AnnouncingFAO Manual on Aquaponics available now in resources!
FeaturesPricingSupportSign In

Chapter 2 Aquaponics: Closing the Cycle on Limited Water, Land and Nutrient Resources

5 months ago

10 min read

Alyssa Joyce, Simon Goddek, Benz Kotzen, and Sven Wuertz

Abstract Hydroponics initially developed in arid regions in response to freshwater shortages, while in areas with poor soil, it was viewed as an opportunity to increase productivity with fewer fertilizer inputs. In the 1950s, recirculating aquaculture also emerged in response to similar water limitations in arid regions in order to make better use of available water resources and better contain wastes. However, disposal of sludge from such systems remained problematic, thus leading to the advent of aquaponics, wherein the recycling of nutrients produced by fish as fertilizer for plants proved to be an innovative solution to waste discharge that also had economic advantages by producing a second marketable product. Aquaponics was also shown to be an adaptable and cost-effective technology given that farms could be situated in areas that are otherwise unsuitable for agriculture, for instance, on rooftops and on unused, derelict factory sites. A wide range of cost savings could be achieved through strategic placement of aquaponics sites to reduce land acquisition costs, and by also allowing farming closer to suburban and urban areas, thus reducing transportation costs to markets and hence also the fossil fuel and COsub2/sub footprints of production.

Keywords Aquaponics · Sustainable agriculture · Eutrophication · Soil degradation · Nutrient cycling


A. Joyce

Department of Marine Science, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden e-mail:

S. Goddek

Mathematical and Statistical Methods (Biometris), Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands

B. Kotzen

School of Design, University of Greenwich, London, UK

S. Wuertz

Department Ecophysiology and Aquaculture, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Biology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin, Germany

© The Author(s) 2019 19

S. Goddek et al. (eds.), Aquaponics Food Production Systems,


Alexandratos N, Bruinsma J (2012) World agriculture towards 2030/50: the 2012 revision, ESA Work. Paper 12—03. UN Food Agriculture Organization (FAO), Rome

Barnosky AD, Hadly EA, Bascompte J, Berlow EL, Brown JH, Fortelius M, Getz WM, Harte J, Hastings A, Marquet PA (2012) Approaching a state shift in Earth/'s biosphere. Nature 486:52—58

Bennett EM, Carpenter SR, Caraco NF (2001) Human impact on erodable phosphorus and eutrophication: a global perspective: increasing accumulation of phosphorus in soil threatens rivers, lakes, and coastal oceans with eutrophication. AIBS Bull 51:227—234

Bringezu S, Schütz H, Pengue W, OBrien M, Garcia F, Sims R (2014) Assessing global land use: balancing consumption with sustainable supply. UNEP/International Resource Panel, Nairobi/ Paris

Bruinsma J (2003) World agriculture: towards 2015/2030: an FAO perspective. Earthscan, London

Camargo GG, Ryan MR, Richard TL (2013) Energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from crop production using the farm energy analysis tool. Bioscience 63:263—273

Conforti P (2011) Looking ahead in world food and agriculture: perspectives to 2050. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome

Conijn J, Bindraban P, Schröder J, Jongschaap R (2018) Can our global food system meet food demand within planetary boundaries? Agric Ecosyst Environ 251:244—256

Connor R, Renata A, Ortigara C, Koncagül E, Uhlenbrook S, Lamizana-Diallo BM, Zadeh SM, Qadir M, Kjellén M, Sjödin J (2017) The United Nations world water development report 2017. In: Wastewater: the untapped resource, The United Nations world water development report. UNESCO, Paris

Cordell D, Rosemarin A, Schröder J, Smit A (2011) Towards global phosphorus security: a systems framework for phosphorus recovery and reuse options. Chemosphere 84:747—758

Dalsgaard J, Lund I, Thorarinsdottir R, Drengstig A, Arvonen K, Pedersen PB (2013) Farming different species in RAS in Nordic countries: current status and future perspectives. Aquac Eng 53:2—13

Deng Q, Hui D, Dennis S, Reddy KC (2017) Responses of terrestrial ecosystem phosphorus cycling to nitrogen addition: a meta-analysis. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 26:713—728

Distefano T, Kelly S (2017) Are we in deep water? Water scarcity and its limits to economic growth. Ecol Econ 142:130—147

