The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the EverGreen project at Texas State with a four-year, $1 million grant to continue research and include Hispanic students who are interested in participating.
As a part of the Ingram School of Engineering and Department of Agriculture, EverGreen aims to find solutions for the global food-water-energy nexus while also increasing the number of Hispanic students with advanced technical degrees.
The grant was awarded after months of hard work and collaboration between Texas State faculty in the engineering and agriculture departments. Bahram Asiabanpour, associate professor of manufacturing engineering, applied for the competitive Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grant Program through USDA after Christmas break.
“We didn’t expect it even to be funded at the beginning because it was the first time we were applying in such way, but it was well welcomed,” Asiabanpour said. “It was the highest ranking review. They mentioned it was the most promising idea in this category. The major world problems right now are energy, water and food. We try to tackle these three at the same time because they are interrelated.”
The idea is to have an off-grid and financially independent way to produce food by installing a hydroponic system inside a refrigerated shipping container. EverGreen’s project will be designed and built entirely by a team of faculty and funded students.
Nicole Wagner, agriculture senior lecturer, said EverGreen is like an extension of a greenhouse. It will be able to grow food more quickly in a climate controlled environment with less water and energy.
“The biggest risk to growing food is weather,” Wagner said. “Flooding is a big issue in Texas. In Texas, you get these really dry and wet cycles. The idea with what we are doing is taking the risk of weather completely out of the equation.”
Wagner said the team will reduce water usage by recycling it through a series of tubes and trays holding the plants. By recirculating the water, the hydroponic system will use 90 percent less water than traditional agriculture and soil.
Asiabanpour tested the science for this project and said EverGreen also has an educational perspective behind it.
David Glasgow, senior communications coordinator for the USDA, said institutions must have a minimum of 25 percent Hispanic enrollment to meet requirements for the grant. The funds will go toward scholarships for Hispanic engineering and agriculture students who are a part of the project.
“That’s a major aspect of our project,” Wagner said. “We are trying to help create a more diverse body of students at Texas State who are interested in STEM discipline.”
Wagner said the team hopes to integrate EverGreen into the classroom. There is a number of students conducting research and proposing projects they want to research, such as light mechanism and what crops can grow in this type of environment.
“We are very excited, but lots of work needs to be done to be able to implement it,” Asiabanpour said. “It’s a group activity with different expertise. We welcome any collaborations, and we hope it’s going to be a good base for expansion in this field.”