Global Demands for Fish Farming Lures Power Industry to Pilot New Businesses

November 01, 1996

Palo Alto, Calif. -- November 1, 1996 -- The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the R&D arm of the electricity industry, is developing new opportunities using electric-based technologies, including using waste heat from power plants, to support a rapidly growing aquaculture industry.

According to a recent EPRI study, aquaculture or fish farming is the fastest growing sector of U.S. agriculture. The nation currently imports over $9 billion worth of seafood annually.

Worldwide, natural fisheries are in decline from overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and other problems. It is estimated that aquaculture must increase seven times over the next 35 years in order to keep up with the demand from a growing population. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, 665 million pounds of farmed fish were sold in 1994. At this time, production from U.S. fish farms accounts for only 3% of the total global market.

"U.S. agriculture, which is facing serious challenges that threaten to move some food production to other countries, sees electrotechnology-based aquaculture as a potential means of boosting its business," said Myron Jones, manager of EPRI1s agricultural research.

Deregulation may also help spur the use of underutilitized utility land and waste heat for diversified business ventures such as aquaculture, which is being looked at seriously by a variety of power producers such as Consumers Power in Michigan, New York State Electric & Gas Corporation, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Southern California Edison (SCE) is another utility examining the buffer land around its generating stations for such potential. "The idea is to surround a power station with an apron of industries that are somehow dependent on the plant," said John Palmer, a research project manager at SCE. "That way, you1re making the best use of the available resources."

"It's a great concept," said Jim Selby, business development coordinator for Basin Electric Power Cooperative in North Dakota. "Rather than blowing our power plant heat into the air and wasting it, we can channel it over to the fish farm where it is put to productive use." The resulting yield of fish supplies processors in New York and Chicago, even in the off-season.

EPRI's Agricultural Technology Alliance, a consortium of electric utilities and the farming industry, is developing easily-replicated aquaculture modules that can be used throughout the industry. One advance includes a highly efficient water recirculation system, eliminating the need for a large water supply and allowing aquaculture systems just about anywhere, from urban warehouses to remote rural locations. Many requests have come from farmers looking for ways to grow fish in unused barns.

Self-contained recirculating systems, unlike traditional pond or other existing aquaculture systems, use automatic feeders and air blowers to provide the right amount of food and air for the fish in the system. Wastewater flows through biological filters to keep it ultra clean.

"While a nonrecirculating system typically produces 3,000 pounds of catfish per acre, a recirculating system yields 100,000 pounds per acre," said Jones. "We will closely evaluate optimal growing conditions, operations and maintenance requirements, costs, and expected returns on investment," he added. Recirculating aquaculture systems can employ a multitude of advanced electrotechnologies including ozonation for water disinfection, computer-related controls, and energy-efficient lighting.

If successful, the demonstration of recirculating systems could set a standard for aquasystem design that would enable mass production of fish to meet substantially growing demands.

EPRI, established in 1973 and headquartered in Palo Alto, California, manages science and technology R&D for the electricity industry. More than 700 utilities are members of the Institute, which has an annual budget of some $500 million.

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Electric Power Research Institute

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