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Production of sustainable food in aquacultures – without microplastics

Sustainable food production in aquacultures entirely without microplastics – that is the long-term goal of a new research project at Hof University of Applied Sciences that will run for two years. The scientists led by project manager Prof. Dr. Manuela Wimmer have now received funding of EUR 220,000 for “BioBioCarrier” from the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology and as part of the Central Innovation Program for SMEs (ZIM)

Aquaculture without microlastics is the goal of the “BioBioCarrier” project; Image: Hof University of Applied Sciences

Plastics in the food chain are a frequently discussed and increasingly pressing issue: not least through the consumption of fish, consumers today are absorbing increasing amounts of microplastics into their own bodies. The main culprits here are the large quantities of plastic waste now found in the world’s oceans, where they are broken down into tiny particles and ingested by marine animals. However, the problem of microplastics is not only found in the oceans, but also in freshwater – and this is precisely where the new research project comes in.

Avoiding microplastics

In pond farming or in large aquacultures, microplastics can in principle be eliminated much better due to the closed water systems. On the other hand, however, the human factor means that microplastics and macroplastics can still enter ponds or flow-through systems and from there find their way into the organisms of fish, useful plants or mussels. This risk is additionally amplified by various functional plastic components in the system itself.”

Prof. Dr. Manuela Wimmer, head of the BioBioCarrier research project

At least for closed aquacultures in the field of aquaponics, among others, i.e. the mixed culture of fish farming and crop cultivation without the use of soil, the scientists now want to develop a solution.

Degradable bioplastics for aquacultures

Dr. Harvey Harbach, research associate in the project, explains the project approach

Our research focus is on the so-called growing bodies of aquacultures. These visually resemble curlers and serve as a settlement area for useful bacteria in a filter. These bacteria are used to treat the water of the aquacultures and clean it of harmful substances. They convert ammonium and nitrite into the more harmless nitrate, which acts as a plant fertilizer. The problem so far is: these growth bodies are still made of conventional, petroleum-based plastic today.”

Dr. Harvey Harbach, Research Associate

The main goal of the “BioBioCarrier” project is therefore the production of biodegradable growth bodies made of biopolymers for biological water treatment without microplastics.

Growth bodies serve as settlement areas for bacteria in aquacultures; Image: Hof University of Applied Sciences;

Permanent fertilization effect

But it is not only the plastic particles that are harmful to the organism that are to be avoided in the future. The slow decomposition of the biodegradable growth bodies is accompanied by another positive effect: “When the growth bodies decompose, essential plant nutrients are continuously released into the water as part of the decomposition process, which are required by the cultivated crops for growth. This therefore results in automatic fertilization. As a result, no or significantly less fertilizer would have to be added manually,” says Prof. Dr. Manuela Wimmer.

Institutes work together

The project combines the expertise of two institutes at Hof University of Applied Sciences and is the first ever inter-institutional project at the Hof teaching and research institution: “The Institute for Applied Biopolymer Research (ibp) and the Institute for Water and Energy Management (iwe) will further develop a forward-looking technology in this project in an interdisciplinary and interdisciplinary manner. The replacement of petroleum-based plastics with bioplastics fits ideally into sustainable and resource-saving food production through aquaponics. Hof University of Applied Sciences is thus strengthening its profile as a green tech university,” said University President Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Jürgen Lehmann.

The BioBioCarrier project is being implemented in cooperation with the company Christian Stöhr GmbH & Co. Elektro- u. Kunststoffwaren KG from Marktrodach.

Rainer Krauß

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