Research Grants/Fellowships/SBIR

Water Collection, Containment, and Self Regulating Distribution System

EPA Grant Number: SU835070
Title: Water Collection, Containment, and Self Regulating Distribution System
Investigators: Lilly, Brian , Ward, Thomas
Institution: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Project Period: August 15, 2011 through August 14, 2013
Project Amount: $74,985
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2011) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Challenge Area - Water , P3 Awards , Sustainability


According to the EPA, “Light-duty vehicles in the U.S. produced 1152.6 Tg CO2 Eq. in 2003, representing 77 percent of on-road vehicle GHG emissions and 62 percent of total transportation emissions.” Among these vehicles are municipal and privately owned trucks which travel up to four times weekly to water large planters scattered throughout cities, towns, hotels, airports, stadiums, office buildings, universities, etc. However, the vast majority of these planters are designed for aesthetic appeal as opposed to efficiency. In order to achieve proper growth, potted plants need to be placed over only six inches of soil, yet one would be hard-pressed to find a planter with such a depth. As a result, most horticulturists use cheap soil or even Styrofoam to fill in the additional space inside of the planter (below the six inches of premium soil). By implementing a system in this “additional space” which allows for onsite water storage with efficiently regulated on site watering, we are working to reduce planter maintenance costs and associated vehicles emissions by up to 90 percent, and reduce the amount of water used to maintain healthy plants.


Our research is focused on coming up with a cost effective system to install within the planters. More recently, the scope of our work has increased to regulating off the grid rain collection containers. This can be accomplished with solar panels, custom circuitry, moisture sensors, and a pump. Pending the success of prototypes installed throughout the University of Illinois campus, we hope to move forward towards commercialization of this product.


In order to properly gauge both the environmental and economic impact of the different systems, both will be examined independently. For the in-planter system, two planters will be set up in the back yard of the lead student investigator. One planter will contain the automatic watering system, the other will not. First, the amount of water added to both planters will be measured and recorded. Second, the number of times both planters are watered will be monitored. In addition to collecting this data, data will also be collected on the watering habits of the Village of Hinsdale. The number of times which the planters are watered throughout the summer will be monitored. The “backyard planter data” will then be compared to the watering habits of the Village of Hinsdale in order to calculate approximate water savings, the reduction in carbon emissions, and the reduction in plant maintenance costs. A similar experiment will be conducted for the rain barrel system.

Expected Results:

The system is expected to decrease carbon emissions and labor costs associated with horticultural maintenance, while more efficiently using water. This system is also will be available to consumers at an economically viable price.

Supplemental Keywords:

cost benefit, water, carbon dioxide, design for environment, moisture probe, resource recovery, solar power,