The Problem

Pennsylvania State University’s Forest Resources Laboratory, (FRL) evaluates the effects of air pollution on plant life in thier greenhouse test facility. Plants are placed into each of 16 continuously stirred reactor chambers and environmental conditions are monitored while controlled amounts of air pollutants are injected into the chambers. Tests are conducted over several months in order to observe the effects of pollution on the plant growth.

The original control and data acquisition systems could no longer meet the needs of the researchers conducting experiments within the greenhouse. The amount of pollutants introduced into the chambers was poorly regulated, the data acquisition was split between two systems, sensors were not reliable and the system did not provide the flexibility that the researchers needed in order to conduct multiple experiments simultaneously.

The Solution

REAL Controls, Inc. developed an improved pollution regulation and data monitoring system for the FRL greenhouse. Problematic temperature and humidity sensors were replaced. Photosynthetically Active Radiation sensors were added to monitor light levels in each chamber. Sensors were installed to monitor ambient conditions within the greenhouse facility, as well as, outside. Ozone monitoring sensors were added to monitor pollution levels. An improved control system was incorporated to better regulate the amount of pollutants injected into the chambers. A graphical operator interface was developed which is easier to use and has more capabilities than the original system. Experiment setup screens allow researchers to establish operating parameters for the experiments.

Data is acquired from the sensors using National Instruments Fieldpoint hardware located within the greenhouse control room. This data is stored into a MS Access database and summary reports are automatically provided to the Penn State researchers.

The Result

The new data acquisition and control system provides the flexibility that the FRL researchers needed but uses only a single computer. The system offers improved flexibility for setting up and conducting experiments. A scheduling feature allows the researchers to establish recipes for long term, automated operation of the system. The new sensors are more reliable and will require less maintenance than those which were previously used. The improved regulation of the pollutants allows the researchers more flexibility with designing the experiments and less likelihood that plants will be damaged by overly high concentrations of air pollutants.