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The ‘Green water’ biorreactor

I share here some thoughs about the paper we have just published describing the bioreactor we have developed at the NRCI, which produces zooplankton using sunlight and air with zero effluents.

By Alfonso Prado-Cabrero, PhD

The ‘green water’ bioreactor

Conceived to produce lutein as an alternative to the marigold flower, the bioreactor we have described in Scientific Reports has proven to have the potential to alleviate many of the problems that plague us as a society. It took us a long time to understand that the product of this bioreactor was much more than oil rich in fancy molecules for human health. And even longer to begin to glimpse the mechanism that has made it viable. We assume that the rich microbiological diversity that it harbours is the support for its chemical stability. Still, we have not yet clarified why it needs two differentiated phases.

The point is that this bioreactor concept can be scaled up. However, the microalgae growth in both phases must be artificially illuminated efficiently and cost-effectively. The zooplankton must also be supported at depths of a minimum of two meters. Once these challenges are overcome, we will be talking about something serious and tangible.

I will be called crazy if I say that it is possible to contribute significantly to feeding farmed fish with this method. But not only larvae and fry, also adults. The productivity of the bioreactor is higher than that of the soybean crop. It is a question of whether the value of the essential amino acids, astaxanthin, EPA and DHA of the zooplankton produced exceeds the production costs. Personally, I think it is worth the effort to try if what is achieved is to alleviate the fishing pressure and the deforestation carried out to obtain the raw materials used to produce feed for farmed fish nowadays: fish and soybean oil and meal.

Alfonso Prado-Cabrero is a research fellow at Nutrition Research Centre Ireland, Waterford Institute of Technology. He is specialised in molecular biology, biotechnology, genetics, carotenoids and fatty acids.