New technology resulting from a pioneering research and development project led by Irish company Impact-9 could lead to huge growth in seafood production at exposed offshore sites. According to the company, the offshore wind turbines could also be used as salmon farms and generate more than GBP 4.2 billion (about USD 5.2 billion) in turnover for Scotland’s aquaculture sector, quadrupling its current production.
Impact-9’s Net9 System is a submersible, floating structure that utilizes the ecosystem and natural conditions of the ocean, and is one step closer to becoming a commercial reality, with a proven design concept now ready to be tested at scale.
As reported from Impact-9, once built on a large scale, a single Net9 pen could produce up to 2,500 tons of salmon per year, with oxygen-rich waters and conditions that mimic nature helping the fish to thrive.
Start-up company Impact-9 identified an opportunity to use the new technology within existing and planned offshore wind energy zones, where a small portion of the zones – around 12 x 12 km – would be enough to accommodate 280 pens and quadruple Scottish production.
A GBP 200,000 funded project
This breakthrough marks the end of the last phase of the GBP 200,000 Inflatable Marine Inflatable Containment Technology for Aquaculture (IMPACT) project, which was funded by the UK Seafood Innovation Fund (SIF) with additional support from the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC).
Importantly, the SIF supports new ideas to deliver cutting-edge technology and innovation to the UK’s fisheries, aquaculture and fishing industries.
Administered by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the program encourages sustainable and innovative ideas to achieve seafood safety, new partnerships between the seafood and technology sectors, and to contribute to sound evidence-based management.
Engineers from Tension Technology International (TTI), and blue economy project developer Simply Blue Group, also participated in the development, looking at regulatory issues, fish health and welfare, as well as the cost challenges associated with bringing aquaculture to open ocean environments.
Factors influencing the location of wind turbines.
The position of wind turbines is generally determined by water depths, currents and the need to avoid shipping lanes, which are also factors that would influence the suitability of a location for offshore aquaculture.
“A move further offshore could pave the way for a new sustainable aquaculture industry of scale, worth billions of pounds in the UK alone. The economic potential is similar to offshore wind; however, it will occupy a relatively small amount of ocean area and could fit in with existing and planned offshore wind turbine arrays,” said John Fitzgerald, CEO of Impact-9.
“In the same way that lithium-ion batteries are the key to green transportation, we believe that smart flexible structural elements such as those used in Net9 will be the enabler for offshore seafood production,” the company’s representant explained.
A structure that can weather any storm
Impact-9’s system uses a flexible structure that is designed to move with the waves and weather any storm, rather than fight the water, reducing potential stress on the fish.
“The most exciting part of this phase of work was seeing the positive crossover between fish welfare and structural engineering. The potential for storm surge is, of course, inevitable in these environments, but the design of the system allows the net and the fish contained within it to move together with much more flexibility than a rigid structure,” Fitzgerald detailed.
Technical demonstration in 2023
Next year, the research team plans to start building a unit suitable for technical demonstration at the European Marine Energy Center (EMEC) in Orkney, which will also give interested producers the opportunity to see a model of the system in operation.
For his part, Tom Mackay, TTI’s engineering manager, said, “This is part of a systematic engineering approach to address technical novelty and undergo carefully managed testing to qualify that the new features will work as intended. The process is similar to the development of offshore renewable systems, and we have brought experience from that sector to help Impact-9 manage the risk of adopting their new structures in the Net9 application.”