I recently stumbled upon a sustainable way to produce food that has turned me into somewhat of an ‘eco-nerd’ this past week. Pressed to find a paper topic on a “green tech” business, I was procrastinating by browsing the New York Times. When I found an article describing the phenomenon of home Aquaponics systems. These systems work by combining soil free plant production (hydroponics) with fish farming (aquaculture). Basically, the fish waste acts as a natural fertilizer for the plants, and the plants filter the water for the fish. It is a completely ‘closed-loop’ system that produces incredibly high yields–these systems can produce eighteen times more than field grown crops. All of this, using less 50% of water used in traditional irrigation and no fertilizers or pesticides.
Home systems vary in size and yields–but I want one of these! Fresh veggies and tasty fish, while reducing my impact on the environment. What’s not to love? After researching the industry, I would however, want to design my system utilizing gravity to maximize energy efficiency in pumping, and install solar panels to offset any further energy consumption. With careful design, I think you could rig an Aquaponics system to be close to (if not completely ) carbon neutral.
But how economically feasible are these systems? Our household spends about $200/month on fresh produce and seafood. The Nelson & Pade Demonstration system costs about $3600 to install. A system like this one, would allow us to continue our normal consumption (2 lbs of fish and 19 lbs of produce a week). Given this cost structure, it would take this system about 18 months to pay for itself. If this seems like a big investment; there are smaller systems for around $250.00, but these can’t sustain fish for consumption. Or if you’re handy–there are countless handbooks instructing on how to build one in the backyard.
Aquaponics systems have interesting implications for commercial food production as well. These systems can be set up in urban areas, which gives a whole new meaning to ‘local and organically grown.’ Not to mention reduced transport costs due to proximity to retailers. Developing countries and arid areas with food security problems could also benefit from these systems as well. Aquaponics is a great example of using biomimicry to re-vamp traditional, environmentally devastating commercial agricultural practices.