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Testing the Aerolife True HPA AA (Air Atomized) System -First run

Discussion in 'Aerogardeners' started by Trichy Bastard, Apr 7, 2012.

    Trichy Bastard

    Trichy Bastard Well-Known Member

    Hi guys, most of you who know me know that I have taken a huge interest in true high pressure aeroponics, and also passing on all of the debunked knowledge I have gained along the way. It seems 99% of the public and commercial interests in the sector are a bit off base in understanding how to properly use this type of growing method and what is important. It is surrounded by all sorts of myths and half-truths, conspiracies, and failed attempts- leaving most interested people alot poorer and bitter to the idea of ever trying it again. I have been extremely lucky in having good mentors help me seperate the BS from good info, and have had help from people who are really masters on the subject, even more so than what I can tell about the Aero company that claims to work with NASA (Bio-Controls). In my search for answers in this hobby, I am always watching the new companies and their claims, but so far it's all mostly BS based on my understanding of the underlying principles that actually produce good results. Companies like the Tree-frog are trying to make a quick buck off unknowing victims, and I can't really tell if they know how off the mark they are and don't care, or if they really just don't know how to do this properly, and are just as ignorant as the people who end up spending a thousand bucks on their systems. (No insults intended to anyone who has bought a unit from them). I also have spent a pretty penny on some other failed systems until I found out how to do this right, and since then, built my own setup from scratch as it seems there is no commercial ready made solution that would work properly according to my current level of enlightenment on the subject.

    There is one company that stood out from the rest in the past- and that was the company from England who made the Atomix. Unfortunately they sold for over $5k and didn't stay in business very long with those prices. The system used siphon fed air atomized (AA) nozzles, along with a silent air compressor. It was only about a 3x3 footprint, and not many of us could or would have spent that kind of dough even though it really could turn out amazing results. Even worse yet, most of the end users didn't have a good understanding of how to use the system, and so only a very few ever got their money's worth out of it. I much enjoyed reading those people's grow journals and taking note of what was important from their experiences however.

    As I like to research about my hobby, I also like to stay on top of any commercial innovations in the field. A while back I stumbled upon a system called the "Aerolife" but discounted it because I was focused on going the hydraulic route at that time, and they were using compressed air nozzles to atomize the nutrient solution. AA aero has some advantages over the traditional hydraulic systems in that there is an extra dimension of control and the air pushing the nutrient solution helps it to penetrate the root mass more thoroughly and also introduces a burts of fresh o2 with each feeding. A single AA nozzle can likely do the work of quite a few hydraulic nozzles. The drawbacks are that it is generally quite expensive and complicated. If this system really works the way I hope- it will actually be simpler than hydraulic, and priced similarly when it's all said and done. I also saw a few of the pictures at the time on the Aerolife site and the compressor shown looked alot like an airbrush compressor which made me think the nozzles and rest of the kit were probably not up to par. I stumbled across the site again recently and on deeper investigtion decided to email them an enquiry for more information. I was surprised to get a reply from the owner who explained the compressor was not part of the kit, but just something he was trying at the time. He also explained he'd been in the business of design and manufacturing AA nozzles for commercial purposes for many years- mainly for dust control. He also enjoys gardening and decided to custom design and produce some of his own nozzles specifically for the purpose of growing plants. That was a very different picture than what I had originally imagined, and I actually think these may be the only nozzles produced specifically for aeroponics, besides perhaps the ones in the Atomix, but even those may have just been borrowed from another purpose and had the right properties to work in their system. These nozzles are designed to work with very low flow rates and are siphon fed, making them optimal for what we are looking for to grow plants. There are also gravity fed nozzles and hydraulically pressurized nozzles in terms of the 3 types of AA nozzles. Generally the hydraulically pressurized variety give the most control, but they are also the most complicated because they require an accumulator tank and all the other gear you need to run a hydraulic HPA rig like the one I built last year. If the Aerolife nozzles perform well, they will be a thing of beauty because they are so simple, all you need to do is drop the siphon tube into your nutes, and connect up a 30ish psi compressed air line, add a timer and solenoid. You could use the compressor in your garage and call it a day, but there are obvious noise issues. They do sell silent air compressors for the dental field, and that is likely a good choice, although they are not cheap (300-1000 bucks or even more) or another possibility is to take an old working compressor off a refrigerator and retrofit it to pump air instead of freon (practically free if you have an old fridge sitting around). The compressors in the Aerolife pictures were silent types made for airbrushing, although they are fairly inexpensive, they aren't made to come on every minute 24 hours a day and won't likely last very long under these circumstances. The other issue I had with this is I believe the compressor literally just came on and powered the nozzles directly every misting, rather than storing pressurized air in a collector and precisely turning the flow on and off via a solenoid- which would offer alot more control over the mist pressures and timings.

