Campus, Long Beach, News

CSULB club builds a soilless aquaponics system

Environmental Scientists are beginning to realize that 200,000 years of human existence is taking a toll on Earth’s outermost layer of soil.

“Generating three centimeters of topsoil takes 1,000 years, and if current rates of degradation continue, all of the world’s top soil could be gone within 60 years,” said a senior United Nations official, according to a Huffington Post article.

This reality prompted Cal State Long Beach’s Engineers for a Sustainable World to innovate a water-based system in October that uses aquaponics, a non-soil agricultural system run by fish — fish poop to be more precise.

H2Grow Project was launched to reduce the amount of water usage and soil loss. It has become apparent that the top layer of soil is damaged, which is where plants grow their roots and minerals thrive. Without topsoil, erosion and disasters like mudslides occur.

The system requires fish, bacteria and plants, and uses fish poop as a source of nutrition for plants to grow without soil. Fish excretions create bacteria that transform the ammonia in the water into nitrate for plants to absorb. Nitrates serve as nutrients for plants and are transferred through small pumps from the fish tank to the plants in the grow bed. This allows plants to grow without soil and uses only one-tenth of the water used to grow plants in the ground.

An aquaponics model was built because it does not require costly chemicals and pesticides to function, unlike an alternative hydroponics system. An aquaponics model eliminates the artificial chemical fertilizers that disrupt the pH scale by using fish waste as a natural fertilizer. It also uses objects between 12 to 18 millimeters, such as plastic buttons, to act as a medium that does not pollute the water or require deep cleaning.

Originally, the aquaponics team only planned to present their project for the Green Generation Mixer at Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden. However, word spread of the project and the engineering group found new a motivation to finish the model — funding.

The National Chapter of ESW provided a $500 grant to fund the electronic system and educational exhibit and the Science and Learning Center also donated extra fish tanks and other necessities, according to Catherine Pham, the lead researcher on the aquaponics project. In exchange, the team will display their project once it is completed.

Pham said that the grant-funded electronic resources used in the project are moisture sensors, temperature sensors and light spectrum sensors. These sensors are used for automation and sustainability.

“We would like to bring more attention to sustainable alternatives that can help alleviate our dependence on imported food,” Pham said. “Thus reducing the carbon footprint to hopefully inspire individuals that they can take action to live a more sustainable lifestyle.”

Although the project will progress, it will lose its research space in the Associated Engineering Student Body office at the end of the semester. The engineering group plans to relocate its workplace to either Engineering 3 or Engineering 111. According to Anesia Cantry, a senior majoring in civil engineering, many engineering organizations are losing their spaces because the school needs room for faculty offices.

“I feel like the world’s innovation is run by deadlines,” Pham said. “Nothing would get done if there were no deadlines, so this project is going to be done in March.”

Anyone interested in learning more about Engineers for a Sustainable World can contact Catherine Pham at [email protected]

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