Science Isn't Always Fun

Have you ever had one of those days where everything just seems to go bad?  Well,  that is what the last 24 hours  has seemed like to me.  I left Colorado yesterday evening for a long driving road trip to Alberta, Canada.  First, the rental car company gave me a very hard time about my rental situation.  I used my GPS to pick my driving route – shortest time – and I must have found every construction project in Montana that slowed my progress by hours.  There was no cell coverage right when I was supposed to be making an important conference call.  Oh, and then there was the email this morning from one of our scientists in Colorado saying that he was sad to tell me that a tragedy had happened with the rainbow trout in one of our aquaponic systems!

I guess our Facility Manager, Dave, had found a large number of fish floating on this particular system when he got to our reseach building at our Meadow Hollow campus this morning.  He observed that the water pump on the system was not working, and when he checked the power plug he found it was not firmly plugged into the power outlet.  When he pushed it into the outlet the pump immediately started working.  After further review the guys determined that all but one trout in the system had died.  So they measured and examined all the dead fish for any obvious issues and did not find any.  The apparent cause of death was oxygen deprivation.

Meadow Hollow System 4 on June 15, 2010.  Fish kill due to pump issue duing the night of June 17.

Meadow Hollow System 4 on June 15, 2010. Fish kill due to pump issue duing the night of June 17.

Now, the rest of the story as Paul Harvey would say.  We had a very severe wind storm yesterday.  The power outlet in this greenhouse-like, fabric covered building is on the exterior wall that had been rattled and rolled all day yesterday in the wind storm.  Even though this system was working properly when it was last observed yesterday about 14 hours before the observation of the fish kill today, it is very likely that the pup plug had been jostled loose from the outlet during the storm, after the crew had left the site. 

So, obiously, we have learned a lesson from this circumstance.  We should put on our checklist to check all plugs of our systems at the end of every day.  What else could we have done differently?  This system has two airstones, and in almost three years of operation, there have never been critically low oxygen levels before (no pump failures prior to this).  Should the system have more airstones?  Should the stocking density have been less?  Maybe yes to both of those questions.  Lets examine this further. 

So as scientists,  what can we learn from this unfortunate situation.  Well fortunately, our scientists do a very good job of collecting daily data on this system and all of our systems.  We know that oxygen levels were adequate for the system prior to the pump failure.  We have an underwater camera in this system, and observations yesterday revealed healthy fish and no unusual water quality situations (excess suspended solids).  These fish were aggressively feeding, and the water temperatures had been consistently been close to optimal for the last several weeks (15 – 17 degrees C).  Fish growth had been exceptional since these fish were stocked into this system. 

Lets examine the economics of this loss.  These fish cost us $50.00 to purchase as fingerlings (80 fish initially).  They had consumed about $7.00 of food since they were stocked, and used about $8.00 of electrical costs for the pump and air stones.  Labor costs for their management to this point were probably about $10.00.  With the anticipated upcoming environmental conditions anticipated for the system these fish would have been harvestable with an additional investment of about $15.00 in food, labor and electricity.  Therefore the total costs from stocking to  harvest would have been ~$90.00.  We would value these fish at harvest at about $175.00 ($5.00/lb. for 70 fish at 1/2 lb. each average).  Therefore our net profit would have been $85.00.  If our stocking density would have been 50% of what we used we would have made net profits of about $30.00 (remember labor and power costs are really no different for the lower stocking density).  Now if we restock at the same stocking density we originally used and we expend the same costs to harvest, we would basically break even for the fish over the course of the two fish production periods.  If we completed a second production period with the 50% density we would cumulatively make $60.00 compared to the breakeven for the failure and success combo.  This would seem to be a no-brainer, right?  We should have reduced the stocking density!!

But wait.  Do we know that the fish with lower stocking density would have survived the short term pump failure/  I do not think that we do.  Also, aren’t we forgetting something?  What would 50% fish stocking density do to our plant production?  Again, we do not know, but I suspect it would greatly reduce our plant production.  Where are the profits from our plants under the two scenarios? 

Well, we will be restocking this system next week with a density similar to what we previously used.  We will be quantifying our plant production at the end of our fish production period, so we will have those economics.  Then we will be able to run another experiment with the 50% stocking density and we can then quantify the plant production under those conditions.

So wow, this current tragedy will actually give us the chance to learn more in the long run.  Our bad day today will become a contributor to great days to come as we use science to learn more about this exciting aquaponics technology!!

Some Endings! But Some Really Great Beginnings Also!

This is a big day for all of us here at the Institute of Ecolonomics (IOE).  Starting today, we will become regular BLOG ADDICTS!! We have been doing so much at our Northern Colorado Ecolonomic Development campuses that we felt it was time to begin to communicate with you on a very timely basis.

We are going to start this increased and improved communication process by using our Ecolonomic Life Blog, and as time goes on we will be adding other media as additional communication tools (podcasts, webinars, subscriber based research sites, etc.).  There will be new information avaiable here and in other places almost daily, so please check here often.  We want to make sure we are adding value to your lives as we continue our efforts.

What about the Endings?  Well we are ending our drought of inconsistent communication for one.  We are also ending our silence about some of the really exciting projects we have been pursuing for the last couple of years. 

So lets get to it.  What are we up to here at IOE?  Well, we are working hard to establish ourselves as a private non-profit research and ecolonomic development business that can assist many entrepeneurs suscessfully launch and build their businesses that will improve the planet.  How are we doing that?  For one thing, we have developed some world class incubation locations here in Northern Colorado.  Today I am going to begin to introduce one of those campus facilities - the Campion Warehouse.

