On-site microbial sensing for minimising environmental risks from aquaponics to Human health

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xavier munoz 

Coordinator: F Xavier Muñoz

Projects  Partner and Institution:
Institute of Microelectronics of Barcelona;
Waterologies SL;
Institut national de la recherche agronomique;
Istituto per il Rilevamento Elettromagnetico dell’Ambiente 

Key words: aquaponics, microbial sensors, optical sensing, eco-friendly disinfection, smart systems


Aquaponics is an integrated multi-trophic system that combines elements of recirculating aquaculture and hydroponics, wherein the water from the fish tanks that is enriched in nutrients is used for plant growth. The interlinking of aquaculture and hydroponic procedures allows some of the shortcomings of the respective systems to be addressed, and this represents a promising sustainable food production method, e.g. reduction of water consumption. However, a reduction in new water make-up may increase an environmental risk by bacterial concentration. At last the fish production aquaponics often generates off flavour problems (earth taste) and is unfit for consumption. This taste is generated by certain varieties of cyanobacteria. This challenge needs to be resolved with the aim to establish fully controlled and standardized aquaponic systems that will be easy to handle and economically viable. To guarantee an excellent operation of the aquaponic systems, an efficient continuous on-site control of water consumption and microbiological quality control will be necessary. 

Based on the latter, the main objective in SMARTECOPONICS is to develop a technological solution sensing the critical parameters in waypoints and adjusting the actuation for eco-friendly and efficient water treatment. The advanced monitoring systems for microbial water quality control deliver an early warning of potential contamination incidents and interact efficiently with proper actuation methods to minimize health risks and ensure the quality of the products. The ultimate objective is to develop a zero-discharge recirculating system with maximum nutrient recycling transformed into plant biomass and improved yield.

            The consortium developed a novel electro-activation technique capable to dose hypochlorous acid at neutral pH to ensure the complete elimination of bacterial contamination in the aquaponics-based food production system, which implemented in the PEIMA aquaponic pilot plant and tested in the production of salads and rainbow trout. The system is cost effective and efficient, and does not produce toxic sub-products affecting fish/plant growth or human health. On the other hand, the dosage of the in situ produced hypochlorous acid is adjusted based on three sensing technologies developed and validated in the project:

  • Miniaturized pH sensors based on tantalum oxide, enabling the detection of low bacterial concentrations and the best disinfection method.
  • Jet waveguide sensor, an optical sensor capable to detect the amount of organic matter susceptible of being consumed by microorganisms, a good indicator of potential microbial contamination and the presence of cyanobacteria.
  • Integrated photonic filter holder, an integral solution enabling cyanobacteria concentration and in situ detection in a simple, fast and cost-effective format.


The three systems are sensitive enough in the detection of microbial contamination from samples collected in the PEIMA aquaponics plant. The information delivered by the sensors can be transmitted to the treatment system for adjusting the dosage and fast decision making. This smart monitoring system of the main critical parameters is able to generate the necessary information about the state of the water in the pilot plant and actuate in the short term. This control should improve the quality of the products, reduce the contamination risk, reduce the production costs by minimizing water consumption and to simplify the aquaponics control.

Project structure: The consortium is built by 4 partners who all have a significant role in the work programme, the following management structure will be implemented which is appropriate to the complexity of the work to be undertaken, the size of the consortium and its diversity. The management structure comprises: Work package leaders who are responsible for the day to day Workpackage activity and the WP deliverables; a Project Coordinator who oversees the programme of work and interfaces with the Water JPI; who monitors the progress of the work and undertakes project administration. The main decision making body will be a Steering Committee comprising of one representative from each consortium partner, whose role is to oversee and guide the project to meet its objectives. In addition, there will be an Exploitation and Impact sub-committee to ensure that IP is fully utilised and strong, appropriate plans are made to ensure effective exploitation. 

We have presented a well-structured work plan based on general principles of project management and cost control while monitoring the progress during its execution accomplished in 6 work packages:
WP1 Project Management/Coordination
WP2 Specifications of microbial monitoring systems and disinfection needs
WP3 Development of microbial sensing devices
WP4 Development of an eco-friendly disinfection system
WP5 Conditioning Aquaponic pilot plants for on-site sensing.

D1.1. Dissemination plan (M6)
D1.2. Risk management (M6)
D1.3. Periodic Reports (M12, M24 and M30);
D2.1. Aquaponics scenario and sensing requirements (M6)
D2.2. Disinfection needs in aquaponics facilities (M6); D3.1. Sampling system (M15)
D3.2. Sensing devices and specifications (M20);
D4.1. New membranes cells for more efficient water disinfection (M15);
D4.2. Impact of hypochlorous acid-based disinfection in Aquaponics (M21);
D5.1. Aquaponic pilot plant description and Smart Systems parts (M24); D6.1. Demonstration and Validation in a pilot-scale (M30),
D6.2. Business and exploitation plan. Technology roadmap (M30)

Main outputs:

  • Gianluca Persichetti Emanuela Viaggiu Genni Testa Roberta Congestri Romeo Bernini; Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical; Volume 284, 1 April 2019, Pages 228-235
  • Sergi Brosel-Oliu, Natasha Abramova, Naroa Uria, Andrey Bratov. Analytica Chimica Acta (2019)1088, pp. 1-19.
  • Jiri Dietvorst, Lluïsa Villaplana, Naroa Uria, Maria Pilar Marco, Xavier Muñoz-Berbel, TrAC - Trends in Analytical Chemistry (2020) 127, nº115891.
  • Cristina Ocaña, Mireia Muñoz-Correas, Natasha Abramova, Andrey Bratov, Sensors, (2020) 20-5, pp.1348.
More results on the project: Data and resources

References coordinator and  leaders of  each WP:
WP1: F Xavier Muñoz (IMB-CNM-CSIC);
WP2: Laurent Labbé (INRA-PEIMA);
WP3: Romeo Bernini (IREA-CNR);
WP4: Antonio Cuevas (Waterologies SL);
WP5: Laurent Labbé (INRA-PEIMA);
WP6: Antonio Cuevas (Waterologies SL)

Contact Point for  Communication/Dissemination activities: Antonio Cuevas (Waterologies SL)

Contact Point for Open Data/Open Access activities: F Xavier Muñoz

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published on 2017/03/23 10:00:00 GMT+1 last modified 2022-05-10T15:36:45+01:00