Automated Biochar Injection System

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Sponsors Gregory Möller [UI Clean Water Machine]
Team Name Mean Clean Water Machine
Duration Fall 2018 - Spring 2019
Faculty Advisor
  • Dr. Dev Shrestha
  • Jacob Miller
  • Gregory Möller
  • Martin Baker
Team Members
  • Phillip Hagen
  • Courtney Wanke
  • Dylan Kirkpatrick
  • McKenzie Walquist

The goal of the project is to design a mobile BioChar (BC) injection system that will accept and inject BC into pressurized water lines in an accurate, controlled, and recorded manner in tandem with existing systems on the UIdaho Clean Water Machine with minimal adaptation of current systems.

Problem Definition[edit]



Extensive algal blooms and phosphorous resource limitations are current problems faced by communities globally, primarily regarding agricultural fertilization and waste products. The University of Idaho Capstone teams in the past have partnered with Nexom and other entities to create the Clean Water Machine, an upward-circulating sand filtration system, to address the algae growth and purify the agricultural wastewater. Current research is being conducted by pumping BioChar (Bio-mass charcoal, created by burning wood products and other organic materials) into the system in an effort to absorb more chemicals (namely phosphorous) from the wastewater. The BioChar is ideally then filtered out, collected, and mixed into the soil in an attempt to recycle some of the lost phosphorous and create a way to fertilize crops without needing to mine a limited resource. Our goal as a team is to create a system that integrates cohesively with the current Clean Water Machine and automates the process of dosing the BioChar into the wastewater flow, so that more experiments and research may be conducted efficiently and effectively in the future. The completed project will be a mobile unit that accepts and injects BioChar into the pressurized water lines in an accurate, controlled, and recorded manner in tandem with the existing Clean Water Machine system with minimal adaptations. Our system will be completed by May 2019 as a fully functional product ready to be integrated into the Clean Water Machine's operations.


  • A system that will store the BC and maintain storage at consistent conditions
  • A system that will modify any purchased BC to specific parameters for the injection system
  • A method of transporting the BC to the influent water pipes
  • Automated and manual controls of the injection system
  • Graphical I/O touch screen display
  • A system for wetting and mixing the BC so the BC stays suspended for the specified contact time
  • A frame that will integrate and interface seamlessly with the existing frame on the Clean Water Machine
  • Specifications[edit]

    Existing Clean Water Machine frame before Biochar dosing system

    Functional Requirements[edit]

  • Deliver wet or dry BC with 15% accuracy, within 1.5 mg, and no under-dosing
  • Operate quieter than 60 dB when at maximum capacity
  • Detect and account for variability in moisture content, consistency, and temperature
  • Must keep BC at constant conditions (temperature, moisture content, texture)
  • Mechanical Requirements[edit]


  • Load sensor shall withstand a range of 0.5 mg - 5 g
  • Hopper must handle load of at least 208 kg/m^3 of BC
  • Pipe will withstand flow rate and pressure of 15 gal/min and 25 psi respectively
  • Space/Weight:

  • Must fit on 40ft trailer with Clean Water Machine for transport
  • Machine footprint must not exceed 10 ft x 10 ft
  • Must have openings in frame for maintenance and access
  • The total BC injection system shall weigh no more than 300 lbs
  • Clean Water Machine, trailer set-up, and BC mechanism will not weigh more than 26000 lbs
  • Mounting:

  • System shall be modular to allow for disassembly for travel
  • System shall mount to the current Clean Water Machine frame
  • Appearance:

  • Labeled and laser-etched controls and hardware
  • LED’s included as indicators and decoration
  • Clear material is preferred especially in areas of change and flow
  • Neutral single colors (greens, blues, black, metal finish etc.; match logo of Clean Water Machine)
  • Durability:

  • System shall be designed to operate for 1 year without any scheduled maintenance
  • Refill hopper no more than once every three days
  • No more than one 5-minute operation/maintenance check per day
  • Tear down and rebuild in half a day to completely disassemble and reassemble
  • Full operational capabilities in environments with ambient temperatures of 32°F to 110°F and humidity from 20-90%
  • All electrical components shall be IP67
  • All material shall withstand corrosion and contact with water
  • All components (including bearings) shall have 90% reliability
  • Components will withstand at least 5 years of constant use
  • Electrical Requirements[edit]

  • Input will be 120V or 240V
  • Controls shall operate at 24V and 4-20mA
  • Pi will be powered by 5V 2.1A USB
  • Touch-screen controls must last 12 hours of constant use while disconnected from main voltage source
  • Pi back-up battery must last 12000 mAh
  • Touch-screen controls must last 24 hours without recharging
  • Software Requirements[edit]


  • Standard WIFI 802.11
  • At least two USB 3.0 busses
  • Must integrate with existing system
  • Display must have 10-finger touch capacity capability
  • In-field programmability (empty buttons created for programming dosage of additional chemicals)
  • Setting to switch between Automatic and Manual controls
  • User Interface:

  • Display flow-rate at inlet and outlet (gal/min)
  • Display hopper capacity (grams), temperature (ºF), moisture content (%), and BC dose rate (g/mL)
  • Hopper capacity error/warning message and indicator at 15% capacity
  • Performance indicators for malfunction and normal operation
  • Production[edit]

  • Prototype must be built for testing by February 1, 2019
  • Two physical devices created by May 10, 2019
  • Cost to build a POC prototype shall not exceed $2500
  • Design Considerations[edit]

    Design 1[edit]

    Design 2[edit]

    Design 3[edit]

    Project Learning[edit]

    Clean Water Machine System

    Clean Water Machine flow diagram with biochar injection

    Currently, the biochar is dosed into the Clean Water Machine in batches in the ratio of 6kg per 50 gallons of influent water. This requires an operator to pour the biochar into the tanks, and manually stir. This is inefficient and does not produce consistent dosing. The flow diagram to the right was provided by our client to describe how the biochar can be monitored, dosed systematically, integrated into the current Clean Water Machine design.

