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HU Aquaponics technician, professor publish aquaponics research

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By Milthon Lujan

Harnessing HU’s state-of-the-art aquaponics system, professors team with students to advance aquaponics, which involves raising fish (aquaculture) and growing plants together in water (hydroponics). In aquaponics, fish waste provides an organic food source for plants, and plants naturally filter water for fish. Many people today view aquaponics as a more sustainable and environmentally conscious form of raising food and plants. It has grown in popularity as society continues to move toward more locally produced food and vegetation.

HU aquaponics technician, Joe Tetreault, MS, and Biological Sciences Professor, Rachel Fogle, PhD, recently saw their latest research paper, co-written by Todd Guerdat, PhD and titled “Towards a Capture and Reuse Model for Aquaculture Effluent as a Hydroponic Nutrient Solution Using Aerobic Microbial Reactors,” published by the scholarly journal, Horticulturae.

The paper outlines the culmination of Tetreault’s thesis research that seeks to improve wastewater treatment in aquaponics. We recently caught up with Tetreault to learn more about the research he conducted with Fogle and Guerdat.

Q: Could you tell us what you researched and discovered?

A: Our research was on the development of a microbial-based wastewater treatment method to generate a naturally derived hydroponic nutrient solution from recirculating aquaculture effluent. We were able to determine a design and operating parameters for a small-scale treatment system that successfully removed contaminants from the effluent while simultaneously increasing its nutrient availability to improve utilization in crop growth. 

Q: What makes this research significant?

A: Recirculating aquaculture is a great way to grow healthy and location-independent seafood while conserving water resources but is limited from an economic and environmental perspective by the generation of a nutrient dense effluent that requires costly treatment prior to discharge. Similarly, hydroponic crops can be grown with much less water and space than traditional field-based crops. However, hydroponics is reliant on synthetically made fertilizers whose production can result in excessive greenhouse gas emissions. The development of a capture and reuse system for aquaculture effluent to be treated and used as a hydroponic nutrient solution increases overall food security by assisting the economic and environmental sustainability of both industries. 

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Q: Who was involved with the work? Students as well?

A: This research was conducted at the University of New Hampshire’s Agricultural Experiment Station by professors and scientists at both UNH and HU. Several HU students are now involved in a continuation of this research taking place at our newly renovated aquaponics research greenhouse. 

Q: When did the research take place?

A: This research took place throughout 2019. Dr Fogle and I have recently received additional external funding to continue this work through 2022. 

Q: What made you pursue this project?

A: We chose to pursue this project because its results have the potential to positively affect both the aquaculture and hydroponics industries. Being able to reuse treated fish effluent to grow crops will increase the sustainability while also reducing production costs to make these agricultural methods more accessible and increase overall food security.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?

A: Through internal support from HU and external support through a mini-NASA grant facilitated by the Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium, the aquaponics team is excited to continue this research over the next few years. 

Paper Citation:  

Tetreault, J., Fogle, R., Guerdat, T. Towards a Capture and Reuse Model for Aquaculture Effluent as a Hydroponic Nutrient Solution Using Aerobic Microbial Reactors. Horticulturae 2021, 7: 334-344. 

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Source: Harrisburg University of Science and Technology

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