    Anyway, I decided it this was the only system currently on the market possibly capable of producing decent results, and since it was only about 20% of the price the Atomix used to sell for, I decided to give it a go and see what it can do. The kit arrived last week and I am now ready to put it together and document my experiences with it. I will likely use my craftsman air compressor for the first week or so, it has only a 3 gallon air tank and will probably come on quite a bit. Once I am assured the system is capable of growing plants decently, I will find a proper air compressor solution. I plan to borrow a solenoid from my hydraulic setup and use the timer Hammer21 pointed me to on Ebay (which I also still need to review). I really hope to get some decent results, and if so we can all learn from the experience. I hope you guys all follow along with me and we can learn together if this is a viable system, and also how to get the best results with it if so. I am really excited at the possibilities! I hope everyone subs up and interacts with me on this new venture. I hope with everyone's input and ideas we can make the best of this and finally have a decent commercial HPA system that has all the benefits and also doesn't cost an incredible amount of money... More to follow soon!

    DIYer Well-Known Member

    That sounds like a bit of a "BS claim" right there buddy. :bigjoint: No offense, but you said to get 50 micron droplets you'd have to run at even less PSI then your HPA setup, and lets be honest, PSI is what's actually going to "push" anything into a root mass. Nor would i want to force anything into the root masses we know true HPA can grow, that'll be too harsh. I've said it before and i stand by it, if you can't see through it, you're not threading any mist droplets through it.

    $1000 for what sounds like a very incomplete HPAA system seems exactly like an incredible amount. Have fun, ill watch the results, if you'll post pics, but do you honestly think spending a grand to go from HPA to HPAA is worth it? Sounds like you built a space shuttle, and now dropped a grand on some whip cream and a cherry to put on top. Not hating, prove me wrong, show me it's worth the upgrade, and i'll be the happiest to know.

    Gastanker likes this.

    Atomizer Well-Known Member

    The compressed air penetrates everything in the chamber so the mist gets everywhere..theres nowhere to hide :)

    DIYer Well-Known Member

    If you grow THIS, like regular old true HPA done right did, you're not blowing anything through it, and if you do, you cut it up to get inside. Sorry, but a full bowl is a full bowl IMO. As i said, PSI is going to do the pushing, and less will do less.

    Atomizer Well-Known Member

    From what i can find, a youngster with perfect vision may be able to see gaps/droplets down to 40 microns, the ideal droplet range is 5-80 microns. The pic you posted is from an AA setup.
    Here`s a pressure fed AA nozzle, 1 second pulse with 36psi air, 20psi water pressure. The throw distance is 6-8ft.
    1 second mist.jpg

    DIYer Well-Known Member

    Regardless of what the human eye can actually see through, it pretty obvious a massively layered dynamic root structure like in the picture, that you're not threading even a needle through before you hit root mass, can no longer be penetrated once it reaches a certain size. That size being achievable with HPA, why spend more to accomplish the same thing? And even when that root mass in the picture could still be penetrated by mist droplets, the PSI propelling those perfect 50 micron droplets is what made the penetrating possible, not air riding along side said droplet. I could see going AA to get less mist out per the minimum .3 sec burst, if you we're for some inexplicable reason stuck in a small root chamber, but able to drop $160 per nozzle :confused:.. no i take it back i still don't see the point, lol ..but again, prove me wrong TB.

    Atomizer Well-Known Member

    Thats exactly the point. Look at it this way: a single AA nozzle could fill a 50gal chamber with mist in 1 second where it may take 8 hydraulics to get the same coverage.
    If the AA flowrate is identical to one hydraulic, you`d need a 0.125 second pulse on the hydraulics to deliver the same quantity of water into the chamber.
    A mist pulse of 0.3 sec pulse is difficult, it takes a solenoid at each nozzle. If the solenoids cost $10 thats almost half the cost of the AA nozzle right there ;) and at 0.3 seconds you still deliver over twice the amount of water as the AA nozzle.
    Trichy Bastard

    Trichy Bastard Well-Known Member

    lol... I see you're point DIYer, but I also aim to prove you wrong as you said... Bear with me for a little while and watch and we'll see. I didn't specifically get involved with this system to upgrade my current system's capabilities as much as I got interested and really wanted to enjoy the new method as a hobby, and am truly hoping this system will prove to be a good commercial setup for once for all those who want to get into High Pressure aero but perhaps don't have the time or skills to homebrew a system. It should be plainly clear by now the ride is much more important to me than the destination... ;P

    DIYer Well-Known Member

    That IS the point? :confused:.. haha.. well then why not spend like, $900 less and just buy a bigger root chamber? lol. I find it hard to believe 1 AA nozzle gives the same coverage 8 hydraulic ones do, especially if its going to put out less solution, at a lower PSI to boot. I still don't see why not buy a bigger root chamber and not have to do all that. You a crazy bastard, tricky bastard, lol.. but enjoy the ride!