Economic UNDo (2007) Indicators of sustainable development: guidelines and methodologies. United Nations Publications, New York

Eggleston H, Buendia L, Miwa K, Ngara T, Tanabe K (2006) IPCC guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories. Inst Glob Environ Strateg, Hayama, Japan 2:48—56

Ehrlich PR, Harte J (2015a) Food security requires a new revolution. Int J Environ Stud 72:908—920 Ehrlich PR, Harte J (2015b) Opinion: to feed the world in 2050 will require a global revolution. Proc Natl Acad Sci 112:14743—14744

Esch Svd, Brink Bt, Stehfest E, Bakkenes M, Sewell A, Bouwman A, Meijer J, Westhoek H, Berg Mvd, Born GJvd (2017) Exploring future changes in land use and land condition and the impacts on food, water, climate change and biodiversity: scenarios for the UNCCD Global Land Outlook. PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, The Hague

Ezebuiro NC, Körner I (2017) Characterisation of anaerobic digestion substrates regarding trace elements and determination of the influence of trace elements on the hydrolysis and acidification phases during the methanisation of a maize silage-based feedstock. J Environ Chem Eng 5:341—351

FAO (2011) Energy-smart food for people and climate. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome

FAO (2015a) Environmental and social management guidelines. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome

FAO (2015b) Statistical pocketbook 2015. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome

FAO (2016) The state of world fisheries and aquaculture 2016. Contributing to food security and nutrition for all. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, p 200

Fargione J, Hill J, Tilman D, Polasky S, Hawthorne P (2008) Land clearing and the biofuel carbon debt. Science 319:1235—1238

Foley JA, DeFries R, Asner GP, Barford C, Bonan G, Carpenter SR, Chapin FS, Coe MT, Daily GC, Gibbs HK (2005) Global consequences of land use. Science 309:570—574

Goddek S, Keesman KJ (2018) The necessity of desalination technology for designing and sizing multi-loop aquaponics systems. Desalination 428:76—85

Goddek S, Delaide B, Mankasingh U, Ragnarsdottir KV, Jijakli H, Thorarinsdottir R (2015) Challenges of sustainable and commercial aquaponics. Sustainability 7:4199—4224

Goddek S, Delaide BPL, Joyce A, Wuertz S, Jijakli MH, Gross A, Eding EH, Bläser I, Reuter M, Keizer LCP, Morgenstern R, Körner O, Verreth J, Keesman KJ (2018) Nutrient mineralization and organic matter reduction performance of RAS-based sludge in sequential UASB-EGSB reactors. Aquac Eng 83:10—19.

Goll DS, Brovkin V, Parida B, Reick CH, Kattge J, Reich PB, Van Bodegom P, Niinemets Ü (2012) Nutrient limitation reduces land carbon uptake in simulations with a model of combined carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycling. Biogeosciences 9:3547—3569

Hamdy A (2007) Water use efficiency in irrigated agriculture: an analytical review. Water use efficiency and water productivity: WASAMED project, pp 9—19

Herrero M, Thornton PK, Power B, Bogard JR, Remans R, Fritz S, Gerber JS, Nelson G, See L, Waha K (2017) Farming and the geography of nutrient production for human use: a transdisciplinary analysis. Lancet Planetary Health 1:e33—e42

Hoekstra AY, Mekonnen MM (2012) The water footprint of humanity. Proc Natl Acad Sci 109:3232—3237

Hoekstra AY, Mekonnen MM, Chapagain AK, Mathews RE, Richter BD (2012) Global monthly water scarcity: blue water footprints versus blue water availability. PLoS One 7:e32688

Junge R, König B, Villarroel M, Komives T, Jijakli MH (2017) Strategic points in aquaponics. Water 9:182

Keating BA, Herrero M, Carberry PS, Gardner J, Cole MB (2014) Food wedges: framing the global food demand and supply challenge towards 2050. Glob Food Sec 3:125—132

Kloas W, Groß R, Baganz D, Graupner J, Monsees H, Schmidt U, Staaks G, Suhl J, Tschirner M, Wittstock B, Wuertz S, Zikova A, Rennert B (2015) A new concept for aquaponic systems to improve sustainability, increase productivity, and reduce environmental impacts. Aquac Environ Interact 7:179—192

