions to agriculture were taking shape.

Genesis Growing System, 1985

GTI-Aeroponic Growing System-1985
GTi's Aeroponic Growing System greenhouse facility, 1985

By 1985, GTi introduced second generation aeroponics hardware, known as the "Genesis Growing System". This second generation aeroponic apparatus was a closed-loop system. It utilized recycled effluent precisely controlled by a microprocessor. Aeroponics graduated to the capability of supporting seed germination, thus making GTi's the world's first plant and harvest aeroponic system.

Many of these open-loop unit and closed-loop aeroponic systems are still in operation today.

Commercialization

Aeroponics eventually left the laboratories and entered into the commercial cultivation arena. In 1966, commercial aeroponic pioneer B. Briggs succeeded in inducing roots on hardwood cuttings by air-rooting. Briggs discovered that air-rooted cuttings were tougher and more hardened than those formed in soil and concluded that the basic principle of air-rooting is sound. He discovered air-rooted trees could be transplanted to soil without suffering from transplant shock or setback to normal growth. Transplant shock is normally observed in hydroponic transplants.[13]

In Israel in 1982, L. Nir developed a patent for an aeroponic apparatus using compressed low-pressure air to deliver a nutrient solution to suspended plants, held by styrofoam, inside large metal containers.[14]

In summer 1976, British researcher John Prewer carried out a series of aeroponic experiments near Newport, Isle of Wight, U.K., in which lettuces (variety Tom Thumb) were grown from seed to maturity in 22 days in polyethylene film tubes made rigid by pressurized air supplied by ventilating fans. The equipment used to convert the water-nutrient into fog droplets was supplied by Mee Industries of California.[15] "In 1984 in association with John Prewer, a commercial grower on the Isle of Wight - Kings Nurseries - used a different design of aeroponics system to grow strawberry plants. The plants flourished and produced a heavy crop of strawberries which were picked by the nursery's customers. The system proved particularly popular with elderly customers who appreciated the cleanliness, quality and flavor of the strawberries, and the fact they did not have to stoop when picking the fruit."

In 1983, R. Stoner filed a patent for the first microprocessor interface to deliver tap water and nutrients into an enclosed aeroponic chamber made of plastic. Stoner has gone on to develop numerous companies researching and advancing aeroponic hardware, interfaces, biocontrols and components for commercial aeroponic crop production.[6]

Aeroponic-crop-1986
The first commercial aeroponic greenhouse for aeroponic food production – 1986

In 1985, Stoner's company, GTi, was the first company to manufacture, market and apply large-scale closed-loop aeroponic systems into greenhouses for commercial crop production.[16]

In the 1990s, GHE or General Hydroponics [Europe] thought to try to introduce aeroponics to the hobby hydroponics market and finally came to the Aerogarden system. However, this could not be classed as 'true' aeroponics because the Aerogarden produced tiny droplets of solution rather than a fine mist of solution; the fine mist was meant to reproduce true Amazon rain. In any case, a product was introduced to the market and the grower could broadly claim to be growing their hydroponic produce aeroponically. A demand for aeroponic growing in the hobby market had been established and moreover it was thought of as the ultimate hydroponic growing technique. The difference between true aeroponic mist growing and aeroponic droplet growing had become very blurred in the eyes of many people. At the end of the nineties, a UK firm, Nutriculture, was encouraged enough by industry talk to trial true aeroponic growing; although these trials showed positive results compared with more traditional growing techniques such as NFT and Ebb & Flood there were drawbacks, namely cost and maintenance. To accomplish true mist aeroponics a special pump had to be used which also presented scalability problems. Droplet-aeroponics was easier to manufacture, and as it produced comparable results to mist-aeroponics, Nutriculture began development of a scalable, easy to use droplet-aeroponic system. Through trials they found that aeroponics was ideal for plant propagation; plants could be propagated without medium and could even be grown-on. In the end, Nutriculture acknowledged that better results could be achieved if the plant was propagated in their branded X-stream aeroponic propagator and moved on to a specially designed droplet-aeroponic growing system - the Amazon.

