Icelandic Saga - study visit Innoaquatech

InnoAquaTech study visit to Iceland – the island of volcano, rain, fish and microalgae

In the end of March, project partners of the InnoAquaTech project invited SMEs from the South Baltic Region to join them on their study visit to Iceland, a place which is famous for a strong entrepreneurship and sustainable approaches, including aquaculture.

On 21st of March, the group of 16 people came together in Reykjavik to start their journey around the south-eastern-part of the Island. From the very first moment, Iceland appeared to be one hot piece of rock, which makes best use of its almost unlimited heat supply to power all kinds of industries. This sophisticated technology has been brought to perfection by geothermal power plants, such as the Hellisheiði Power Plant and HS Orka, which are contributing to the renewable power supply which covers more than 85% of the total primary energy consumption in Iceland.

Despite the wide landscape with extensive space and a low population density, the country lags in common agriculture to produce crops, vegetables and fruits. Hence, there is a specific need for innovative solutions in food production e.g. greenhouse cultivation combined with sustainable energy supply. In this context, aquaponics appears to be a promising compromise in producing both, fish and vegetables within a greenhouse environment. This was also the assumption of funders of the young aquaponics company SAMRÆKT, an Icelandic name that means “to grow together” – in this case: fish and plants, but also aquaponics technology itself, geothermal and hydro power technology  and knowledge on best practice. The company cultivates Tilapia and uses the nutrient rich waste water to grow vegetables and spice. The purpose of this facility is not only to produce food for the regional municipalities, but also to offer educational tours for groups and by that to rise the awareness among consumers for sustainable products and environmentally friendly agriculture.

Circular economy and reuse of biomass in a sustainable way is also part of Iceland’s large-scale aquaculture industry. The Stolt Sea Farm owned by Stolt-Nielsen Limited, located in the south-east of Iceland produces 800 t of sole per year. The fingerlings are coming from Spain, but everything else is Icelandic. The energy derives from the nearby geothermal power plant, which is also the supplier of temperature-stable sea water of 20°C. This water has been filtered by volcanic sediment and can be seen as completely pathogen-free. While this is not a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS), because waste water is filtered and flushed into the Atlantic, the loop is somehow closed regarding the reused sewage from the power plant, which takes the water from the sea. A similar system with a high annual production capacity of 1.200 t is used by the nearby Arctic charr farm called Matorka. It has been founded in 2010 and will bring their first 4 kg fish to the market in 2019. Both examples show that there is no high demand for RAS technology in Iceland’s fish production sector regarding the almost limitless supply of clean sea, rain and spring water. This is not only used to produce fish, but also electricity. The family owned Arctic charr farm ‘Fagridalur’ is the result of the diversification process of a former sheep farm with access to free energy. A fresh water spring on their property powers a hydroelectric power station and in addition the home of the family.

However, the Icelandic fish aquaculture itself is more a side effect of the fisheries industry. It comes in hand with a huge biomass of slaughter waste, a valuable resource for fish feed and the basis to establish aquaculture for high value carnivorous fish such as sole and Arctic charr.

Besides fish, Icelandic aquaculture has a growing sector for microalgae production – or to be more specific: Astaxanthin production. This superfood, known for its antioxidant power, is associated with various positive effects on human health like reducing the risk for chronical heart diseases, improving eye condition and the pigment’s ability to act as natural sun/UV blocker. The two Icelandic companies AlgaLife and KeyNatura are focusing on the species Haematococcus pluvialis, by using two different cultivation methods. The common and well-proven tube-based photobioreactor of Algalife is running without daylight, but with large high-performance LED-panels in two spectrums – one for biomass growth and one for astaxanthin enrichment. The young start-up KeyNatura has an equivalent approach, but in this case the LED-panels are submerged in big cultivation tanks, allowing to produce in a high volume in limited space. So far, both companies are shipping their products into the US, but they are aiming to supply the European market within the upcoming years.

Microalgae is also subject to human and animal nutrition studies of the research institute Matís. The institute is specialized in fields including genetic analysis, chemical and microbiological testing, quality and safety of marine catches and feed technology for aquaculture. They have taken part in research projects such as ProffAqua (black soldier fly for fish feed) and SYLFEED (single cell feed as protein replacement) and are always looking for new opportunities to collaborate with other institutions in this field.

On behalf of the InnoAquaTech project, this study visit was a great success bringing together stakeholders from the South Baltic Region, which benefit from insights into the industry of a hidden place in Europe, that is rapidly emerging to become a big player in European aquaculture.


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