Circular Solutions for Waste Nutrients in Aquaculture: Pre-Summit interview with Mark Rottmann, CEO of iCell Aqua

Mark Rottmann, iCell Aqua
Mark Rottmann, CEO, iCell Aqua

iCell Aqua integrates food-based wastewater treatment and recirculating aquaculture systems  to achieve a fully recycled economy of water and nutrients from production processes that create profitable environmental, social, and governance investments. We caught up with Mark Rottmann, CEO of iCell Aqua ahead of his speaking position at the Blue Food Innovation Summit to discover how waste utilisation supports the drive for circular systems.

What does circularity look like in aquaculture?  

In aquaculture it starts with measuring inputs and outputs –  and targeting the largest losses first. Most people think of feed-in and fish-out, and feed conversion ratios, but they don’t think about the water and nutrients that also leave the RAS system. A RAS system will generate up to 25% of the weight of the fish as faeces and un-eaten feed = “waste nutrients”, that 25% is defined as “dry matter”, yet the fish itself is actually 70% water. So on a dry matter basis, the “waste nutrients” almost equals the “de-hydrated weight of the fish”. In ocean aquaculture, this just floats to the bottom of the fjord creating dead zones.

Additionally – many systems defined as RAS still need to flow through and discharge 30% of the system water volume per day which is a huge amount of water – more water per kg of fish than is used by many terrestrial animals.

How does your process or technology enable a circular system?  

For RAS, waste nutrients must be captured and treated, if it is disposed of in a land fill, then the RAS has basically thrown away the same amount as it has grown. If used to produce bio-gas, then only 40% is converted to energy and the remaining 60% is still a solid for disposal.

There is a solution to feed the “waste nutrients” to bacteria and use it to grow a single cell protein, that can be put back into the animal feed chain. This captures and converts 99% of those waste nutrients – now that is circular! Along the way, it allows 90% of the discharge water to be re-used as well.

How can utilising waste make production more circular?

Environmental problems are just resources gone astray.

Resources just need converting to become usable and the lifecycle cost of conversion is cheaper than disposal, especially if we approach waste the same way the circle of life and the nitrogen & carbon cycles work on earth. The capital expenditure in the beginning is higher, but that is true with almost any business in the world.

What innovations are you excited about that are helping advance sustainable blue food? 

iCell Aqua and its ability to capture 99% of the waste nutrients and convert them to a usable feed ingredient, and reduce flow through water by another 90%.

Why is the Blue Food Innovation Summit an important date in your calendar?  

At RAS-TECH 2022 in USA multiple RAS Projects and RAS Designers identified “waste nutrients” as the elephant in the room that no one is talking about with RAS. Multiple Projects slated for build don’t have a nutrient capture and recycle plan – they still just plan to discharge to the environment! So we must get the message out about circular solutions for the waste nutrients in aquaculture.

Who are you hoping to meet there?

Entities ready to fund a $50MM Eel RAS platform company with 50% EBITDA. Equity investors who mean what they say about investing ESG and circular solutions. Green bond buyers for $37MM State of MI USA backed offering. RAS producers ready to make the decision to capture and treat the nutrients rather than dispose of them.

Mark will join the fireside chat ‘Circular Systems: Closing the Loop through Waste Utilisation & Resource Optimisation’ on June 14, day one of the Blue Food Innovation Summit, alongside experts from Thai Union and ECBF. View the full agenda here.