Aeroponically grown food

In 1986, Stoner became the first person to market fresh aeroponically grown food to a national grocery chain. He was interviewed on NPR and discussed the importance of the water conservation features of aeroponics for both modern agriculture and space.[11]

Aeroponics in space

Space plants

NASA-Mir Mission GAP-1998
NASA life support GAP technology with untreated beans (left tube) and biocontrol treated beans (right tube) returned from the Mir space station aboard the space shuttle – September 1997

Plants were first taken into Earth's orbit in 1960 on two separate missions, Sputnik 4 and Discoverer 17 (for a review of the first 30 years of plant growth in space, see Halstead and Scott 1990).[17] On the former mission, wheat, pea, maize, spring onion, and Nigella damascena seeds were carried into space, and on the latter mission Chlorella pyrenoidosa cells were brought into orbit.[11][18]

Plant experiments were later performed on a variety of Bangladesh, China, and joint Soviet-American missions, including Biosatellite II (Biosatellite program), Skylab 3 and 4, Apollo-Soyuz, Sputnik, Vostok, and Zond. Some of the earliest research results showed the effect of low gravity on the orientation of roots and shoots (Halstead and Scott 1990).[11]

Subsequent research went on to investigate the effect of low gravity on plants at the organismic, cellular, and subcellular levels. At the organismic level, for example, a variety of species, including pine, oat, mung bean, lettuce, cress, and Arabidopsis thaliana, showed decreased seedling, root, and shoot growth in low gravity, whereas lettuce grown on Cosmos showed the opposite effect of growth in space (Halstead and Scott 1990). Mineral uptake seems also to be affected in plants grown in space. For example, peas grown in space exhibited increased levels of phosphorus and potassium and decreased levels of the divalent cations calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and iron (Halstead and Scott 1990).[19]

Biocontrols in space

In 1996, NASA sponsored Stoner’s research for a natural liquid biocontrol, known then as ODC (organic disease control), that activates plants to grow without the need for pesticides as a means to control pathogens in a closed-loop culture system. ODC is derived from natural aquatic materials.[20]

By 1997, Stoner’s biocontrol experiments were conducted by NASA. BioServe Space Technologies’s GAP technology (miniature growth chambers) delivered the ODC solution unto bean seeds. Triplicate ODC experiments were conducted in GAP’s flown to the MIR by the space shuttle; at the Kennedy Space Center; and at Colorado State University (J. Linden). All GAPS were housed in total darkness to eliminate light as an experiment variable. The NASA experiment was to study only the benefits of the biocontrol.[21]

NASA's experiments aboard the MIR space station and shuttle confirmed that ODC elicited increased germination rate, better sprouting, increased growth and natural plant disease mechanisms when applied to beans in an enclosed environment. ODC is now a standard for pesticide-free aeroponic growing and organic farming. Soil and hydroponics growers can benefit by incorporating ODC into their planting techniques. ODC meets USDA NOP standards for organic farms.[22]

Aeroponics for space and Earth

NASA-Aeroponics International-lettuce-day12
NASA aeroponic lettuce seed germination. Day 30.

In 1998, Stoner received NASA funding to develop a high performance aeroponic system for earth and space. Stoner demonstrated that a dry bio-mass of lettuce can be significantly increased with aeroponics. NASA utilized numerous aeroponic advancements developed by Stoner. Due to this advancement we can use as a reference to space aeroponics.

Abstract: The purpose of the research conducted was to identify and demonstrate technologies for high-performance plant growth in a variety of gravitational environments. A low-gravity environment, for example, poses the problems of effectively bringing water and other nutrients to the plants and effecting recovery of effluents. Food production in the low-gravity environment of space provides further challenges, such as minimization of water use, water handling, and system weight. Food production on planetary bodies such as the Moon or Mars also requires dealing with a hypogravity environment. Because of the impacts to fluid dynamics in these various gravity environments, the nutrient delivery system has been a major focus in plant growth system optimization.

There are a number of methods currently utilized (both in low gravity and on Earth) to deliver nutrients to plants. Substrate dependent methods include traditional soil cultivation, zeoponics, agar, and nutrient-loaded ion exchange resins. In addition to substrate dependent cultivation, many methods using no soil have been developed such as nutrient film technique, ebb and flow, aeroponics, and many other variants. Many hydroponic systems can provide high plant performance but nutrient solution throughput is high, necessitating large water volumes and substantial recycling of solutions, and the control of the solution in hypogravity conditions is difficult at best.

