One of today's biggest social challenges is to find smarter ways to deal with waste products and waste water in order to ensure the sustainability of good-quality water and raw materials for the future. Breakthroughs are achieved by looking at the same thing from a different perspective. This is how Aquafarm was created. Aquafarm views the abundant flow of waste water as a basis for producing high-quality substances. By using plants and animals in a linked sequence, we aim to increase the purity of waste water, remove toxic substances (such as medicine residues), and also produce high-quality materials.
Taking nature as an example
In nature, the remains of plants and animals are continuously processed
as food by all sorts of organisms. Just think of the familiar pictures of food webs found in lakes or puddles. This is how nature also deals with waste water. Prior to the 1970s, the food web found in surface water was significantly disrupted in many places due to waste water discharge, but nature has been able to restore the original conditions in these places.
How does it work? Bacteria, fungi, and single-celled organisms are the first to become active, followed by the ‘processors’ that mainly live on these initial organisms. Algae start to flourish and aquatic plants then reappear further along the line. There is an increase in animal activity and fish appear on the scene. This is what we call self-cleaning.
Speeding up self-cleaning
If we were to allow nature to purify all the waste water through self-cleaning, this would require a lot of time and a large surface area. Aquafarm reverses the process. By placing organisms in groups so that mutual interactions can be monitored, we can bring out the strengths of each organism group. The different organisms can grow much faster if optimum conditions are created. We have already identified several essential key factors in this regard. By using the correct temperature, LED lighting, and sequence of process steps, we can significantly speed up the biological growth processes. This results in a highly effective and efficient production of high-quality substances on the influent and effluent streams as well as clean water.
Proof of principle
Until the summer of 2017, the researchers will be working on a proof of
principle study in order to prove that the Aquafarm concept is achievable. This proof of principle is based on three pillars:
- Scientific research: is it possible to achieve a flowing Aquafarm with cascading of flora and fauna?
- Application: how can we increase the value of Aquafarm?Scalability: how can we design the Aquafarm with a minimal footprint (such as surface area)?
What does Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra) do?
Wageningen Environmental Research (Alterra) provides the fauna component for Aquafarm. It gathers knowledge on the possible roles played by aquatic macrofauna in the purification cascade. The first step in the research plan corresponding to the Aquafarm initiative will run for a year and comprises a literature study into the functional characteristics of aquatic macrofauna in relation to the conversion of organic material. Experiments are being conducted in the field and laboratory in order to quantify the growth and conversion capacity of the selected fauna. Together with Radboud University in Nijmegen, we will be setting up a small-scale test arrangement to support our proof of principle study.
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