What is Aeroponics?

Aeroponics is technically a branch of conventional hydroponics, so named for its method of delivering nutrient-rich grow solution to suspended plant roots via fine mist nozzles. This delivery method allows for large volumes of crops to be cultivated with significantly fewer volumes of the nutrient solution compared to methods such as Deep Water Culture (DWC) beds. Additionally, increased exposure to ambient air has been shown to aid plant growth.

It should be noted that the sustainably sourced nutrients solutions produced by the INTAG patented biodigestion process can be utilized in a wide range of growing equipment, including conventional hydroponic methods such as Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) gutters, Deep Water Culture (DWC) beds, Media Beds, and Aeroponic Delivery Arrays.

What is the difference between organic and synthetic chemical fertilizers?

Simply put, organically sourced nutrients and organic fertilizer come from natural sources such as manure, animal processing bioproducts, consumer waste, and plant biomass. The nutrients contained within these sources is broken down via a range of biological processes, and become available for plant growth. The diversity of living bacteria, microorganisms, and mycorrhizal fungi within organically sources fertilizers aids in nutrient uptake and plant health.

Synthetic fertilizers are manufactured nutrients such as ammonium nitrate (N), ammonium phosphate (P), and potassium sulfate (K). Chemical fertilizer solutions are typically denoted by various NPK values. It is important to note that many chemical fertilizers on the market may lack appropriate levels of micronutrients, though these can be dosed into growing systems as additives or supplements. Unlike the biologically active fertilizers produced by the INTAG patented biodigestion process, chemical fertilizers are typically sterile solutions, devoid of beneficial microbes, bacteria, and fungi.



Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture engaged INTAG’s Department of Applied Sciences to conduct a study on the use of INTAG patented bioreactors to process agro-industrial waste streams, such as aquaculture sludge, poultry manure, and restaurant pre/post-consumer waste into usable plant growth nutrients for application in hydroponic and field cultivation systems.


Focusing primarily on processing biodigestate waste from small-batch restaurant digesters, INTAG found that sludge produced from pre/post-consumer food waste can adequately be converted into bioavailable nutrient solution for cultivating crops in a hydroponic setting, if the pH of the input digestate is adjusted prior to introduction into INTAG patented bioreactors, as the pH of the input digestate was 3.9. This resulted in the rise of a secondary focus for this study, which looked at methods for manipulating the pH of the influent without negatively impacting the performance of the INTAG bioreactors. INTAG found that the safest methods for adjusting the pH of the influent digestate were to use either chemical lime or limestone pretreatments. Other methods of adjusting pH, such as dosing Sodium-bicarbonate, were found to increase trace minerals, such as sodium, that could negatively impact the performance of the INTAG bioreactors, and/or the health of the plants being cultivated from the resulting effluent.


INTAG’s aerobic bioreactor is a system for treating agroindustrial waste streams such as aquaculture sludge, animal manures, human sewage sludge, biodigestate, and the associated chemical wastes; ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and phosphorous, particularly phosphates.

While biodigestion systems can be utilized to process a wide range of waste streams, from sewage to animal offal, INTAG has focused much of its efforts on addressing biodigestion of agro-industrial waste streams, particularly animal waste sludge from intensive farming operations. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that anaerobic biodigestion is particularly beneficial to farms with a minimal cattle herd of 500 head, or an of hogs, 2,000 head, where the manure management scheme involves the use of anaerobic lagoons or deep pits. Furthermore, the EPA recommends anaerobic digesters be implemented if at least 90% of the waste produced from these farms is collected regularly, and where the waste is primarily slurry manure or semi-solid manure.

While aerobic digestion has been shown to have increased mineralization performance over anaerobic digestion, much of the previous research conducted on biodigesting agro-industrial wastes has focused on anaerobic digesters, as prior to the development of the INTAG bioreactor, there were few suitable aerobic digestion methods. INTAG’s patented aerobic bioreactor process fills this niche, providing a single-stage method by which to break down suspended solids and mineralize the nutrients found in waste sludge.

