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Food Resilience by Aquaponics: solving the technical challenges related to promoting soil-free intensive agriculture at the domestic and community level

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  • Full or part time
    Dr I S Young
    Dr A M Mortimer
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
    Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

Project Description

This project is about solving the technical challenges related to promoting soil-free intensive agriculture at the domestic and community level, reducing transport­ related carbon emissions and delivering food resilience. The method is aquaponics: low­-impact, high-­density agriculture that has a recognised potential to increase food sustainability). By combining elements of aquaculture and hydroponics, aquaponics offers reduced input requirements and waste disposal load in comparison to each individually, 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 soil­-based growing). Hydro-­agriculture reduces the load on soil, and inland aquaculture can reduce the load on sea fisheries. Access to technology is a key barrier to entry; the method relies on a continuously balanced multi-element ecosystem and requires a combination of technical and agricultural inputs. We propose to lower these barriers by technical innovation and social interventions.

The PhD project will yield open source measurement and control electronics for 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.

This PhD project will involve automation of sensing, monitoring and control, exploiting new generation embedded computation (Internet of Things), single­board computers and microcontrollers. We will collect environmental data, log energy use, crop types and volumes and utilize this aggregated data to answer questions such as: will specific cultivars of lettuce grow in Liverpool in winter with no additional lighting? What sustainable fish feed combinations work for trout?

This PhD project will provide training in:
• Collation, analysis, interpretation and use of (multivariate analysis) of environmental data, energy use, crop types and outputs.
• Design and optimization of aquaponics systems.
• Training in (engineering and development or high-level use of) electronics for automation of sensing, monitoring and control with single­board computers and microcontrollers (e.g, arduino family).
• Development of new generation embedded computation (Internet of Things).
• Training in the development of cloud resources for a community of practice (Aquaponics).
• Training and involvement in outreach to schools, community groups.
• Knowledge exchange with small businesses and civic authorities.
• Project management training with commercial partners.
• Entrepreneurship and enterprise training with commercial partners.

Funding Notes

The Institute of Integrative Biology offers competitive IIB International Scholarships. These cover tuition and research fees and a one-off sum of £1000 will be provided on commencement of studies but students must provide all their living costs for the duration of their studies.

Applicants must be able to commence studies 1 October 2017.

All applications must be made before 26 May 2017 using the University of Liverpool on-line system at https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/study/postgraduate-research/how-to-apply/ for Full Time PhD Biological Sciences for term 2017-18.
Interviews will be held during June with applicants notified of the outcome by 30 June 2017.


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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