An Ecosystem That Provides Food and Biofuel
The idea of taking a systems view and understanding the interconnectedness of all things in the economy is taken by many as an accepted truism within the circular economy framework. It’s a macro concept with large scale implications, but those same interconnected systems can also be shaped to work effectively at a micro level.
One example of exactly that is currently happening in Abu Dhabi, where the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium (SBRC) is aiming to construct a bioenergy pilot project as a closed-loop system aiming to maximise water, food and energy. The project designs a desert habitat, which produces bioenergy and food through seawater irrigation, while also preserving freshwater resources.
The system works like this:
- Aquaculture units farm shrimp and fish.
- Fish and shrimp waste is used as fertiliser helping a hardy plant that can be irrigated by seawater called Salicornia to grow.
- Crops are produced that are rich in oil and sugar content and can be turned into biofuels.
- Remaining agricultural nutrients are diverted to mangrove forests, which utilise otherwise wasted nutrients from the food production process, while supporting the marine ecosystem as a nursery for young fish.
The system as a whole provides food, biofuel energy and enriched mangrove forests, while not negatively impacting freshwater supplies or crossing over into existing farmland.
The project team hasn’t explicitly linked its work to the circular economy concept, but it is a positive example of the application of systems thinking to a local context. It shares several common features with urban farm aquaponics systems that combine fish farming with growing herbs and lettuce.
The SBRC was founded by the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.