Monday, February 9, 2015

Aquaponics :: Last Known Photos of Our Prototype

February 10, 2015 -- Helios Labs As we move to our new location, we realize the folly of our ways. The aquaponics prototype cannot be moved. Even if it could be brought up to the fifth floor where our new studio is, we won't go through the trouble. It has been experiencing some leaking and rust has crept through to the surface. The fish are doing well, and the plants are doing fantastic under the two 30W LED flood lights (6500K). If the water vessel is to continue its existence, it will do so as a planter on ground level as part of the new building's existing container garden.

Photos showing some of the steps involved in the prototype's development. Sitting next to it in several pictures, on its side, is a failed poured-mold design that is unusable and too heavy to move. While a failure, it taught the limits to poured-mold designs for use in aquaponics systems. The bottom right picture shows the auto-fish feeder v.2 and the latest growth of basil and chili peppers under now two 30W LED flood lights.

Still, it has taught us many lessons, combining many different experiments, and leading forward to new and exciting projects. It hosted our first-ever 3D printed design, an automatic fish feeder driven by an Arduino Uno. It also helped test the effectiveness of off-the-shelf LED flood lights. The use of snakeskin gourami and zebrafish as stock in aquaponics, the former being of commercial use in Southeast Asia and particularly in Thailand, was also instructive. 

So what will go on the 5th floor and of course, the rooftop of the new location? We're thinking about a modular style ferrocement design. This would be the creation of five 500x500x20mm ferrocement panels that would be fit together. This design will serve as a test for creating a fish tank in this manner. If it works, larger designs might follow, including one with panels up to 800mm in size.

First, the smaller 500x500 panel design can be seen and how it is actually several parts fitting together. This will hopefully make it possible to breakdown when it is time to move or it has lived out its use. On the right is a larger 800x800mm design. Notice the grow bed at top and how a small notch is placed along the upper edge. This is an overflow feature to ensure if for any reason the drain is plugged, the water will flow into the tank and not everywhere, randomly.

Why not just use fiberglass or plastic containers? This has been done by many. We have concerns about what might leach into the water from plastics, and while fiberglass is generally ok as long as it is properly sealed, any damage or peeling will also cause leaching. Ferrocement, at worst, will allow rust to crept through, but only if you construct it improperly (like we did with our first prototype).

We also like ferrocement because it is so cheap, easy and safe to work with, and can be formed into any shape and scaled up to any size. We bought a single bag of cement and 3 bags of sand for under 300 baht for all of our projects combined (2 planters and 2 tanks for aquaponics use, 2 small planters, and a smartphone holder). A single fiberglass vessel of comparable size to our larger system would cost 3 times that and would never have been the dimensions we wanted unless we had it custom fabricated.

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