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Risk CDT - Food Resilience by Aquaponics

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  • Full or part time
    Dr I Young
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Project Description


This is a project within the multi-disciplinary EPSRC and ESRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) on Quantification and Management of Risk & Uncertainty in Complex Systems & Environments, within the Institute for Risk and Uncertainty. The studentship is granted for 4 years and includes, in the first year, a Master in Decision Making under Risk & Uncertainty. The project includes extensive collaboration with prime industry to build an optimal basis for employability.

This project is about boosting a soil­-free intensive agriculture method at the domestic and community level, reducing transport-­related carbon emissions and promoting resilience in face of supply chain interruptions. The method is aquaponics​: low ­impact, high­ density agriculture that has a recognised potential to increase food sustainability, according to the UN’s FAO and others (Somerville et al. 2014; Kotzen 2013; Goddek et al. 2015; Cunningham and Kotzen 2015). By combining elements of aquaculture and hydroponics, aquaponics offers reduced input requirements and waste disposal load in comparison to each, while still providing high volume fish and vegetable outputs. Operations can be tailored to diverse environments, including arid, urban and soil­ polluted areas. Recirculation and biofiltration of water reduces the load on agricultural water sources (in contrast to both hydroponics and soil­based growing). Hydro-­agriculture can reduce the load on soil, and inland aquaculture can reduce load on sea fisheries. Several factors create barriers to entry: Expertise; the method relies on a continuously balanced multi­-element ecosystem and requires a combination of technical and agricultural skills that are not widespread. Setup costs; energy usage. These are of the order of aquaculture and hydroponics systems, i.e. significantly higher than soil­-based growing. We propose to lower these barriers by technical innovations and social interventions. To reduce the skills barrier and reduce costs, we will provide open source measurement and control electronics to domestic and small-scale users. The data collected will be aggregated and shared in a community of practice – generating knowledge in this emerging technology. We will also engage schools via events and providing systems and lesson elements.

PROGRAMME: Automation of sensing, monitoring and control,​ exploiting new generation embedded computation (Internet of Things), single­ board computers (Raspberry Pi) and microcontrollers (ESP8266 Arduino successor). We will collect data on temperatures, photo­active radiation, pH etc., and monitor water levels, energy use, crop types and volumes. We will utilize aggregated data to answer questions like: will lamb’s lettuce grow in Liverpool in winter with no extra lighting? What sustainable fish feed combinations work for trout? We will use crowd-funding to instigate many back garden greenhouse systems. (Our Sheffield Colleagues ran a Kickstarter last year that funded a Pi add­ on board.) This is a shortcut to high visibility and rapid bootstrapping of communities of users and developers.

We already have several education projects running in Liverpool and with our partner organisations in Sheffield and Todmorden from classroom scale aquaponics projects to regional projects with our partner​. This project will plug into our large scale funding effort leveraging R&D (RCUK/InnovateUK and EU funding (ERDF, H2020 and EMFF)

Funding Notes

The PhD Studentship (Tuition fees + stipend of £ 14,296 annually over 4 years) is available for Home/EU students. In addition, a budget for use in own responsibility will be provided.


Cunningham, H., and B. Kotzen. 2015. “Meet the Sustainable Vegetables That Thrive on a Diet of Fish Poo.” The Conversation.

Goddek, Simon, Boris Delaide, Utra Mankasingh, Kristin Ragnarsdottir, Haissam Jijakli, and Ragnheidur Thorarinsdottir. 2015. “Challenges of Sustainable and Commercial Aquaponics.” Sustainability: Science Practice and Policy 7 (4). Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute.

Kotzen, B. 2013. “Memorandum of Understanding for the Implementation of a European Concerted Research Action Designated as COST Action FA1305: The EU Aquaponics Hub: Realising Sustainable Integrated Fish and Vegetable Production for the EU.” COST Cooperation in Science and Technology.

Somerville, Christopher, Moti Cohen, Edoardo Pantanella, Austin Stankus, and Alessandro Lovatelli. 2014. Small­Scale Aquaponic Food Production: Integrated Fish and Plant Farming. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 589. FAO

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