    Our role is to create an entire system including the interface with the current set up, the biochar storage, biochar condition control, dose metering, flow into the Clean Water Machine water lines, and the signals and controls required to do so.


    Our clients identified the pumping mechanism as a significant challenge in moving biochar. Because it is a granular material which does not dissolve in water, it often clogged pumps and the small particles cause pump parts to wear quickly or malfunction. Our initial assumption for this dosing system was that we would need to find the optimal pump type to avoid disruptions in flow. Peristaltic pumps are easily controlled and flow varied, but often have too narrow of tubing which results in significant clogging. Reciprocating and diaphragm pumps also clump and clog solids very easily, resulting in the pump not operating correctly. The current Clean Water Machine team also attempted to use a centrifugal pump. Although this has benefits such as the mixing motion, there are many parts involved, and the team had prior difficulty with this type.

    Progressive cavity positive displacement pump

    The team also toured the Water Reclamation and Reuse Facility in Moscow, ID, to see how this treatment process dosed powder polymer. This facility used large positive displacement pumps, which was recommended to us to scale down for our project. Both lobe rotary and progressive cavity positive displacement pumps are effective with viscous fluids and can produce a constant flow. Although usually more expensive than other pump types, the team determined that the progressive cavity pump fit our requirements best because it had fewer parts that may wear down, included rotary mixing motion, and was commonly implemented in similar industrial applications.


    Arduino Comparison


    Final Design[edit]


    Requirement Test Test subject Target Date Result recommendation
    Operating at less than 60dB at full capacity Use a sound sensor to record a full cycle of the system, and verify signal remains below maximum sound level Functional prototype 1/18/2019 N/A N/A
    15% accuracy dosing Have BC dump into separate receptical and weigh on a scale to verify accuracy of dosage dispenser Functional prototype 1/18/2019 N/A N/A
    Must account for variability in BC moisture content Use a high-accuracy moisture sensor to detect moisture of several batches of BC after processing through system, and compare discrepancies Functional prototype 1/18/2019 N/A N/A
    Must account for variability in BC consistency and texture Manually, visually inspect BC for clumping and inconsistencies in texture; should be no particles larger than 0.25 inches Functional prototype 1/18/2019 N/A N/A
    Must account for variability in BC dose-rate Run system through 5 different dose rates, have BC dump into separate receptical, and weigh on a scale to verify accuracy of dosage dispenser Functional prototype 1/18/2019 N/A N/A
    Must account for variability in BC temperature Use a high-accuracy temperature sensor to detect temperature of several batches of BC after processing through system, and compare discrepancies Functional prototype 1/18/2019 N/A N/A
    Dosage must withstand pressure of 20 psig Use pressure gauge on output pipe to verify it expels BC mixture at desired pressure Functional prototype 1/18/2019 N/A N/A
    Touch-screen must last 24-hours without recharging Unplug touchscreen and wait 24-hours; intermittently activate screen (once every 8 hours) to simulate use; after total time period, activate screen and verify use Functional prototype 1/18/2019 N/A N/A
    Must operate within conditions ranging from 20-90% Humidity Design tests in sealed containers or rooms where humidity level can be adjusted and run system to verify function Functional prototype 1/18/2019 N/A N/A
    Refill no more than once every 3-days Run system for 72 hours straight with maximum dose-rate and verify that the BC supply will last Functional prototype 1/18/2019 N/A N/A

    Team Members[edit]

    Courtney Wanke.png
    Courtney Wanke

    Major: Mechanical Engineering
    Hometown: Spokane, WA
    Graduation Date: May 2019
    Future Goals: Courtney's goals are to help people and better lives. She wants to make innovations that can improve our impact on the planet, as well as bring nature and engineering together. She likes to work hands-on and fully immerse herself in projects, and she looks forward to bringing her passion to the work place.

    McKenzie Walquist.jpeg
    McKenzie Walquist

    Major: Biological Engineering
    Hometown: Jefferson City, MO
    Graduation Date: May 2019
    Future Goals: After graduation, McKenzie plans to pursue a PhD in biological engineering. She hopes to build a career in research, specifically addressing emerging contaminants in environmental systems.

    [[File: |180px|thumb|left]] Dylan Kirkpatrick

    Major: Biological Engineering
    Hometown: Coeur d'Alene, ID
    Graduation Date: December 2019
    Future Goals: Dylan's goal is to pioneer green technologies such as hydro and aquaponics.

    [[File: |180px|thumb|left]] Phillip Hagen

    Major: Electrical Engineering
    Hometown: Coeur d'Alene
    Graduation Date: May 2019
    Future Goals:

    Additional Documentation[edit]

    Project Schedule

    Client Interview Project Introduction

    Meeting Agendas and Minutes

    Team Contract