Students offer design and optimal operations for facility
A 30,000-square-foot aquaponics operation in Kenosha, Wisconsin is closer to realizing its full potential, thanks in part to a dedicated and diverse team of senior design students. Austin Campbell, Justin Johnson, Pawan Panwar, Teresa Schneider, Michael Wiznitzer and Cassandra Wright devoted their capstone project to designing and optimizing operations at 1st Street Aquaponics.
“This project combined everything we were looking for in senior design,” said Campbell, project manager. “We wanted to help a local business improve its competitiveness and we were interested in working with renewables and alternative energy supplies.”
A relatively new business, when students made their initial visit to 1st Street Aquaponics (then called Natural Green Farms) at the end of the 2016 Spring Quarter it was still in the final stages of construction. “There were no fish or lettuce and none of the equipment was running,” Campbell said. “As we talked with the farmers about the amounts of food that would be grown within the building, it was clear to see that the facility had amazing potential.”
Although the operation produced 7,500 pounds of tilapia for the wholesale market by the time students graduated, while they worked on their senior project they were dealing mainly in the theoretical. “Our goal was to improve the profitability of the operation and reduce its environmental impact by decreasing its energy requirements,” said Campbell. “While doing that, we also had to maintain conditions that are optimal for fish and lettuce production.”
The project team synthesized and modeled multiple designs and alternatives. Each design was evaluated according to their return on investment, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and ability to increase fish and plant production. Design concepts that were explored include integrating renewable energy technologies into the energy supply systems. Each student focused on a specific area, then at the conclusion of the project they put their individual pieces together to create a comprehensive picture.
Schneider honed in on the facility’s boilers. “I made sure that the boiler would be sufficient for the needs of 1st Street Aquaponics when it is running at full capacity. I also analyzed the feasibility of purchasing a solar voltaic array.”
Panwar worked on atmospheric control, which included water and air quality, humidity and temperature. “Integrating the atmospheric control of the system to productivity, boilers, blowers, and various sources of energy was challenging,” he said. “We visited the site multiple times for data collection.”
Wiznitzer focused on the blowers, which are responsible for moving the carbon dioxide-rich air from the fish tanks to the lettuce troughs. “One caveat was that the blowers weren’t currently being used because the facility had not yet started growing the plants, so all calculations had to be theoretical,” Wiznitzer said.
Wright was charged with the lighting and heat transfer, also investigating if solar thermal as a source of heat was a viable option for the facility. “The most challenging part of the project has been the unknowns,” she said.
After completing their individual parts of the project, students worked to integrate their findings in a master model of the aquaponics system. “Our ultimate objective was to create a Simulink model for the entire facility,” said Johnson, who analyzed the air compressor and air storage tank and investigated the potential use of an electrolysis.
As the project – and the business – progressed, students made several visits to the facility to update their information and discuss new and ongoing business concerns. When students were finished, they delivered 1st Street Aquaponics co-owner Krista Reck a 300-page document that contained an inventory of the facility and a catalog of ideas. Reck described the document as “beautiful.”
“We were at a point where we were 90 percent done with 90 percent to go,” said Reck. “The students came in with a great problem-solving attitude. I give them a lot of credit. It was a very positive experience and I will use the information they have provided going forward.”