The Campion Warehouse is located on the South side of the city of Loveland, CO, which is about 45 minutes north of Denver at the base of the Rockies and just east of Rocky Mountain National Park.  This facility is 5000 square feet in size with about 1000 square feet of offices and conference room facilities, and 4000 square feet of an indoor laboratory. IOE uses the office area for our corporate headquarters offices which is shared with Mountain Sky Group, LLC.  The pictures below show some of the office and conference areas in the Campion Warehouse. Oh yes, there are three of our really key people in these pictures – Melissa Morris our unblievable Office Manager and my Personal Assistant, Paul Golden our most recent addition who just received his Masters in Engineering from Stanford, and Matt DeMassino who is our lead aquatic biologist.

Melissa in our Reception Area

Melissa in our Reception Area

Paul (left) and Matt in the conference room
Paul (left) and Matt in the conference room

In the laboratory we are doing cutting edge research on indoor sustainable agriculture technologies.  Currently we are working with aquaculture, aquaponics, coral culture, seed germination in alternative systems, low energy lighting alternatives, vericulture and innovative water treatment technologies.  We conduct ongoing experiments using acceptable and reproducible scientific methods. Dr. Wayne Dorband, IOE President, directs this research activity that is managed daily by a group of five scientists and our associated construction group.  At this point we are conducting the following specific experiments as well as others at the Campion Warehouse:

  • Effects of worm additions to substrate based aquaponic systems (System 1).
  • Efficacy of fish species polyculture  in small scale commercial recirculating aquaculture systems (Systems 1-4).
  • Feasibility of rotating bed hydroponic plant production for commercial systems (System 9).
  • Indoor aquaponic plant production using low energy alternative lighting (Systems 1-9).
  • Potential for using aquaponics as a filtration source for home aquarioum systems (System 8).
  • Potential of culturing South American Pacu in relatively low temperature environments (Aqua System).

As the results of these experiments are obtained, we will briefly describe them here in this format, and we will be publishing more formal scientific reports detailing the experimental outcomes.  We have been conducting research in the Campion Warehouse for almost three years, and we have conducted close to fifty different experiments like the ones described above during that time.  Again, we will be describing results of those efforts through our future reports. In the pictures that follow you will get a glimpse of some of the current systems (see the experiment descriptions above)  that we have here at the Campion Warehouse. We will be providing more detailed photos in future posts.

System 1 at Campion Warehouse.  300 gal. fish tank with trout and tilapia. Flood and Drain Aquaponics.

System 1 at Campion Warehouse. 300 gal. fish tank with trout and tilapia. Flood and Drain Aquaponics.


System 8 at Campion Warehouse.  Raft aquaponics with minimal bacteriological surface area and T12 flourescent lighting.

System 8 at Campion Warehouse. Raft aquaponics with minimal bacteriological surface area and T12 flourescent lighting.

System 9 at the Campion Warehouse.  A Volksgarden rotating culture system from our partners in Canada.

System 9 at the Campion Warehouse. A Volksgarden rotating culture system from our partners in Canada.

System 3 at the Campion Warehouse.  Flood and drain, with sump and fish tank above.

System 3 at the Campion Warehouse. Flood and drain, with sump and fish tank above.


We feel we have a large obligation to the planet right now in this critical time in history.  We know that many are probably doing more than we are, but we are trying to do the best that we can.  We look forward to sharing what we learn with you and hope you can appreciate what we are doing. Please comment on our reports and give us experiences of your own.  Till next time.

Well I am Going to Try this Again!!

I am clearly very bad at using this cool tool.  I just spent over an hour composing a really neat post and then I went to publish it and spam, bam, thank you mam it was gone.  Vanished.  Off into space.  I editted it, I draft saved it about four times, I asked the web person for help several times, I previewed it , I editted it and then – poof it was gone.

Have you ever had this experience.  I know I am not alone.  Well sometimes that is also the case with things we do to be ecolonomic.  We try hard, we get help, we do all the right things and then poof what we do seems to be gone.  Well we have to get up off the carpet and try again.  That is what I am doing now – trying again.  I am bound and determined to work to make the planet better.  I will do it.  I will.  You can too!! Lets work together, and try and fail, and then do it again.  Talk with you later.  I need to go now and think about what I can do next to make the planet better.

IOE Meadow Hollow Greenhouse during our Fall Sustainability Event.  Those tomatoes tasted great!!

IOE Meadow Hollow Greenhouse during our Fall Sustainability Event. Those tomatoes tasted great!!

The New Ecolonomic Life Blog

I feel it is time to give new life and meaning to this blog. I have been blogging for several months now, but, as many might have noticed, there was no clear or concise form to the blogs. They jumped from topic to topic and you as a reader may not have really understood what the whole theme of the blog was about.


Simple Ways to go Green

US driving habits contribute to the carbon footpint

US driving habits contribute to the carbon footpint

It can’t be stressed enough the importance of reducing your carbon foot print, but the task can be daunting and if not undertaken correctly, overwhelming. I want to list some simple things that you can do to reduce that foot print, not break the budget (and even expand it), and relieve levels of stress.

First, let’s talk energy. You don’t need to run out and buy solar panels or wind turbines in order to save energy. There are many simple things that will help reduce the amount of energy that you use. Turn off the lights. It may seem too simple, but it helps. If you aren’t using the light or if you leave the room, flip the switch. If you aren’t pumping electricity to your house then the power plant supplying your electricity isn’t burning as much fossil fuels. Replace your light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. They are a little more money, but they last longer and don’t use as much energy. Work with the least amount of light that you need. When you are on a laptop make sure you have it on the energy saving. This will reduce the amount of electricity it uses and will save the battery for longer use. Lastly, replace old appliances with ones that have an energy star rating. This is a little more costly, but you find a significant change in your utilities bills. (more…)