Integrated Food-Energy Systems for Multi-Functional Sustainability


Combining the production of food and energy into one integrated system is an approach that can improve biodiversity conservation, food security, energy access, and a community’s ability to adapt to climate change. Integrated Food-Energy Systems (IFES) range from simple to complex, from low to high tech, and entail one or more points of integration. Our team of faculty and students from the Dartmouth Environmental Studies Program and the Thayer School of Engineering, as well as private sector practitioners, is studying different IFES cases around the world and conducting experimental research. The IFES team is an invited participant in the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All initiative. We are partnering with the FAO on a High Impact Opportunity to assess the sustainability of IFES. The team participated in a workshop to launch this assessment in June 2013. More information here.

Dartmouth Team IFES: Anne Kapuscinski-team lead, Michael Cox, Michael Gerst, Mark Laser, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , Steven Peterson, Pallab Sarker, Christopher Sneddon

Example of a biogas-based IFES: Burning of methane from a landfill or biodigester generates combined heat and power (CHP) that sells power to the grid and heats greenhouses. In the greenhouses, microalgae is cultivated in photo-bioreactors fertilized with carbon-dioxide from CHP flue gases and nitrogen and phosphorous from fish-rearing effluent. The fish are reared on a feed partly made of microalgae. Ultimately, the system produces year-round, nutritionally enhanced fish and vegetable products.

Sustainable aspects of this system include: Affordable renewable energy and year-round heat; Mitigation of landfill methane emissions; Conversion of carbon dioxide to microalga biomass; Avoidance of river pollution by recycling nitrogen and phosphorous rich fish effluent; Growth of microalgae strains that naturally synthesize omega-3 fatty acids, which can be absorbed by the fish and are essential to human health.


Current laboratory experiments address the following questions:

  1. What is the productivity of micro-algae fertilized by fish culture effluent instead of inorganic nutrient media?
  2. To what extent can micro-algae substitue for fish meal and fish oil in Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) diets?

  3. Professor Kapuscinski, Dr. Pallab Sarker, and undergraduate research assistants work in the laboratory cultivating strains of marine microalgae and integrating the algae into experimental tilapia diets used in fish feeding experiments.

Our collaboratory is also developing research on the following questions:

  1. What are the major biophysical and social interdependencies in an IFES and how do they affect mass and energy balances, cost-effectiveness, and harmful emissions?
  2. How do institutional arrangements between different participants influence the governance of an IFES?
  3. How do environmental, economic, and sociopolitical dynamics at different scales influence the wider adoption of IFES?

Recent and Ongoing IFES Research Projects:

"A quantitative model of Integrated Food Energy Systems” (Frances Davenport '13 thesis)
“Managing phosphorus discharge from Nile tilapia aquaculture with microalgae-supplemented diets” (Madilyn Gamble '13 thesis)
“Institutional barriers to and opportunities for waste reintegration” (Bonita Längle '13 thesis)
Algae-based tilapia feeds – digestibility, growth and nutritional quality (Dr. Pallab Sarker, Senior Research Associate)
Effects of microalgae based diets fish effluents as an irrigation water on growth of lettuce plants and total microbial activities (Dipa Dey, Research Assistant)
Inventory of U.S. recirculating aquaculture and aquaponic systems, with energy sources used and opportunities for renewables (Phoebe Racine '14)
Development of initial IFES Network website (Lucia Pohlman '15)

Integrated Aquaponics Demonstrations at the Dartmouth Organic Farm

Our exploratory aquaponics study maximized greenhouse production space by converting storage tanks for solar heated water to an integrated crop system with basil grown on floating rafts and tilapia raised in the algae rich water. The project gave undergraduate students a great hands-on opportunity to learn about experimental design, sampling procedures, and basic data analysis. Note before and after images above.

New micro-algae raceway cultivator nearly complete at Dartmouth College Organic farm. Cultivator will support research on alternative fish feeds for Nile Tilapia.