Aeroponics, with its use of a hydro-atomized spray to deliver nutrients, minimizes water use, increases oxygenation of roots, and offers excellent plant growth, while at the same time approaching or bettering the low nutrient solution throughput of other systems developed to operate in low gravity. Aeroponics’ elimination of substrates and the need for large nutrient stockpiles reduces the amount of waste materials to be processed by other life support systems. Furthermore, the absence of substrates simplifies planting and harvesting (providing opportunities for automation), decreases the volume and weight of expendable materials, and eliminates a pathway for pathogen transmission. These many advantages combined with the results of this research that prove the viability of aeroponics in microgravity makes aeroponics a logical choice for efficient food production in space.[1]

NASA inflatable aeroponics

In 1999, Stoner, funded by NASA, developed an inflatable low-mass aeroponic system (AIS) for space and earth for high performance food production.This advancements are very useful in space aeroponics.

Abstract: Aeroponics International’s (AI’s) innovation is a self-contained, self-supporting, inflatable aeroponic crop production unit with integral environmental systems for the control and delivery of a nutrient/mist to the roots. This inflatable aeroponic system addresses the needs of subtopic 08.03 Spacecraft Life Support Infrastructure and, in particular, water and nutrient delivery systems technologies for food production. The inflatable nature of our innovation makes it lightweight, allowing it to be deflated so it takes up less volume during transportation and storage. It improves on AI’s current aeroponic system design that uses rigid structures, which use more expensive materials, manufacture processes, and transportation. As a stationary aeroponic system, these existing high-mass units perform very well, but transporting and storing them can be problematic.[16]

On Earth, these problems may hinder the economic feasibility of aeroponics for commercial growers. However, such problems become insurmountable obstacles for using these systems on long-duration space missions because of the high cost of payload volume and mass during launch and transit.[16]

The NASA efforts lead to developments of numerous advanced materials for aeroponics for earth and space.[16]

Benefits of aeroponics for earth and space

NASA-Aeroponics International-lettuce-day3
NASA aeroponic lettuce seed germination- Day 3

Aeroponics possesses many characteristics that make it an effective and efficient means of growing plants.

Less nutrient solution throughout

NASA-Aeroponics International-lettuce-day9
NASA aeroponic lettuce seed germination- Day 12

Plants grown using aeroponics spend 99.98% of their time in air and 0.02% in direct contact with hydro-atomized nutrient solution. The time spent without water allows the roots to capture oxygen more efficiently. Furthermore, the hydro-atomized mist also significantly contributes to the effective oxygenation of the roots. For example, NFT has a nutrient throughput of 1 liter per minute compared to aeroponics’ throughput of 1.5 milliliters per minute.

The reduced volume of nutrient throughput results in reduced amounts of nutrients required for plant development.

Another benefit of the reduced throughput, of major significance for space-based use, is the reduction in water volume used. This reduction in water volume throughput corresponds with a reduced buffer volume, both of which significantly lighten the weight needed to maintain plant growth. In addition, the volume of effluent from the plants is also reduced with aeroponics, reducing the amount of water that needs to be treated before reuse.

The relatively low solution volumes used in aeroponics, coupled with the minimal amount of time that the roots are exposed to the hydro-atomized mist, minimizes root-to-root contact and spread of pathogens between plants.

Greater control of plant environment

NASA-Aeroponics International-lettuce-day19
NASA aeroponic lettuce seed germination (close-up of root zone environment)- Day 19

Aeroponics allows more control of the environment around the root zone, as, unlike other plant growth systems, the plant roots are not constantly surrounded by some medium (as, for example, with hydroponics, where the roots are constantly immersed in water).

Improved nutrient feeding

A variety of different nutrient solutions can be administered to the root zone using aeroponics without needing to flush out any solution or matrix in which the roots had previously been immersed. This elevated level of control would be useful when researching the effect of a varied regimen of nutrient application to the roots of a plant species of interest. In a similar manner, aeroponics allows a greater range of growth conditions than other nutrient delivery systems. The interval and duration of the nutrient spray, for example, can be very finely attuned to the needs of a specific plant species. The aerial tissue can be subjected to a completely different environment from that of the roots.

More user-friendly

The design of an aeroponic system allows ease of working with the plants. This results from the separation of the plants from each other, and the fact that the plants are suspended in air and the roots are not entrapped in any kind of matrix. Consequently, the harvesting of individual plants is quite simple and straightforward. Likewise, removal of any plant that may be infected with some type of pathogen is easily accomplished without risk of uprooting or contaminating nearby plants.

