Project creates first farm in Europe that uses wastewater to raise fish and vegetables

The first aquaponic farm in Europe is being born in Europe, more precisely in Italy, where treated wastewater will be used to raise fish and vegetables, implementing the concept of circular economy.

The research is led by a European consortium of 20 partners from eight countries, which includes two Portuguese higher education institutions: the Center for Biotechnology and Fine Chemistry (CBQF), of the School of Biotechnology (ESB), of the Catholic University of Portugal in Porto, and the Laboratory of Process Engineering, Environment, Biotechnology and Energy (LEPABE) at the University of Porto.

The objective of AWARE (Aquaponics from WAstewater REclamation) is to create the first farm in Europe that uses wastewater in an aquaponic system, that is, that combines aquaculture with hydroponics (growing plants outside the soil).

The pilot project will be installed in the wastewater treatment plant of Castellana Grotte, in Italy, where the researchers hope to see the first results in 2026.

This project will allow a more sustainable management of water as a resource, increasing the production capacity of fish and vegetables at a local and municipal level, without resorting to soil, fresh water and without net emission of greenhouse gases. The innovative project involves a multitude of areas, which include engineering, biotechnology, food safety and consumer science.

“AWARE’s level of innovation will allow wastewater treatment plants to become places with a new function, the production of fish and vegetables. There is the potential to boost and boost, above all, the area of European aquaculture, but also to create greater regional independence in terms of food production, with a strong focus on sustainability”, mentions Célia Manaia, researcher at the Center for Biotechnology and Chemistry Fina of the Higher School of Biotechnology.

According to project data, aquaculture has been stagnant due to lack of innovation, variety and meager economic return, at a time when 50% of the fish consumed derives from fishing. At the same time, European regulations allow the use of wastewater in agriculture, but not in aquaculture and aquaponics.

“AWARE is, therefore, a pioneering project that can be the starting point of a new scenario for aquaculture and demonstrate the viability of this process in this food chain”, adds Célia Manaia.

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