Fab Academy Design: Hydroponics

Lesson 1

I love gardening, but since i live in the city and that is problematic. I have no plot of land, only a small balcony. One year ago, i discovered hydroponics which is a method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solution, in water, without soil. Plants grow with their roots in the solution in perlite, gravel, mineral wool, expanded clay or coconut husk, so its a clean technology. On the internet, people have found many ways of growing plants in their living room, apartment or balcony, but i have found them to be either difficult, messy, impractical or very costly. I would like to make my own hydroponics factory with the knowledge i acquire in the fabacademy course. I have several designs (see below), but i have yet to figure out which one would work best and would be most practical. These are several decisions to consider building a hydroponics plant:

  • edible plant choice: which plant will grow in the hydroponics plant factory?
  • water : how will the water be stored and/or transported.
  • light source (sun/lamp?) and/or mirror to maximize sunlight reception.
  • food: what kind of mineral nutrient solution works best
  • where do plants grow in : perlite, gravel, mineral wool, expanded clay or coconut husk
  • will the plants move around or will the water move around?
  • what will be the energy source for the pump/elevator? wind/solar energy?
  • computer regulation and control of water pump and/or nutrient solution.
  • warning system with malfunction (plants without water quickly die).

Other Examples of hydroponics ideas:

In the spirit of this class, i would like to make the hydroponics plants factory primarily cheap, modular and scalable. My first thought is making larger than regular lego pieces with plumbing build into them. So within the building (lego) blocks of the machine is the running water, nutrients and electronics. Like i mentioned before, i will need to decide on if i want the plants to move around or do i want the water to move around. Depending on this choice, the machine will look completely different. Here are the contenders:

1.2 Moving plants around towards the water and nutrients
Within this category there are several ways of doing things and those are wonder wheel, conveyor belt and train.

Wonder wheel

The wonder wheel can be done in two ways. Either the plants are connected to the wonder wheel (see picture left) or the plants hang like capsules on the wheel (see picture right). The water will be in the bottom of the wheel and whenever the wheel passes, the plants will get their nutrients and water.

Conveyor belt

The plants will move around like a sushi bar and will get their nutrients and water on a specific stop. The downside of this solution is that it will take a lot of space. This way is the horizontal way, but i was thinking this could also be done vertically against a wall with water and nutrients at top or bottom. This would make practical use of a lot of vertical spaces within a city.


A similar solution to the conveyor belt, but now a train will drive the plants around in carriages to the water and nutrient supply. The track would be very well suited to be built modularly, scalable and fun for the children, but it will take a lot of space and it would not be practical.


This solution is suited itself for modularity, scalability and would be fun, but moving the plants around on the track will impractical and energy inefficient.

1.3 Moving the water and nutrients around the plants
There are several ways of doing this, which are the vertical stand and the marble run. These two options have their various ways of execution.

Vertical Stand

The system on the left has water pumped up through the middle of the standing tube and the water goes down along the sides to feed the plants that hang around the tube. The water and the nutrients are in the bottom. The picture on the right is a leaf like marble run, which would be an alternative way of looking at the same system. The water would go up through the middle and then would pass each leave where there would be a plant.

Marble run

Like a marble run, the water will be pumped to the top of the machine and it will follow the course as it has been laid out. Along the way, there will be plants that will be fed by the running water. There are many ways to execute this marble run, like adding water elevator or pump.

1.4 Model choice
After evaluating the alternatives, i think the fixed wonder wheel, vertical stand and marble run are the most viable for the project. The last two however fulfill my desire to make my fabacademy project scalable and modular. Both of these will make it possible to use “lego type” building and could be combined into a single solution as sketched below. My preliminary idea is to make a cheap lego like modular system, that can be constructed like a race/train track or marble run that will enable the user to make their own cheap hydroponics factory with minimum means.

1.5 Inspiration board
The examples below give a rough idea of how the above sketched project could be executed. The size of the components will be enlarged of course for this project. Furthermore, I will need to adapt the components to the needs of the plants and instead of marbles running down the system, there will be water. My 3D drawing skills are not sophisticated enough to allow for details in the sketch above, but i hope to improve on that in the future.