More cost effective

True-aeroponics
Close-up of aeroponically grown corn and roots inside an aeroponic (air-culture) apparatus, 2005

Aeroponic systems are more cost effective than other systems. Because of the reduced volume of solution throughput (discussed above), less water and fewer nutrients are needed in the system at any given time compared to other nutrient delivery systems. The need for substrates is also eliminated, as is the need for many moving parts .

Use of seed stocks

With aeroponics, the deleterious effects of seed stocks that are infected with pathogens can be minimized. As discussed above, this is due to the separation of the plants and the lack of shared growth matrix. In addition, due to the enclosed, controlled environment, aeroponics can be an ideal growth system in which to grow seed stocks that are pathogen-free. The enclosing of the growth chamber, in addition to the isolation of the plants from each other discussed above, helps to both prevent initial contamination from pathogens introduced from the external environment and minimize the spread from one plant to others of any pathogens that may exist.

21st century aeroponics

Aeroponics-companion-plantings
Modern aeroponics allows high density companion planting of many food and horticultural crops without the use of pesticides - due to unique discoveries aboard the space shuttle

Aeroponics is an improvement in artificial life support for non-damaging plant support, seed germination, environmental control and rapid unrestricted growth when compared with hydroponics and drip irrigation techniques that have been used for decades by traditional agriculturalists.

Contemporary aeroponics

Contemporary aeroponic techniques have been researched at NASA's research and commercialization center BioServe Space Technologies located on the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado. Other research includes enclosed loop system research at Ames Research Center, where scientists were studying methods of growing food crops in low gravity situations for future space colonization.

In 2000, Stoner was granted a patent for an organic disease control biocontrol technology that allows for pesticide-free natural growing in an aeroponic systems.

In 2004, Ed Harwood, founder of AeroFarms, invented an aeroponic system that grows lettuces on micro fleece cloth.[23][24] AeroFarms, utilizing Harwood's patented aeroponic technology, is now operating the largest indoor vertical farm in the world based on annual growing capacity in Newark, New Jersey. By using aeroponic technology the farm is able to produce and sell up to two million pounds of pesticide-free leafy greens per year.

Aeroponic bio-pharming

Aeroponic-biopharma-corn
Aeroponically grown biopharma corn, 2005

Aeroponic bio-pharming is used to grow pharmaceutical medicine inside of plants. The technology allows for completed containment of allow effluents and by-products of biopharma crops to remain inside a closed-loop facility. As recently as 2005, GMO research at South Dakota State University by Dr. Neil Reese applied aeroponics to grow genetically modified corn.

According to Reese it is a historical feat to grow corn in an aeroponic apparatus for bio-massing. The university’s past attempts to grow all types of corn using hydroponics ended in failure.

Using advanced aeroponics techniques to grow genetically modified corn Reese harvested full ears of corn, while containing the corn pollen and spent effluent water and preventing them from entering the environment. Containment of these by-products ensures the environment remains safe from GMO contamination.

Reese says, aeroponics offers the ability to make bio-pharming economically practical.[11]

Large scale integration of aeroponics

Aeroponic-StudentsHanoi Vietnam
Aeroponic Graduate Program: Hanoi Agricultural University, Hanoi, Vietnam

In 2006, the Institute of Biotechnology at Vietnam National University of Agriculture, in joint efforts with Stoner, established a postgraduate doctoral program in aeroponics. The university's Agrobiotech Research Center, under the direction of Professor Nguyen Quang Thach, is using aeroponic laboratories to advance Vietnam's minituber potato production for certified seed potato production.

Aeroponic-potato-explant-day3
Aeroponic potato explants on day 3 after insertion in the aeroponic system, Hanoi

The historical significance for aeroponics is that it is the first time a nation has specifically called out for aeroponics to further an agricultural sector, stimulate farm economic goals, meet increased demands, improve food quality and increase production.

"We have shown that aeroponics, more than any other form of agricultural technology, will significantly improve Vietnam's potato production. We have very little tillable land, aeroponics makes complete economic sense to us”, attested Thach.