    Atomizer Well-Known Member

    I dont think you understand the principle of coverage versus flowrate. A bigger root chamber will need more nozzles for full coverage, that increases the total flowrate and you`d need to reduce the mist pulse duration to make up for it.
    8:1 is a conservative estimate, AA`s put out a helluva lot of mist even at low air pressures. The mist plume in post #5 is from a single AA nozzle, its a good 6ft long and 3ft high, you`d need a fair few hydraulics to cover the same area with that density of mist ;)
    Trichy Bastard

    Trichy Bastard Well-Known Member

    The fact you are mixing fluid and air changes things... Imagine the difference between thrusting water out of your mouth by pushing it with your tongue vs. having a mouthful of water and blowing your lungs out with it into a spray. The air pressure is less from your diaphram, but it is capable of traveling at a much faster velocity. The speedy air picks up the droplets and carries them alot farther. I might be wrong, but that is how I see it in my mind's eye.

    The point is you are being stubborn in your thinking- obviously Atomizer and tree farmer have had some big root masses and grown successfully with their AA setups. Instead of saying it's practically impossible- why not try to understand how it's possible since it has worked for them. Did you see any big dead spots on tree farmers big root masses? Do you think he photoshopped his pictures? ;)

    I will take some pics of the spray if I can capture it in a photo... It is pretty impressive for a single nozzle compared to the hydraulic ones.

    Atomizer Well-Known Member

    Syphon fed AA is new ground as everyone else seems to be using pressure fed nozzles. If you imagine a water pistol that fires mist and a firehose that fires mist, thats the sort of difference between AA and hydraulic nozzles.
    No doubts TF will find the thread eventually, i sent him a heads up but his inbox is full.
    Trichy Bastard

    Trichy Bastard Well-Known Member

    Yes, I am really excited and hoping that he has been able to engineer a well working siphon fed nozzle. If it can work well, it truly is a much simpler approach. There tends to always be a penaly for less complexity however, and we will have to see if this holds true here, and if so is it only a negligeable difference. I am going to post pics of the unit now... Should be here in 20 minutes... ;)
    Trichy Bastard

    Trichy Bastard Well-Known Member

    Okay, so I just unboxed the unit, and it was simply a cardboard box slightly larger than the chamber itself. All the other parts were shipped inside of the chamber...

    IMG_0008.jpg IMG_0019.jpg IMG_0010.jpg IMG_0022.jpg IMG_0015.jpg
    IMG_0021.jpg IMG_0014.jpg

    As you can see, this is a custom production chamber. It is dual wall construction and this in addition to the white color and the type of plastic material it is constructed of all work together to keep things as cool as possible in case you were to place the rig in outdoor sunlight. Mr. Raring told me he really had in mind to have these out on his deck, as well as for people who might want to grow indoors.
    There is holes thoughtfully placed for if you might want to incorporate any sort of other methods in addition to the HPA- and also drain plugs and what not to fill these holes if you don't want to use them. The chamber inner dimensions are just about 17" inches cubed, with a slight tapering towards the bottom of the chamber. I plan to use the tapering to my advantage as I will place a rootscreen in there just an inch or so off the bottom to keep the roots out of excess effluent. I am curious if the chamber dimensions are on the small side, but time will tell. The lid is a blank slate, so you can cutout your own holes in any size and configuration you choose for your needs. I Would like to cutout 4 holes for 2" netpots, but I will have to think abot this and welcome anyone's input on if this might be too much or not. The bottom drain holes are perfect for draining effluent, and some screw in elbows are included to route it wherever you choose. The are 4 castors included for easy moving of the chamber, and they also serve to keep it slightly elevated for the drain lines in the bottom. I believe you can stack one chamber on top of another so that the bottom one becomes the reservoir. The thing I noticed is if I wanted to recirculate during the vegetative stage, all I have to do is simply place the siphon line from the nozzle right in the bottom of the chamber, and viola- recirculating- then simply reroute the tube to an external res and unplug the drain lines for Drain-to waste in the flowering stage. Overall the looks and feel is that this was a quality kit, and the design was thoughtful for many different situations.


