Environmental studies meets engineering technology at EcoCentro.
By Hillary E. Ratcliff
Gone are the days of watering the garden with Grandma’s watering can. Gone are the days of over-watering the lawn using the hose.
Instead we have arrived at the days of integrating mechanics and the ecosystem.
At Sinkin EcoCentro, the garden is receiving a new addition for growing plants and flowers. Starting this month, environmental science and engineering students and community volunteers will be installing a hydroponic garden system, a system with components to benefit the local environment.
Hydroponics keeps plants watered by using nutrients in water in place of soil. Plants grow without soil using PVC pipes with cutouts. Within each cutout is a pot similar to a colander where the roots will grow spreading in the tubing. The PVC will have nutrient-infused water cycling through from a tank. The tank and the hydroponic system will be inside a restored storage container.
This system will support the concept of the go green movement. The EcoCentro hydroponics will be powered by four solar panels. The panels will work independently from the panel setup on the roof of EcoCentro, and the panels’ energy will be the only source powering the hydroponic system.
People automatically assume solar panels in San Antonio are perfect. Steven Lewis, director of service at EcoCentro, said the panels function at their best in milder weather. In hotter summers, the panels’ energy production goes down. The colder conditions will create the same difficulty.
On hotter days, Lewis said watering the garden beds daily is vital to prevent the soil from drying out. Once the hydroponic system is installed, it is going to conserve 50 percent or more of the water used per plant grown in soil.
The hydroponics system is attracting students such as mechanical engineering sophomore Carmelo Serna. Completing his work-study duties at EcoCentro, Serna is vested in a career in renewable energy leading to an interest in the building’s solar panel technology.
When the hydroponic system is finished, EcoCentro hopes to attract students such as Serna and environmentalists from San Antonio and surrounding cities.
EcoCentro is planning many projects this semester, and students continue to be introduced to technology to conserve and restore the planet.
It continues to promote recycling on this campus by painting the old green trash cans blue with a recycling symbol.
Recycle bins will be available for paper, plastic and aluminum products.
At the end of April, the EcoCentro parking lot will have a solar panel carport with 39 panels. This will contribute to the energy being collected from the roof’s panels. Any energy not used by EcoCentro’s building goes back into the city grid.
Two ground solar panels will be set up on its own E-Gage monitoring system to project data collected. The data will be transmitted to Texas State University. There will be a weather station for the two ground panels.
“The weather station allows us to see by temperature how much does the output from the panels vary also with like for example wind, humidity or other factors,” said Lewis, who expects the panels’ setup to be done by the end of February.
As the technology to improve the environment advances, the projects at EcoCentro will be ongoing. The gardens will continue to grow vegetables, fruits and plants, but how they are grown is an improvement from Grandma’s day.