Aeroponic-greenhouse-Vietnam-2006
Aeroponic greenhouse for potato minituber product Hanoi 2006

Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in January 2007. The impact of aeroponics in Vietnam will be felt at the farm level.

Aeroponic integration in Vietnamese agriculture will begin by producing a low cost certified disease-free organic minitubers, which in turn will be supplied to local farmers for their field plantings of seed potatoes and commercial potatoes. Potato farmers will benefit from aeroponics because their seed potatoes will be disease-free and grown without pesticides. Most importantly for the Vietnamese farmer, it will lower their cost of operation and increase their yields, says Thach.[11]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Stoner, R.J. and J.M. Clawson (1997-1998). A High Performance, Gravity Insensitive, Enclosed Aeroponic System for Food Production in Space. Principal Investigator, NASA SBIR NAS10-98030.
  2. ^ https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/aeroponics
  3. ^ du Toit LJ; Kirby HW & Pedersen WL (1997). "Evaluation of an Aeroponics System to Screen Maize Genotypes for Resistance to Fusarium graminearum Seedling Blight". Plant Disease. 81 (2): 175–179. doi:10.1094/pdis.1997.81.2.175.
  4. ^ Barak, P., J.D. Smith, A.R. Krueger and L.A. Peterson (1996). Measurement of short-term nutrient uptake rates in cranberry by aeroponics. Plant, Cell and Environment 19: 237-242.
  5. ^ Hoehn, A. (1998). Root Wetting Experiments aboard NASA's KC-135 Microgravity Simulator. BioServe Space Technologies.
  6. ^ a b c d e Stoner, R.J. (1983). Aeroponics Versus Bed and Hydroponic Propagation. Florists' Review Vol 1 173 (4477).
  7. ^ Hubick, K.T., D.R. Drakeford and D.M. Reid (1982). A comparison of two techniques for growing minimally water-stressed plants. Canadian Journal of Botany 60: 219-223.
  8. ^ Coston, D.C., G.W. Krewer, R.C. Owing and E.G. Denny (1983). Air Rooting of Peach Semihardwood Cutting." HortScience 18(3): 323.
  9. ^ Stoner, R.J. (1989). Aeroponic Taxus Growth Experiment., Internal Report, Hauser Chemical
  10. ^ Carter, W.A. (1942). A method of growing plants in water vapor to facilitate examination of roots. Phytopathology 732: 623-625.
  11. ^ a b c d e f NASA Spinoff (2006) Progressive Plant Growing Has Business Blooming. Environmental and Agricultural Resources NASA Spinoff 2006, pp68-72.
  12. ^ a b Stoner, R.J (1983). Rooting in Air. Greenhouse Grower Vol I No. 11
  13. ^ Briggs, B.A. (1966). An experiment in air-rooting. International Plant Propagators' Society.
  14. ^ Nir, I. (1982), Apparatus and Method for Plant growth in Aeroponic Conditions., Patent United States
  15. ^ The system employed is described in detail in UK patent No.1 600 477 (filed 12 November 1976 - Complete Specification published 14 October 1981 - title IMPROVEMENTS IN AND RELATING TO THE PROPAGATION OF PLANTS).
  16. ^ a b c d Stoner, R.J. and J.M. Clawson (1999-2000). Low-mass, Inflatable Aeroponic System for High Performance Food Production. Principal Investigator, NASA SBIR NAS10-00017
  17. ^ T.W. Halstead and T.K. Scott (1990). Experiments of plants in space. In Fundamentals of space biology, M. Asashima and G.M. Malacinski (eds.), pp. 9-19. Springer-Verlag.
  18. ^ Dreschel, T.W., C.W. Carlson, H.W. Wells, K.F. Anderson, W.M. Knott and W. Munsey (1993). Physical Testing for the Microgravity Plant Nutrient Experiment. 1993 International Summer Meeting, Spokane, WA, American Society of Agricultural Engineers.
  19. ^ Tibbitts, T.W., W. Cao and R.M. Wheeler (1994). Growth of Potatoes for CELSS. NASA Contractor Report 177646.
  20. ^ Linden, J.C. and Stoner, R.J. (2005). Proprietary Elicitor Affects Seed Germination and Delays Fruit Senescence. Journal of Food, Agriculture & Environment (Oct'05).
  21. ^ Linden, J., Stoner, R., Knutson, K. Gardner-Hughes, C. (2000). Organic Disease Control Elicitors. Agro Food Industry Hi-Te (p12-1).
  22. ^ Linden, J.C. and Stoner R.J. (2005). Proprietary Elicitor Amends Potato Emergence and Yields. Potato Grower. April. pp. 34-35.
  23. ^ "Method and apparatus for aeroponic farming". US Patent & Trademark Office, Patent Full Text and Image Database.
  24. ^ "Say Hello To The (Soon To Be) World's Largest Indoor Vertical Farm". modern farmer.

