Pitt Team Awarded BetaBurgh Grant for The Aquaponics Project

BeatBurgh Project

The University of Pittsburgh Aquaponics Team at the Inclusive Innovation event, November 10, 2016.  From left to right: (1) Vihn Loung, sophomore, Computer Science; (2) Joe DiPietro, sophomore, Actuarial Mathematics (3) Maddi Johnson, senior, Architectural Studies. See below for Maddi's description of the project:


We hear every day about how cities are building green and we see it happening, but slowly.  Sometimes I question why change doesn’t occur more quickly when solutions are apparent, especially those combining natural elements and new technologies.


A perfect example of this coupling is our ongoing aquaponics project that I have had the opportunity to be part of from its inception. “The Aquaponics Project” is an entrepreneurial endeavour created by and comprised of University of Pittsburgh students from various disciplines with diverse skills and backgrounds. The project is led by sophomore Vihn Loung and is supported by a vast network of students.  I am primarily responsible for its architectural design.


What is aquaponics? Aquaponics is a closed-loop agricultural system that uses waste produced by aquacultural fish as nutrients for hydroponically grown plants.  In return, purified water is fed back to the fish.  With this innovative method of farming, sustainability and efficiency is optimized by decreasing the amount of land and water necessary for farming.  It also eliminates the need to transport produce into urban areas and it creates a controlled growing environment that decreases the time it takes between harvests with no seasonal boundaries.


The project came to life when it received a $10,000 grant from Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. PDP calls its campaign BetaBurgh [], with an interest in helping to fund promising start-up companies.  In the spring 2016 the first grants were awarded, managed by Becky Thatcher of PDP.


Our aquaponics farm is the first of its kind to be located downtown where Penn Avenue meets Liberty Avenue near Gateway Station, a block from the Point.  With funding in place, the design process started.  The main structure of our farm is built on a shipping container, which is ideal because it came at a low cost, was sturdy and was easy to transport.  We built a greenhouse on top, while the fish, germination station and water system are located inside the container. The greenhouse contains forty, seven-foot hanging growth towers, with twenty plants each.  The freshwater fish will be harvested and sold on a seasonal basis.  The plants grow year round in a fraction of the space used by normal farming, with ten times the yield and one-tenth the water.  Also, transport of the produce is minimized and the use of pesticides, GMOs and preservatives is eliminated.


From figuring out how the system was going to work to fitting it inside the container, we had our work cut out for us.  In working with our contractor, Sipes & Son [] I began creating the design images for the greenhouse and container.  This included plans, renderings, logos, container graphics, and other visuals that will help give it exposure and create public interest.  The container is more a work of art then an industrial unit placed in the middle of our city.


The farm is an ongoing enterprise that will likely remain at its downtown location until light up night.  We then hope to move it to the University of Pittsburgh campus by simply placing sections of the greenhouse inside the container and transporting it like any other unit.


The project has been an ongoing success thanks to passionate leadership, many hardworking volunteers, and a knowledgeable team of university students.


-- Maddi Johnson, Architectural Studies.


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Vienna IFTA