New technology for seafood production in exposed marine areas could quadruple the output of the Scottish aquaculture sector and generate an additional £4.200 million (€ 4.871 million / $5.146 million). The company Impact-9 has led a pioneering R&D project proposing to double offshore wind turbine sites as salmon farms. Closer and closer to becoming a commercial reality, the Net9 system is a submersible floating structure that takes advantage of the ecosystem and natural conditions of the ocean. This breakthrough is the end of the last phase of the Inflatable Marine Products for Aquaculture Containment Technology (IMPACT) project.
The position of wind turbines is often determined by currents, water depth, and the need to avoid shipping lanes, all factors that would also influence the suitability of a site for offshore aquaculture. Impact-9 has identified an opportunity to use its new technology, called Net9, in existing or planned offshore wind energy zones. A small portion of these zones – about 12 x 12 km – would be sufficient to accommodate 280 pens.
The Impact-9 system uses a flexible structure designed to move with the waves and weather any storm. Thus, by not fighting the water, the potential stress on the fish in the cage is reduced. "The most exciting part of this phase of work was to see the positive cross-over between fish welfare and structural engineering. The potential for stormy weather is of course unavoidable in these environments, but the design of the system allows the net and the fish contained in it to move together with much more flexibility than a rigid structure", said John Fitzgerald, CEO of Impact-9.
Once implemented on a large scale, with oxygen-rich water and conditions that mimic those in nature and help the fish to thrive, a single Net9 pen could produce up to 2,500 tons of salmon per year. With an estimated turnover of £15 million (€17.39 million / $18.36 million) per pen and based on average market prices set by Fishpool, 280 pens could generate an additional £4.200 million (€ 4.871 million / $5.146 million) quadrupling Scottish production.
"A move further offshore can pave the way for a new sustainable seafood industry of scale, worth billions of pounds in the UK alone", claimed the CEO of Impact-9. "The economic potential is similar to that of offshore wind, however, it will occupy a relatively small amount of ocean real estate and could fit in with existing and planned offshore wind turbine arrays", he added.
According to John Fitzgerald, just as lithium-ion batteries are the key to green transportation, flexible and intelligent structural elements, such as those used in Net9, will enable offshore seafood production. The research team plans to start building a unit suitable for technical demonstrations at the European Marine Energy Center (EMEC) in Orkney next year. This facility will allow interested producers to see a model of the system in operation.
The process is similar to the development of offshore renewable systems, and Impact-9 has relied on the industry expertise of Tension Technology International (TTI) to help it manage the risk of adopting its novel structures in the Net9 application. "This is part of a systematic engineering approach to address technical novelty and undergo carefully managed tests to qualify that new features will perform as desired", said Tom Mackay, engineering manager at TTI.
As said, this breakthrough marks the end of the last phase of the IMPACT (Inflatable Marine Products for Aquaculture Containment Technology) project. Funded with £200,000 (€232,319 / $245,171) and funded by the UK's Seafood Innovation Fund (SIF) – an organization that supports new ideas that bring cutting-edge technology and innovation to the UK's fisheries, aquaculture, and seafood sectors -, the project has also received additional support from the Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC).
In addition, engineers from Tension Technology International (TTI) and blue economy project developer Simply Blue Group have also been involved in the project development work, looking at regulatory and fish health and welfare issues, as well as the cost challenges associated with introducing aquaculture into open ocean environments.