External links

Aerial root

Aerial roots are roots above the ground. They are almost always adventitious. They are found in diverse plant species, including epiphytes such as orchids, tropical coastal swamp trees such as mangroves, the resourceful banyan trees, the warm-temperate rainforest rata (Metrosideros robusta) and pohutukawa (M. excelsa) trees of New Zealand and vines such as Common Ivy (Hedera helix) and poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans).

Controlled-environment agriculture

Controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) is a technology-based approach toward food production. The aim of CEA is to provide protection and maintain optimal growing conditions throughout the development of the crop. Production takes place within an enclosed growing structure such as a greenhouse or building. Plants are often grown using hydroponic methods in order to supply the proper amounts of water and nutrients to the root zone. CEA optimizes the use of resources such as water, energy, space, capital and labor. CEA technologies include hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaculture, and aquaponics.Controllable variables:

Temperature (air, nutrient solution, root-zone, leaf)

Humidity (%RH)

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Light (intensity, spectrum, duration and intervals)

Nutrient concentration (PPM, EC)

Nutrient pH (acidity)

PestsCEA facilities can range from fully 100% environmentally controlled enclosed closed loop systems, to fully automated glasshouses with computer controls for watering, lighting and ventilation, to low-tech solutions such as cloches or plastic film on field grown crops and plastic-covered tunnels.CEA methods can be used to grow literally any crop, though the reality is a crop has to be economically viable and this will vary considerably due to local market pricing, and resource costs.

Crops can be grown for food, pharmaceutical and nutriceutical applications. It can also be used to grow algae for food or for biofuels.

Using CEA methods increase food safety by removing sources of contamination, and increases the security of supply as it is unaffected by outside environment conditions, and by eliminating seasonality create stable market pricing which is good for farmer and consumer alike.

CEA is used in research so that a specific aspect of production can be isolated while all other variables remain the same. Tinted glass could be compared to plain glass in this way during an investigation into photosynthesis. Another possibility would be an investigation into the use of supplementary lighting for growing lettuce under a hydroponic system.A February 2011 article in the magazine Science Illustrated states, "In commercial agriculture, CEA can increase efficiency, reduce pests and diseases, and save resources. ... Replicating a conventional farm with computers and LED lights is expensive but proves cost-efficient in the long run by producing up to 20 times as much high-end, pesticidee-free produce as a similar-size plot of soil. Fourteen thousand square feet of closely monitored plants produce 15 million seedlings annually at the solar-powered factory. Such factories will be necessary to meet urban China's rising demand for quality fruits and vegetables."

Edward Harwood (American inventor)

Edward "Ed" Harwood (born February 4, 1950) is an American inventor, entrepreneur, and one of the pioneers of aeroponics. He is the founder of Aero Farm Systems, L.L.C. (AeroFarms), as well as the chief inventor of “Method and apparatus for aeroponic farming" (United States Patent No. 8,782,948).

Edward Harwood (disambiguation)

Edward Harwood (1729–1794) was an English scholar and theologian.

Edward Harwood may also refer to:

Edward Harwood (English Army officer) (1586?–1632), English Puritan soldier

Edward Harwood (of Darwen) (1707–1787), English composer

Edward C. Harwood (1900–1980), economist, philosopher of science and investment advisor

Edward Harwood (American inventor) born 1950, pioneer of Aeroponics

Fogponics

Fogponics is an advanced form of aeroponics which uses water in a vaporised form to transfer nutrients and oxygen to enclosed suspended plant roots. Using the same general idea behind aeroponics, fogponics uses a 5–30 µm mist within the rooting chamber and as use for a foliar feeding mechanism. Plants best absorb particles from the 1–25 µm range, the smaller particulate size means faster absorption. The added benefit of using fogponic's over traditional hydroponics systems is that the plants require less energy in root growth and mass, and are able to still sustain a large plant.