    At first I thought a compressor was included, but it was just a box from one reused to keep the castors and other parts from moving around during shipping.

    IMG_0012.jpg IMG_0013.jpg

    Here's a closer look at the parts included, and nozzles as they were packed. There was a few feet of 1/4" polyethelene tubing for the air, and the siphon uses 5/32" (4mm). Both included quick connect fittings on the nozzles. You can also see the various screw in plugs and elbows...

    IMG_0016.jpg IMG_0017.jpg IMG_0018.jpg

    Here is the heart of the system, the custom designed stainless steel siphon draw AA nozzles. They are stamped handsomely with a logo and do look quite good quality. I sure hope they can deliver as good as they look!


    Lastly, there is a shot of how the nozzles just sit in the chamber wall and poke into the inside (also good if you need to remove them for any sort of cleaning or maintenance). This side of the chamber is showing the root viewing access hole- I remember the site mentioning the smaller hole in the middle of the door could be used for an extra nozzle, thermometer lead wire, or whatever else you could think of. The opposite side of the chamber has a spot for a second nozzle, but there is only one access door on the chamber. The idea is that the nozzles are catecorner from eachother and when both turned on are supposed to create a swirling vortex of mist that should help penetrate the rootmass. Although I am leery than this small chamber can handle 2 nozzles without overmisting. I will likely start out with one nozzle, and see if it is enough, and go from there.

    Next I will try to hookup my compressor, solenoid and timer, and see how this thing works. I am hoping I can place my compressor in my HPA chamber to insulate it against too much sound until I get something more proper. Hopefully I will have this done in the next hour or so. There really isn't much to setting this thing up, and it seems the only thing I really need is a good silent compressor and I will be in business. Anyone could put together this kit, and be starting plants the same day- as long as they have a decent timer, solenoid and source of compressed air- the question is how well will it work?

    Attached Files:


    Harrekin Well-Known Member

    So total cost including compressor, etc? I assume a chiller is also necessary?

    OgSince03 Active Member

    Sounds good. I'm sub'd.
    Trichy Bastard

    Trichy Bastard Well-Known Member

    It really depends on what sort of deals you can come by on the timer, compressor, etc... I believe Aerolife is working on creating a all inclusive turnkey package, but no idea what it will cost. I will have more information on this soon. I'd say wait and see how much luck I have with the system, I am putting myself out there as a guinnea pig for everyone's benefit.

    A chiller is not necessary due to the evaporative pulldown effect of the mist in combination with the insulation of the chamber- though in extreme heat/sunlight like I have, I may have need to run the air and nute lines through a cool water bath to keep things inline.

    A rough estimate would be compressor- $300, Timer - $100, and solenoid $30 in addition to the Aerolife kit. The cool thing is these items could be used on multiple chambers, or you could easily make your own out of a brute trashcan, etc... So there are some options and only time and experience will tell the best route. I think they would do good to have a turnkey all inclusive kit myself.

    Atomizer Well-Known Member

    Keep an eye on the compressor temp as it might get toasty if its enclosed. If the compressor runs frequently i`d check the temperature of the air to the nozzle as it wont have a lot of time to cool down, especially if the box is well insulated for noise suppression.
    The best way to reduce noise is to use a box with no bottom in it. Make a baffed air intake with at least three 180 degree turns (like a lab rats maze). Put the box over the top of the compressor making sure it doesnt touch. A bit of foam rubber will help to create an airseal between the box and the floor. Noise is vibrating air so you want to minimise air leaks as much as possible except the essential ones like the air intake.
    Trichy Bastard

    Trichy Bastard Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the tips A... I also was worried about heat, but figured I would cross that bridge when I came to it. Yes, a rat's maze- sort of like how a muffler works :)

    Atomizer Well-Known Member

    My compressor enclosure is a bit like an mdf dishwasher :) It has a hinged (drop down) door on the front and the air intake is attached to the door. Here`s an outside and inside view of it, the rat run is inside the box..nothing special.
    The cord in the pic just stops the door from opening too far.
    air intake baffle.JPG

    Here`s some noise comparisons using vegas pro software. I`ll get one of the hoover later on.. its a tad early to fire that up :)
    Noise Comparison Testing.jpg
    I made a compilation audio file of the 2 pcs, compressor at all distances and the freezer so you can hear the difference, the 1st pc is the loudest. http://www.datafilehost.com/download-6617c840.html
    Here`s a bambi 35/20 for noise comparison, ([email protected] 7bar, 4L tank) they retail at $1200 :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iibiJhjpp60

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