Prospects and challenges of aquaponics in Malaysia

Prof. Li Chunjie from Shanghai Jiao Tong University delivered a Public Lecture in UTM Johor Bahru on 26 August 2019. The title of his presentation was “Prospects and Challenges of Aquaponics for the Sustainable Development of Food Production in Urban Smart Farming”.

Prof Li presented the history and state-of the-art development of aquaponics applicable in modern society. Aquaponics is a land-based system that combines the recirculating aquaculture system with hydroponics. It has been greatly developed as a promising approach for industrialised food production to meet the increased food demand in modern society. The metabolised products from the residual fish feed and excreta in the aquaculture effluent could be converted to nutrients through microbial degradation. The nutrients could be circulated to the agricultural land and uptaken by the plants in the hydroponics section. The effluent (wastewater with fish excreta) of hydroponics section is treated, recycled and reused as clean water source in the fish tank.

He explained that the integrated aquaculture systems date back to the early development of aquaculture in China about 2,000 years ago using fish waste as fertilizer for crops is an ancient practice. Mulberry sericulture (sang ji) fish pond, representing the basic concept of aquaponics, appeared in the Pearl River Delta in China during the late Ming Dynasty.

Due to the lack of land in modern society, it is difficult to sustain the ecosystem achieved by the old mulberry fish pond system. Innovative technology is needed to overcome the issues in the urban area.

The lecture highlighted a few common designs of the aquaponic including the home-based, factory-based and building-based systems.  Prof Li revealed that the major challenge of the system is to enhance the efficiency of the wastewater treatment and nutrient recovery from the fish sludge and to recycle sufficient nutrient for the plants. Currently, his team develops a novel aquaponic system integrated with an efficient biological aerated filtration (BAF) system. A multiple-level ecological loop model was developed to optimise the nutrient recovery and wastewater treatment.

The lecture was attended by more than 70 attendees, including the international students from Japan, China and Korea who attended UTM Summer School, UTM staff and students and representatives from the industry and enterprise. A few queries were raised concerning the cost and potential challenges to implement aquaponics system in Malaysia. Prof Li shared the successful industrial-scale aquaponics systems established in  Shanghai.

Prof Li Chunjie, from SJTU, China delivering his speech

Group photo in UTM Senate Hall

The public lecture was followed by a sharing session to secure China’s Belt and Road research grant. Prof. Dr. Haslenda Hashim, the Dean of Research Alliance in Resource Sustainability, has secured the China’s Belt and Road International Research Grant in 2018. A good track record of collaboration such as co-supervision of postgraduate students and student exchanges over 2 years laid a strong foundation to secure the grant.

SJTU and UTM signed a Letter of Cooperation since 2017, on-going staff and student exchanges have taken place since 2017. The major research areas cover nutrient recycling from organic waste (aquaponics and composting), and modelling and optimisation of integrated energy system.

Briefing on the first “One Belt, One Road” SJTU-UTM cooperation and exchange activities by the recipient, Prof Dr. Haslenda Hashim (left), the Dean of UTM Research Alliance in Resource Sustainability and Prof Li Chunjie from SJTU

Prof Li also met Prof. Datuk Dr. Ahmad Fauzi Ismail, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, to discuss on the future collaboration of both universities. They both share the same research interest on advanced membrane technologies for wastewater treatment.

Prof Li met Prof. Datuk Dr. Ahmad Fauzi Ismail, UTM Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation

Prof Li Chunjie and SJTU Senior Researcher, Dr. Gao Yueshu led a group of 10 SJTU students to attend the two-week SJTU’s Global Challenge Program in UTM from 12th to 26th August 2019.

Source: Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (Chew Tin Lee)

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