Grow box

A grow box is a partially or completely enclosed system for raising plants indoors or in small areas. Grow boxes are used for a number of reasons, including lack of available outdoor space or the desire to grow vegetables, herbs or flowers during cold weather months. They can also help protect plants against pests or disease.

Grow boxes may be soil-based or hydroponic. The most sophisticated examples are totally enclosed, and contain a built-in grow light, intake and exhaust fan system for ventilation, hydroponics system that waters the plants with nutrient-rich solution, and an odor control filter. Some advanced grow box units even include air conditioning to keep running temperatures down, as well as CO2 to boost the plant's growth rate. These advanced elements allow the gardener to maintain optimal temperature, light patterns, nutrition levels, and other conditions for the chosen plants.Key growlight options include fluorescent bulbs, which offer relatively limited light output; high-intensity discharge lamps such as sodium-vapor lamps and metal-halide lamps; and light-emitting diodes bulbs, which are becoming more energy-efficient.

In different sizes and degrees of complexity, grow boxes are also referred to as grow cabinets and lightproof cabinets. A full-room version of a grow box is a growroom.

Growroom

A growroom (or grow room) is a room of any size where plants are grown under controlled conditions. The reasons for utilizing a growroom are countless. Some seek to avoid the criminal repercussions of growing illicit cultivars, while others simply have no alternative to indoor growing. Plants can be grown with the use of grow lights, sunlight, or a combination of the two. Due to the heat generated by high power lamps, grow rooms will often become excessively hot relative to the temperature range ideal for plant growth, often necessitating the use of a supplemental ventilation fan.

Historical hydroculture

This is a history of notable hydroculture phenomena. Ancient hydroculture proposed sites, and modern revolutionary works are mentioned. Included in this history are all forms of aquatic and semi-aquatic based horticulture that focus on flora: aquatic gardening, semi-aquatic crop farming, hydroponics, aquaponics, passive hydroponics, and modern aeroponics.

Hydroponics

Hydroponics is a subset of hydroculture, which is a method of growing plants without soil by using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. Terrestrial plants may be grown with only their roots exposed to the mineral solution, or the roots may be supported by an inert medium, such as perlite or gravel.

The nutrients used in hydroponic systems can come from an array of different sources; these can include, but are not limited to, byproduct from fish waste, duck manure, or purchased chemical fertilisers.

Leaf sensor

A leaf sensor is a phytometric device (measurement of plant physiological processes) that measures water loss or the water deficit stress (WDS) in plants by real-time monitoring the moisture level in plant leaves. The first leaf sensor was developed by LeafSens, an Israeli company granted a US patent for a mechanical leaf thickness sensing device in 2001. LeafSen has made strides incorporating their leaf sensory technology into citrus orchards in Israel. A solid state smart leaf sensor technology was developed by the University of Colorado at Boulder for NASA in 2007. It was designed to help monitor and control agricultural water demand. AgriHouse received a National Science Foundation (NSF) STTR grant in conjunction with the University of Colorado to further develop the solid state leaf sensor technology for precision irrigation control in 2007.

Mist

Mist is a phenomenon caused by small droplets of water suspended in air. Physically, it is an example of a dispersion. It is most commonly seen where warm, moist air meets sudden cooling, such as in exhaled air in the winter, or when throwing water onto the hot stove of a sauna. It can be created artificially with aerosol canisters if the humidity and temperature conditions are right. It can also occur as part of natural weather, when humid air cools rapidly, for example when the air comes into contact with surfaces that are much cooler than the air.

The formation of mist, as of other suspensions, is greatly aided by the presence of nucleation sites on which the suspended water phase can congeal. Thus even such unusual sources as small particulates from volcanic eruptions, releases of strongly polar gases, and even the magnetospheric ions associated with polar lights can in right conditions trigger the formation of mist and can make mirrors appear foggy.

Outline of sustainable agriculture

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to sustainable agriculture:

Sustainable agriculture – applied science that integrates three main goals, environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. These goals have been defined by a variety of philosophies, policies and practices, from the vision of farmers and consumers. Perspectives and approaches are very diverse, the following topics intend to help understanding what sustainable agriculture is.

