Bringing blue food production to the Midwest

Purdue University has received a five-year, $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to increase the production of seafood, also known as blue food. Studies show that eating seafood can boost intake of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals while also reducing more harmful substances such as cholesterol and saturated fat.

While seafood is readily available in local grocery stores, most of it is imported. U.S. fisheries are not sustainable because of overfishing concerns, says Jen-Yi Huang, project director and associate professor of food science.

Aquaponics, which combines aquaculture (growing aquatic organisms under controlled conditions) and hydroponics (growing plants in water), offers the advantage of intensively producing seafood and plants using less land and water than conventional food production.

With the USDA funding, Purdue researchers will build a pilot-scale integrated aquaponics system on campus to produce tilapia and lettuce. The system will direct the aquaponics wastewater discharge into algal bioreactors, where algae can feed on its nutrients. The next step is anaerobic digestion, which generates biogas fuel. The system also includes a biorefinery subsystem to convert algae and fish byproducts into ingredients for high-value products.

The research team, which includes faculty from several College of Agriculture departments and the College of Engineering, will also survey farmers and suppliers about the barriers and opportunities for aquaponics, and develop workshops to help interested farmers build systems or improve existing operations.

Banner Photo: Bob Rode, left, manager of the Aquaculture Research Lab, and technician Ian Kovacs tend to tilapia raised in the facility.