From aquaponics to multi-aquaponics with 12 modules in the productive biotope

With multiaquaponics (or multiponics), aquaponik manufaktur GmbH is pursuing a new approach that combines aquaponics with other cultures that are useful in the system. These cultures can serve synergies in the overall system and/or diversified production.

Just as aquaponics itself is derived from nature, the selection or combination of the modules in multi-aquaponics also corresponds to the model of natural biotopes. It is always about working together with nature and not against it, as has usually been the case in conventional agriculture, where the crop has to be protected with chemical agents or fertilized. The system contains both cultures that produce nutrients through their excreta (producers) and consumers, such as plant cultures, that absorb these nutrients. One of the decisive factors for this development was our participation in the research project CLOSE THE LOOP, which also included numerous modules beyond aquaponics.

The natural and the productive biotope

But what is a biotope anyway? And what does a productive biotope stand for? At this point there is a big difference between the natural and the productive biotope. In the natural biotope, all animal and plant species are mixed and directly connected to each other, for example through the water in the pond, river or lake. The difference to the natural biotope and the productive biotope in the form of multi-aquaponics is that the different cultures are divided between the modules that are optimized for production. They allow easy stocking, the development of cultures in a protected and controlled environment. Furthermore, the cultures can be easily removed and the containers can also be easily cleaned.

From aquaponics to multi-aquaponics with other useful cultures

In addition to fish, vegetables and salad, aquaponics also produces other substances such as sewage sludge, process water and plant parts (from root and green cuttings). These materials can also be useful within the system. For example, sewage sludge can be liquefied by a Dendrobena worm culture. The worms metabolize the sludge together with the plant residues, whereby the anaerobic processes in the worm metabolism make even more nutrients available for the plants via the "worm tea". Dewworms are therefore another welcome culture, which in turn can also serve as natural food for chickens. In this way, the individual participants add further advantages to the multi-aquaponics system and generate further synergies in the system.

This holistic approach takes into account that in future the feed cultures can also be produced within the multi-aquaponic system. The effort for further cultures is low, since the biological material cycle is already in place. However, this only applies to modules that can be connected to the previously existing material cycles via the process water.

What creates the synergies?

Based on the model of the real biotope, the individual modules supplement the aquaponics with other organisms typical of the biotope, which, for example, further process intermediate products, refine them or represent an alternative target culture. 

Prof. Harry W. Palm has already shown that combining a RAS system for African catfish (Clarias gariepinus) with a hydroponic system containing basil (Ocimum basilicum) increases animal welfare and productivity in multitrophic cultivation systems. [1.]

The principle of IMTA (integrated multitrophic aquaculture) and FIMTA (freshwater-integrated multitrophic aquaculture) also underlines the synergies between the cultures. Chopin shows that IMTA creates “balanced systems for environmental remediation (biomitigation), economic stability (improved output, lower costs, product diversification and risk reduction) and social acceptability (better management practices)” [2.]. Neori and Chopin also note that "IMTA can synergistically increase overall yield even when some of the plants are yielding less than they would in a short-term monoculture." [3.]

The combination of different beneficial cultures into a productive biotope also fulfills the requirements of the term "multisolving" by tackling several complex problems in one step. Elizabeth Sawin, PhD, Founder and Director of the Multisolving Institute ( describes multisolving as “win-win-win solutions that address climate change issues while improving health, wellbeing, and economic vitality.” In the case of multi-aquaponics, the many synergies increase the sustainability of the overall system [4.]

Module design, module groups and technological readiness levels

The design of the respective modules is based on the current technical status in the different technology readiness levels (TLR). All bases and data for the calculation come from current research. The technology maturity level of the module group aquaponics (aquaculture and hydroponics) is 9 (qualified system with proof of successful use).

However, the TRL unit of measurement, which is correct from the scientific point of view, does not refer to the complexity of the implementation. For example, soilless plant cultivation has already been extensively researched in all the different cultivation methods. It doesn't matter whether it's a matter of simple solutions or modern, largely automated systems. The unit of measure refers to the maturity of the respective technology or solution.

Described specifically, these are essentially containers that are in the bright or darkened part of the greenhouse. Depending on the requirements, the modules can also be completely separate (e.g. chicken culture) or use rooms together (e.g. zooplankton and algae). Depending on the module, lines may lead to other modules, combined with the necessary modules for water treatment.

[1.] Baßmann, B, M.; Palm, H.W. (2017). Stress and welfare of African catfish (Clarias gariepinus Burchell, 1822) in a coupled aquaponic system. Water 9 (7), 504. Yildiz, H.Y., Robaina, L., Pirhonen, J., Mente, E., Dominguez, D., & Parisi, G. (2017). Fish Welfare in Aquaponics Systems: Its Relation to Water Quality with an Emphasis on Feed an Faeces – A Review. Water, 9 (1), 13. Paper auf ResearchGate

[2.] Chopin T; Buschmann A.H.; Halling C.; Troell M.; Kautsky N.; Neori A.; Kraemer G.P.; Zertuche-Gonzalez J.A.; Yarish C.; Neefus C. (2001). „Integrating seaweeds into marine aquaculture systems: a key toward sustainability“. 37. Journal of Phycology: 975–986. Paper auf ResearchGate

[3.] Neori A, Chopin T, Troell M, Buschmann AH, Kraemer GP, Halling C, Shpigel M and Yarish C. 2004. Integrated aquaculture: rationale, evolution and state of the art emphasizing seaweed biofiltration in modern mariculture. Aquaculture 231: 361-391. Link to the paper on ScienceDirect

[4.] Official webpage of the Multisolving Institute
Page about PhD Director Elizabeth Sawin

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