Pulse drip irrigation

Pulse drip irrigation is an experimental irrigation technique primarily used with drip irrigation. Maintaining a high level of soil moisture for germination of seed is one reason this technique may be used.

Most conventional drip irrigation systems can be made to pulse by using a timer to reduce the watering duration and increase the watering frequency. Some newer systems have been developed that utilize a pressurized reservoir. When the pressure in the reservoir reaches some predetermined pressure level the valve on the reservoir opens and a portion of the fluid contained within the reservoir is forcefully discharged. While the fluid is discharging, the pressure within the reservoir decreases. When the decrease in water pressure reaches a predetermined level the valve closes to resume the charging phase. The charge-discharge cycling will continue as long as the flow rate coming in through the inlet is less than the expel rate passing out through the outlets while the valve is open. A device called a drip flow controller is placed at the inlet for this purpose to regulate the flow into the inlet.If properly designed and operated, a low-flow pulse system may be left operating continuously for a period of time without overwatering. Constant and frequent irrigation applications have been cited as one way to reduce water demand. Some literature also cite the benefits of small frequent watering applications to reduce water stress on plants.Low-flow application rates can be used with different soils and growth media. The water can be applied slowly enough to match the water infiltration rate and prevent water loss from deep percolation or runoff. Mineral nutrients added to media with a high void content, such as coarse grained sand, will provide more oxygen to roots than ordinary soil and share some of the advantages with aeroponics. Sand also has a low water retention potential that makes it easier for plants to extract water by expending less energy due to the sand's relatively large particle size, which consequently does not bind very well to water. This increases the plant's water-use efficiency. Sand is also less hospitable to pathogens that can attack roots.

Roof garden

A roof garden is a garden on the roof of a building. Besides the decorative benefit, roof plantings may provide food, temperature control, hydrological benefits, architectural enhancement, habitats or corridors for wildlife, recreational opportunities, and in large scale it may even have ecological benefits. The practice of cultivating food on the rooftop of buildings is sometimes referred to as rooftop farming. Rooftop farming is usually done using green roof, hydroponics, aeroponics or air-dynaponics systems or container gardens.

Root rot

Root rot is a condition found in both indoor and outdoor plants, although more common in indoor plants with poor drainage. As the name states, the roots of the plant rot. Usually, this is a result of overwatering. In houseplants, it is a very common problem, and is slightly less common in outdoor plants. In both indoor and outdoor plants, it is usually lethal and there is no effective treatment.

The excess water makes it very difficult for the roots to get the air that they need, causing them to decay. To avoid root rot, it is best to only water plants when the soil becomes dry, and to put the plant in a well-drained pot. Using a heavy soil, such as one dug up from outdoors can also cause root rot.

Many cases of root rot are caused by members of the water mold genus Phytophthora; perhaps the most aggressive is P. cinnamomi. Spores from root rot causing agents do contaminate other plants, but the rot cannot take hold unless there is adequate moisture. Spores are not only airborne, but are also carried by insects and other arthropods in the soil.

A plant with root rot will not normally survive, but can often be propagated so it will not be lost completely. Plants with root rot should be removed and destroyed.

Tamarix aphylla

Tamarix aphylla is the largest known species of Tamarix (height: to 18 metres–60 ft). The species has a variety of common names, including Athel tamarisk, Athel tree, Athel pine, and saltcedar. It is an evergreen tree, native across North, East and Central Africa, through the Middle East, and into parts of Western and Southern Asia.

Underground farming

Underground farming is the practice of cultivating food underground. Underground farming is usually done using hydroponics, aeroponics or air-dynaponics systems or container gardens. Light is generally provided by means of grow lamps or daylighting systems (as light tubes).

Vertical farming

Vertical farming is the practice of producing food and medicine in vertically stacked layers, vertically inclined surfaces and/or integrated in other structures (such as in a skyscraper, used warehouse, or shipping container). The modern ideas of vertical farming use indoor farming techniques and controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) technology, where all environmental factors can be controlled. These facilities utilize artificial control of light, environmental control (humidity, temperature, gases...) and fertigation. Some vertical farms use techniques similar to greenhouses, where natural sunlight can be augmented with artificial lighting and metal reflectors.Hydroponic systems can be lit by LEDs that mimic sunlight. Software can ensure that all the plants get the same amount of light, water and nutrients. Proper managements means that no herbicides or pesticides are required.

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