A comparison of topologies in recirculating aquaculture systems using simulation and optimization
Journal article, 2020

Recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) are often designed using simplified steady-state mass balances, which fail to account for the complex dynamics that biological water treatment systems exhibit. Because of the very slow dynamics, experimental development is also difficult. We present a new, fast and robust Modelica implementation of a material balance-based dynamic simulator for fish growth, waste production and water treatment in recirculating aquaculture systems. This simulator is used together with an optimization routine based on a genetic algorithm to evaluate the performance of three different water treatment topologies, each for two fish species (Rainbow trout and Atlantic salmon) and each in both a semi-closed (no denitrification) and a fully recirculating version (with denitrification). Each case is furthermore evaluated at both saturated and supersaturated oxygen levels in the fish tank influent. The 24 cases are compared in terms of volume required to maintain an acceptable TAN concentration in the fish tank. The results indicate that the smallest volume is obtainable by introducing several bypass flows in the treatment system of a semi-closed RAS and that the gains can be significant. We also show that recycling already treated water back upstream in the treatment process degrades performance and that if one wishes to have a fully recirculating system with minimal water exchange, then the flows of oxygen, carbon and nitrogen must be carefully considered. For several of the cases, no optimum with denitrification could be found. We thus demonstrate that the best configuration and operation strategy for water treatment varies with the conditions imposed by the fish culture, illustrating the complexity of RAS plants and the importance of simulations, but also that computer-driven optimal design has the potential to increase the treatment efficiency of biofilters which could lead to cheaper plants with better water quality.


Recirculating aquaculture

Water treatment



Simon Pedersen

Chalmers, Electrical Engineering, Systems and control, Automatic Control

Torsten Wik

Chalmers, Electrical Engineering, Systems and control, Automatic Control

Aquacultural Engineering

0144-8609 (ISSN)

Vol. 89 102059

Subject Categories

Water Engineering

Water Treatment

Oceanography, Hydrology, Water Resources



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