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CAREER: Environmental Impacts of Closed Loop Food Production: Aquaponics as a Case Study


New food production technologies are needed to feed the increasing global population, which is predominantly expected to inhabit urban areas. One option is aquaponically produced protein and vegetables. Aquaponic food production (where seafood and plants are grown in a closed loop system) is an innovation in food production, particularly with respect to growing food in urban areas. The main goal of this CAREER project is to generate new insights on the sustainability of aquaponics as a food production technology, while engaging students, aquaponic producers, and the general public around the issue of food sustainability. This project will quantify the life-cycle sustainability impacts of shifting food production to aquaponics with respect to the relevant food, energy, and water systems. These insights are critical to evaluating sustainable food production technologies for a growing urban world population.<br/><br/>This project will 1) generate comprehensive data and new insight of the environmental and economic impact of aquaponics production at commercial scale across different plant and seafood species, 2) create new life cycle assessment impact categories specifically suited to aquatic food production systems, 3) optimize placement of aquaponic facilities, and 4) develop a new integrated model to be used by researchers and aquaponic facilities for determining their environmental and economic impacts of production. This work involves analysis across multiple scales, species, functional units, impact categories, and boundaries of aquaponic food production, in order to holistically determine the relative sustainability impacts of this novel food production system. This approach is targeted to result in fundamental new ways of conducting life cycle analysis and techno-economic assessment for these systems, which is critical for reducing the impact of future large-scale systems and avoiding potential unintended consequences or burden shifting as the technology is optimized and employed to feed a greater number of people with fewer resources.<br/><br/>This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Andrea Hicks
University of Wisconsin - Madison
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