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Student Spotlight – Alexia Akbay and Nicholaus Johnson

May 02, 2018
by Denise Meyer

Cow farts are responsible for 28 percent of methane emissions in the United States. While that methane composes just 7.9 percent of the overall greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere it is twenty times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change and health issues.

Researchers from the Centre for Macroalgal Resources and Biotechnology in Austrialia discovered that 99 percent of those cattle emissions could be eliminated by adding just 2 percent red seaweed to cattle feed. Red seaweed, however, is not commercially grown.

That finding inspired Alexia Akbay, a first-year student in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences. Teaming up with Nicholaus Johnson, also a first-year student in the department, they won seed funding from the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale last fall for their idea to create an aquaponic system to grow red seaweed and shrimp in a sustainable way.

Shrimp consumption, they explain, is growing rapidly in the US, while wild fisheries are declining and most fish farming have high levels of mercury, bacterial contamination and antibiotics.

“There has been a lot of discussion about what constitutes environmental health in recent years and there has been a greater focus on food and nutrition,” Alexia added.

Using the symbiotic benefits of aquaculture, their startup company, Concha Aquaponics, is designed to produce both antibiotic-free, sustainably-farmed white pacific shrimp for local markets and a redmacroalgae, Asparagopsis taxiformis, for commercial cattle feed. "Although methane is a potent greenhouse gas, it has a relatively short life span. We are therefore excited about the potential of our business to not only produce high quality shrimp but also rapidly aid climate change mitigation efforts through the integration of our algae with cattle feed," said Nicholaus.

The team now also includes chief strategist, Gracie White, who graduated from Yale College last year and who works with the non-profit Greenwave to support farmers in setting up sustainable kelp farms; and Hayley Lemoine, a first-year student in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies where she focusses on marine resources management.

Concha Aquaponics won the 2018 Sabin Sustainabile Venture Prize in April. The prize includes both $25,000 cash and inclusion in Yale’s Summer Accelerator Program. The team will be building a prototype at Yale’s West Campus this summer.

“This initiative would not have been possible without all the Yale resources in support of entrepreneurship we have taken advantage of,” said Alexia.

Submitted by Denise Meyer on May 02, 2018