One of the key reasons that INTAG aerobic bioreactors are advantageous to anaerobic units currently being tested for sludge remediation, is the impact that pH has on the ability for digesters to efficiently break down sludge. University testing has shown that as pH dropped below 6.5, the anaerobic processes slowed. Below pH 6.0, methanogen activity was inhibited. The higher pH requirements of anaerobic digesters to properly break down sludge negatively impacts the ability to discharge digestate back into a growing system without being properly pre-treated.

Operating at a pH 6.4-6.8, INTAG’s aerobic bioreactor beds have shown the ability to efficiently mineralize key nutrients found in aquaculture sludge, aligning with research conducted by Conroy and Courtier that shows that decreases in pH facilitated the mineralization of macro and microelements in fish sludge. Due to the ability of INTAG bioreactors to operate in a pH range similar to the desired pH of plant growing solution, nutrient-rich discharge water from INTAG bioreactors can be seamlessly reintroduced into plant growing equipment.

In addition to variability in pH, research has found that incorporating discharge from anaerobic digesters back into an aquaponic system is complicated by the increased levels of Total Solids (TS), Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD), Volatile Fatty Acids (VFA), Total Ammonia Nitrogen (TAN), and other phytotoxic anaerobic secondary metabolites, compared to levels found in aerobic processes, such as INTAG’s patented bioreactor process.



In partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, INTAG conducted a research study on the use of INTAG patented bioreactors to process pelleted poultry waste into a nutrient solution for crops cultivated both in hydroponic and field settings. The goal of this study was two-fold: to demonstrate the ability of INTAG bioreactors to eliminate poultry waste, and the show that nutrient-rich crops can be cultivated from the resulting effluent of INTAG bioreactors.


When comparing parameters of the input poultry sludge to the effluent produced by INTAG bioreactor beds, there are a few key reductions that occur. Firstly, ammonia nitrogen levels fell from 152 ppm to just .42 ppm. In a similar fashion, the BOD and COD levels dropped from 1270 and 1250 respectively, to an undetectable level of BOD, and COD of only 16 ppm. The Fixed Total Solids were reduced from 536 to 217 ppm, and Total Dissolved were reduced from 748 to 235 ppm. Total Organic Carbon fell from 284 to 4.3 ppm, and the Volatile Total Solids were reduced from 755 to 43 ppm. It is important to note that the ammonia levels of the input waste sludge dropped from 135 ppm to under 1.0 ppm due to the rapid conversion of ammonia to usable nitrates.

Conversely, the Dissolved Oxygen concentrations of the sludge waste increased from 0.11 ppm to >4.0 ppm.

Additionally, a noted decrease in both phosphorus and pH were found. The microbiological quality of the input sludge and processed effluent is key to safely utilizing the effluent for plant growth either within the bioreactor beds themselves, or as an irrigable nutrient solution. When looking at the microbiology of the water, attention should be paid to the levels of fecal coliforms found in the effluent, as the concentrations of fecal coliforms determine how the system effluent can be utilized in agricultural settings.

Building on the resulting baseline numbers, INTAG’s research, and the development team are testing varying levels of nutrient loading rates to determine the most efficient Hydraulic Loading Rates, and Hydraulic Retention Times for particular crops. Additionally, INTAG is working to determine nutrient additive rates for particular crops, depending on the waste source used in different configurations, such as but not limited to poultry, bovine, and porcine manures, bidigestate, or human sewage.


Responding to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s interest in improving water quality in the Commonwealth, INTAG’s bioreactor process has proven to provide a versatile and robust technique for converting waste-to-nutrients. Further, remediation of nutrients from poultry manure and bedding is key to meeting Pennsylvania water quality goals,

especially in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Poultry manure and bedding wastes provide an ideal remediation target as

Pennsylvania, as a whole, was 10th in the nation for poultry and egg sales in 2012 ($1.4 billion). Statewide this

industry generated wastes rich in Nitrogen and Phosphorous; an estimated annual total of 13,329,737 lbs. N. and 30,796,395 lbs. P.

Continued research and development are vital to providing leadership in the campaign to clean up the waters of the Commonwealth and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. In 2013, it was shown that roughly 13 million pounds of nitrogen enter the Chesapeake Bay per year from Pennsylvania. Reaching a more sustainable input requires an 80% reduction of nitrogen loads by 2025. For combined nitrogen and phosphorus remediation in the watershed, over 75% must come from remediation of agricultural waste streams – by both keeping them out of the water and by getting them out of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Furthermore, 80% of this reduction must come from the 34,000 farms of 150 acres or less. INTAG’s research, analyses, and the publication of the results thereof provides a viable contribution to the collective wisdom of sustainable remediation techniques.

Pennsylvania has a distinct and immediate opportunity to make a lasting positive impact on water quality within the Commonwealth and greater Chesapeake Bay Watershed. With over 15,000 miles of streams and rivers, the Commonwealth provides 50% of the freshwater to the bay annually, and over 90% of the freshwater to the upper

bay. These streams and rivers provide critical recreational and drinking water sources within the Commonwealth. Within the Chesapeake Bay watershed portion of the Commonwealth are approximately 34,000 small farms, under 150 acres in size. These farms contribute strongly to Pennsylvania’s economy as well as the nutrient load in Commonwealth waters and to the Bay. INTAG patented bioreactors offer a method for remediating agro-industrial waste from the watershed.



In January 2019, INTAG was engaged by the University of Hawaii to look at how the aquaponic techniques developed by INTAG could be used to enrich student research and learning. This was a continuation of previous work that INTAG has done engaging colleges and universities in cutting edge and validation research.


As the first stepping stone toward developing strategic research and learning opportunities with the University of Hawaii, INTAG implemented a small aquaponic system at the University of Hawaii Shidler Business School to help students begin to think about the role that agriculture and food security play in international business and politics.


One of INTAG’s Founders, and Senior Advisors, Dr. Ed Harrell is a Professional in Residence at the Pacifica Asian Center for Entrepreneurship (PACE), housed at the University of Hawaii, Shidler Business School. His work at PACE is focused on training students of all ages to look at the world through the lenses of entrepreneurship, business development, and geopolitics, in order to better engage the people around them to work toward a more sustainable future. This drive has aided INTAG in integrating food systems and sustainable agriculture technologies into student learning across the country.



Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA), a K-12 Public Cyber Charter School based out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, contracted INTAG to design, engineer, and construct a state-of-the-art STEM research and education facility centered around Controlled Environment Agriculture technologies. The goal of this facility is to provide tangible laboratory learning opportunities and real-world vocational training to students.


The core of the research and education facility that INTAG implemented at CCA is 5,000 controlled environment growing lab outfitted with both aquaponic and hydroponic growing equipment. The aquaponic portion of this facility is comprised of (3) 600-gallon fish tanks housing tilapia and koi. The waste-water from these fish tanks is processed through INTAG patented bioreactor beds customized to the shape of the CCA logo. The nutrient-rich effluent from these is supplied to a wide range of crops being cultivated within the bioreactor beds themselves, deep water culture (DWC) float beds, and commercial-style vertical nutrient film technique (NFT) gutter arrays. The hydroponic portions of this facility include vertical grow towers and hydro-wheels, exposing students to the water chemistry and operational protocols of hydroponic food production.

The growing facility at CCA housing a wide range of crops, from culinary lettuces, microgreens, herbs, and kales, to fruiting plants, such as cocoa, lemons, bananas, and pineapples.

In addition to the main facility, INTAG engineered and constructed a lighting manipulation and growth trials lab, specifically designed to allow students to engage in cutting-edge plant growth trials under varying lighting conditions. This lab, as well as the main growing facility mentioned above, it outfitted with variable spectrum LED fixtures that allow for the manipulation and control of Daylight Integral (DLI, Daylength, and Spectrum Discharge. All key water quality and environmental parameters in the research labs and main growing environmental are monitored, logged, and alarmed using a custom interface.

To meet the client goals of providing students with career training in biology and biotech fields, INTAG designed and installed a professional-grade tissue culture lab, as well as an ISO-8 cleanroom microbiology lab centered around CRISPR genetics and zebra-fish rearing.


Cyber-charter schools face the challenge of ensuring that their students receive hands-on learning, lab training, and social skills such as team-building and problem-solving. The development of centralized laboratory facilities allows for students to come together to complete experiments and studies that teach the aforementioned skills.

INTAG learning and research facilities, such as the one implemented at Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA), provide an ideal environment for students of wide age ranges to explore the many facets of STEM learning, including but not limited to botanical sciences, aquaculture, biology, chemistry, genetics, engineering, utilities, marketing, and business development.

Additionally, such facilities allow for the high-school students to engage in real-world lab work, providing them with valuable skills and resume material to prepare them for the job market or college enrollment. Students trained in centers like the one INTAG developed for CCA can be trained in commercial plant propagation and tissue culture, as well as cutting edge biological and genetic lab techniques such as CRISPR genetic manipulation.



In 2017, INTAG was engaged by the World Bank, through the Nigeria State Education Program Investment Project (SEPIP), to complete a feasibility study on the application of aquaponic growing systems as a tool for increasing Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in schools in Ekiti State, Nigeria,  and to facilitate workforce development and skills training programs in which students could receive training in areas ranging from aquaculture and greenhouse growing, to plumbing, electrical utilities, engineering, and others.


The culmination of INTAG’s work in Ekiti State centers around a 3,000 square foot aquaponic facility in Ekiti State, Nigeria, that was constructed in November 2018, in partnership with CBC, a technology and engineering firm in Lagos, Nigeria.

This INTAG aquaponic facility helps the Nigeria Federal Ministry of Education meet its goals to increase Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) learning for students enrolled at the Governor’s Gifted School. In addition to providing real-world training opportunities for students, this facility serves as a best-in-class model of sustainable farming practices to be replicated across Ekiti State, Nigeria, and West Africa as a whole. The facility that INTAG constructed in Ekiti State utilizing INTAG’s patented biodigestion process to utilize the sludge waste from tilapia tanks for cultivating a variety of vegetative and fruiting crops for consumption while utilizing only a small percentage of water and land relative to conventional growing methods. Additionally, this aquaponic system is not as susceptible to seasonal fluctuations of rainfall and temperatures, allowing for year-round food production.


Aquaponic growing environments bring a full spectrum of academic pursuits into unison around the tangible and immediate benefit of growing food. Biology, chemistry, math and engineering concepts meet practical job skills in agriculture, plumbing, electrical systems, construction, and small business. Furthermore, caring for fish and plants, while incorporating anchor educational concepts has been shown to increase student engagement and curiosity in learning. Furthermore, the unique proximity of conceptual higher learning to practical and vocational education that occurs in the ‘living laboratory’ of an aquaponic growing environment.

INTAG’s workforce development solutions employ innovative models for delivering technical and vocational training content to develop skills in modern food, agriculture, and related technologies, turning our Integrated Agriculture sites into powerful learning environments. Project-based learning combined with diverse and relevant technologies provides students and trainees from any background, with a rare ‘talent ramp’ for developing both entry-level and advanced skill sets in an unusually cross-functional setting.

PBS39 Features INTAG System in Innovative Education Video Series

INTAG systems and Steelton Highspire School District Aquaponics Learning Center, teachers, and students were featured in a newly released video series by PBS39, Lehigh Valley’s local public media station, produced in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and the Pennsylvania Technical Training Network.

The videos were created as a professional training series for teachers in PA schools. View the following excerpt of the video.