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Development of an automated innovative system for continuous live feed production in aquaculture hatchery units

Final Report Summary - ALFA (Development of an automated innovative system for continuous live feed production in aquaculture hatchery units)

Live food production in intensive fish hatcheries is comprised by repetitive tasks that could be performed using specialised automatic equipment. On the contrary, the exploitation of manpower for such tasks could result in human errors, differences in methodology and poor performance of the unit. Such problems might affect the productivity of the hatchery with respect to both quantity and quality of live feed and fry.

The ALFA project developed two innovative fully automated systems for the continuous production of microalgae which would serve as live feed in aquaculture hatcheries. A large bore coil pipe system that used solar light energy, suitable for exploitation in southern Europe, and a large bore tube system using artificial light for northern European hatcheries were designed, constructed and evaluated. The photobioreactors were automatically controlled to ensure optimal microclimatic and nutritional conditions for the stable growth of algae by using illumination and controlling the temperature, nutrient content, pH and carbon dioxide (CO2) water concentration.

A novel optical algal density monitoring system based on colour image analysis techniques was also developed for the continuous assessment of algal density and the control of quality and growth rate of the culture. The production system was linked to existing rotifer production systems and to an innovative Continuous rotifer production system (CROPS) that was conceptualised during the project course. In addition, an automatic harvesting distribution system for the effective management of continuous algae production was designed, so that the produced food quantities could either meet the demand or be stored for future exploitation. Finally, a preservation and storage trial was undertaken to assess the viability and quality of algae during storage.

In order to achieve ALFA objectives a baseline case model was developed for the current hatchery operation, against which to compare any proposed technological modifications. A model was also built for the evaluation of the optimal exploitation process of the new technology. Two full scale photobioreactors were designed, built and operated to determine the capital and operational costs and productivity. Moreover, four alternatives for the Continuous algae production (CAP), with particular reference to materials and structure, energy saving, reliability and quality of the output were analysed. Each prototype had different characteristics and production efficiency in order to determine the most promising option for further refinement. The proposed CROPS design was based on an extensive review of existing technologies. Finally, two full scale complete systems were constructed and tested in different locations, namely Greece and Norway, to evaluate the instruments' performance and adapt the technology to local conditions and requirements. The obtained data were analysed and compared via a stochastic simulation model.

The project was anticipated to result in the following improvements in the aquaculture sector:
1. reduction in repetitive work and required labour;
2. reduction of production costs;
3. improvements in the units' hygiene;
4. increase of the sectoral reliability.

Given the importance of these potential impacts and the successful accomplishment of ALFA targets, a strategy was formulated and implemented to allow for the dissemination of the findings and the exploitation of patentable innovations.