Leinweber P, Bathmann U, Buczko U, Douhaire C, Eichler-Löbermann B, Frossard E, Ekardt F, Jarvie H, Krämer I, Kabbe C (2018) Handling the phosphorus paradox in agriculture and natural ecosystems: scarcity, necessity, and burden of P. Ambio 47:3—19

McNeill K, Macdonald K, Singh A, Binns AD (2017) Food and water security: analysis of integrated modeling platforms. Agric Water Manag 194:100—112

Mears D, Both A (2001) A positive pressure ventilation system with insect screening for tropical and subtropical greenhouse facilities. Int Symp Des Environ Control Trop Subtrop Greenh 578:125—132

Michael C, David T (2017) Comparative analysis of environmental impacts of agricultural production systems, agricultural input efficiency, and food choice. Environ Res Lett 12:064016

Misra AK (2014) Climate change and challenges of water and food security. Int J Sustain Built Environ 3:153—165

Pinho SM, Molinari D, de Mello GL, Fitzsimmons KM, Emerenciano MGC (2017) Effluent from a biofloc technology (BFT) Tilapia culture on the aquaponics production of different lettuce varieties. Ecol Eng 103:146—153

Pocketbook FS (2015) World food and agriculture (2015). Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome

Porkka M, Gerten D, Schaphoff S, Siebert S, Kummu M (2016) Causes and trends of water scarcity in food production. Environ Res Lett 11:015001

Rask KJ, Rask N (2011) Economic development and food production—consumption balance: a growing global challenge. Food Policy 36:186—196

Read P, Fernandes T, Miller K (2001) The derivation of scientific guidelines for best environmental practice for the monitoring and regulation of marine aquaculture in Europe. J Appl Ichthyol 17:146—152

Ridoutt BG, Sanguansri P, Nolan M, Marks N (2012) Meat consumption and water scarcity: beware of generalizations. J Clean Prod 28:127e133

Samuel-Fitwi B, Wuertz S, Schroeder JP, Schulz C (2012) Sustainability assessment tools to support aquaculture development. J Clean Prod 32:183—192

Schmidhuber J (2010) FAO's long-term outlook for global agriculture—challenges, trends and drivers. International Food & Agriculture Trade Policy Council

Scott CA, Kurian M, Wescoat JL Jr (2015) The water-energy-food nexus: enhancing adaptive capacity to complex global challenges, Governing the nexus. Springer, Cham, pp 15—38

Steen I (1998) Management of a non-renewable resource. Phosphorus Potassium 217:25—31

Sverdrup HU, Ragnarsdottir KV (2011) Challenging the planetary boundaries II: assessing the sustainable global population and phosphate supply, using a systems dynamics assessment model. Appl Geochem 26:S307—S310

Thomas, R., Reed, M., Clifton, K., Appadurai, A., Mills, A., Zucca, C., Kodsi, E., Sircely, J., Haddad, F., vonHagen, C., 2017. Scaling up sustainable land management and restoration of degraded land

Van Rijn J, Tal Y, Schreier HJ (2006) Denitrification in recirculating systems: theory and applications. Aquac Eng 34:364—376

Van Vuuren DP, Bouwman AF, Beusen AH (2010) Phosphorus demand for the 1970—2100 period: a scenario analysis of resource depletion. Glob Environ Chang 20:428—439

Vilbergsson B, Oddsson GV, Unnthorsson R (2016) Taxonomy of means and ends in aquaculture production—part 2: the technical solutions of controlling solids, dissolved gasses and pH. Water 8:387

Water U (2015) Water for a sustainable world, The United Nations world water development report. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris

WHO (2015) Progress on sanitation and drinking water: 2015 update and MDG assessment. World Health Organization, Geneva

Xue X, Landis AE (2010) Eutrophication potential of food consumption patterns. Environ Sci Technol 44:6450—6456

Yogev U, Barnes A, Gross A (2016) Nutrients and energy balance analysis for a conceptual model of a three loops off grid, aquaponics. Water 8:589

Zhu Q, Riley W, Tang J, Koven C (2016) Multiple soil nutrient competition between plants, microbes, and mineral surfaces: model development, parameterization, and example applications in several tropical forests. Biogeosciences 13:341

Open Access This chapter is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence and indicate if changes were made.

The images or other third party material in this chapter are included in the chapter's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the chapter's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder.