Domestic Aquaponics: Multitrophic Integrated Aquaculture Systems

Main Researcher

Luís Pessanha



24.08.17 — 21.09.19

The Homegreens project proposes the development of fresh or saltwater aquaponic systems that can be installed in homes, schools, hospitals or similar places, serving as a pedagogical tool for the introduction of contents such as biology and sustainability to children and teenagers.

Aquaponics results from the combination of two known primary production methods: aquaculture, which consists of raising fish in a controlled environment, and hydroponics, which proposes the cultivation of plants in a nutrient solution. This activity thus consists in the construction of a natural ecosystem, which allows the cultivation of plants supported by a substrate, through waters enriched with nutrients from aquaculture. This type of production offers several advantages, particularly economic and ecological, compared with other food production activities. Aquaponics systems, although old, are still relatively unknown to the public and need to be explained and experimented with in order to become a global solution.

The development of this project involved a set of activities that took place throughout the various stages of project development. In the first phase, information was collected on the operation of aquaponics systems on a production scale. Then, given the fact that the main focus of this research was the interaction with the user (children and teenagers), some of the principles used in HCD – Human Centered Design methodologies were applied. To make this possible, a partnership was established with EB1/JI of Carvalhal in Alcobaça, which allowed the realization of activities with the school students and the installation of experimental models. This action allowed us to collect important information for the development of an interface focused on the relationship between children and the aquaponics system.

The next phase was related to the design and construction of experimental models that originated the final version of the aquaponic system. These allowed validation of the formal composition, and the selection of materials to be applied to the different and intrinsic production processes.

In this sense, the final version of the small-scale aquaponic system consists of:

01 Two optional growing beds for placing the plants and their substrate, designed in black cork composite.


03 An aquarium with a capacity of 45L, for the placement of the living elements that make up the aquaponics system. It has a semisphere shape, which allows the agglomeration of solid debris produced by the fish, at the bottom, facilitating its cleaning through a valve. It was produced in PMMA – polymethylmethacrylate – commonly known as transparent acrylic, allowing the user to observe the biological phenomena taking place inside.

04 A separating barrier, which aims to separate plant roots and fish, as a way of establishing a balance. This component was produced in PMMA (polymethylmethacrylate or transparent acrylic).

05 A biofilter support with integrated aerator, which serves to fix the colony of nitrifying bacteria, responsible for transforming the ammonia produced by the fish into food for the plants, and at the same time, enables the distribution of air throughout the ecosystem. This component was produced in PLA by the additive manufacturing method.

06 A valve for cleaning sediments, with the function of ejecting outwards the solid detritus produced by the fish. The valve was printed in nylon and carbon filament, through the additive manufacturing method, also containing a spring, responsible for triggering the operating mechanism.

07 Three different support structures can be used in different contexts: two upright, one 85 cm, the other 50 cm, and one for fixation on the ceiling. They have been designed so that they can be transported, dismantled and assembled in various contexts.

08 Its components can be shared between the different supports, allowing its characteristics to be changed. The structures were produced in black lacquered steel, in order to highlight the aquaponic system.


10 Support for placing the air pump, which connects to the biofilter support with an air diffuser. The component was printed in Nylon and Carbon Filament, through the additive manufacturing method.

The last phase of the research consisted in the installation of the final prototype in the school, in order to make a qualitative analysis regarding its performance. This activity took place again at EB1/JI do Carvalhal in Aljubarrota and the system was left in the students’ care. For this activity, we selected the fish species Garra-rufa, due to their natural curiosity and ability to relate to human beings. The selection of the plants was based on familiarity, allowing the children to recognise the species, as this was related to the variety existing at a local level.

As a result of the children’s involvement and interaction with the models developed, it was possible to conclude that the Homegreens aquaponics system has the ability to provide group learning that contributes important values and experiences to the design of environmental literacy in children. This strategy gives children the opportunity to have an active/participatory role in the maintenance of an ecosystem. In this way, they have experiences that serve to assimilate contents that awaken them to issues involving nature: its organisms and resources. In this way, children become more susceptible to developing environmentally conscious habits and behaviour resulting from contact with the ecosystem, which suggests a systemic understanding of the world.

The development of this project counted on the contribution of MARE – Centre for Marine and Environmental Sciences of the Polytechnic of Leiria, in the definition of the target aquaculture species and analysis of their growth conditions in freshwater and saltwater aquaculture, of the Polytechnic Institute of Santarém, in the choice of plant species to be cultivated hydroponically and verification of the specific requirements of the agricultural production technology, and of LIDA – Research Laboratory of Design and Arts of the Polytechnic of Leiria, in the design of the system and selection of materials and production technologies.

This project had participation in the following events:


Participation in the exhibition sustainable design show, Open Gardens, Estufa Fria in Lisbon, Portugal.


Presentation of the scientific paper published in the framework of the International Congress of Design in Havana, Forma 2019: Homegreens- Aquaponic System as an Educational Tool Towards a Sustainable Future, Havana Velha Congress Centre, Cuba.


Presentation of the Homegreens project at the EUROACE ECODESIGN MEETING Congress Forum, organised by the DEGREN project Palace of Congresses in Badajoz, Spain.


Homegreens project selected in the Research and Design category, for the BID (Bienal Iberoamericana de Design), 2020 edition, Madrid, Spain.


Instituto Politécnico de Santarém - ESAS

Município De Torres Vedras


The HomeGreens project was funded by the Competitiveness and Internationalization Operational Program—COMPETE 2020, in the scope of Portugal2020, through the European Regional Development Fund (FEDER), under the project HomeGreens (POCI-01-0145-FEDER-023397). Total funding: 26.582,57 €. EU funding: 22.595,19 €. National public financial funding: 3.988,38 €.