Ralco Seeing Interest in Indoor Shrimp Tech from Investors Outside Aquaculture

The following article appeared in Undercurrent News. Click here to read the article online. 

By Neil Ramsden

Ralco Aquaculture has had plenty of strong interest in its indoor shrimp farming technology since work began on its new research center; much of which has come from outside of the aquaculture industry, said general manager Michael Ziebell.

The animal feed company’s shrimp research center – which was built last year, led by ‘indoor raceway’ technology pioneer Addison Lawrence – has brought interested parties from around the world.

“As soon as we started taking this technology to a commercial scale, we had interest from all over,” Ziebell told Undercurrent News. “People who had followed Professor Lawrence’s work when he was at Texas A&M [University], and were waiting to see if somebody would take it to the next step.”

Lawrence came up with the indoor shrimp-farming method while at the university, before moving to Ralco in 2015, after the multinational acquired the raceway patent from the institution.

Part of Ralco’s work has been to make the technology more marketable. Thus, each super-intensive raceway is now a “tidal basin”, and a collection of them is a “harbor”.

“We’re in talks with potential investors all over the world; mostly from companies outside of the aquaculture sector, actually,” said Ziebell.

“Some are in the sector, but most are just companies who see the value in this type of farming, in shrimp, and the need for sustainably-produced food.”

Ralco is currently in the process of running trials through its four, stacked, tidal basins; it is on its sixth cohort of shrimp postlarvae which have come into the system to be grown.

“Our focus is on licensing the technology for use in large-capacity centers, like our model,” he said. “It is adaptable to a smaller, more ‘cottage’ industry, but economies of scale mean that larger centers are definitely more appropriate.”At the same time it is working on the engineering behind a full “harbor” system, which is being modeled for a production capacity of 6 million pounds (2,700 metric tons). This engineering work is around 75% complete, said Ziebell.

“We have some interested parties who envisage setting up harbors near urban centers, to provide fresh shrimp for foodservice – but their plans involve large cities, so the model would still need to be big.”

While Ralco is modeling for 6m pounds, there is no real upper limit on a harbor size, barring power and land usage (the latter of which is, of course, given a considerable boost by the ability to stack the tidal basins one on top the other).

As well as the tidal basin research, Ralco’s center is working on shrimp diets – including fishmeal alternatives – and financing models for the harbor design. The center opened in November 2015, and features 144 clear-water primary research tanks, 36 Biofloc primary research tanks, 16 nursery tanks, as well as animal health & water quality and shrimp feed laboratories.

It now employs 14 or 15 people, said Ziebell. A number of significant changes have been required in scaling up the technology, from the first units pioneered at Texas A&M to the systems now in place at the center.

“We needed to develop our own water management apparatus, for one thing; we have a patent pending on that, as well as a number of others,” he said.

Finally, Ziebell confirmed that Lawrence had, as reported earlier this month, retired, and would not be staying on in any advisory role.

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