The computer aided design of CFK student-designed Neptune Rising Project, an offshore marine aquaculture (fish farming) and power production operation: A) coral aquaculture for restoration, B) seaweed sector to provide food for the fish and for terrestrial cattle farming, C) pearl oyster culture to clean the water flowing from D) the Bluefin tuna for seafood market, E) one of two 40 m hydrokinetic energy converter (one out of water the other submerged) capable of a continuous output of 23 MW of electricity, F) and G) offshore wind energy and solar to offset operational energy needs, H) Oceanic Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) capable of over 100 MW of continuous electric energy output. 

CFK students’ “Neptune Rising” wins national marine energy collegiate competition “Moonshot” award

KEY WEST, FL, July 31, 2020— The College of the Florida Keys’ 11-member student team won the “Moonshot Award” at the first-ever “Powering the Blue Economy” national Marine Energy Collegiate Competition. CFK students and staff rejoiced when CFK’s Neptune Rising project was announced as the winner at the virtual awards ceremony on July 23, which was originally scheduled to take place in Washington, D.C. The contest, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, was created to encourage bright young minds to develop theoretical technology to power the emerging “blue economy,” a term that refers to the interplay between economic, social, and ecological sustainability of the ocean.

“We are incredibly proud of these students and the impressive work they put forth,” said Dr. Jonathan Gueverra, CFK President. “This award is indicative of the quality of our institution, which is tied directly to the quality of our students, our graduates, our employees, and our relationship with industry partners.”

CFK’s Neptune Rising project conceptualizes an offshore marine aquaculture (fish farming) and power production operation. The 600 meter by 125 meter floating facility is designed to function in the waters of the Florida Current, approximately 35 kilometers due south of Key West, FL.

Students in CFK’s Engineering Technology, Marine Science, Aquaculture, and Business programs collaborated over the course of eight months on the project. They set out to address multiple ecological problems, including: climate change and ocean acidification caused by fossil fuel production; damages to the marine ecosystem caused by poorly-managed offshore aquaculture; and the growing need for sustainable global food production. Their work began with numerous group meetings on the Key West Campus, but the pandemic forced them to utilize technology to unite online to complete the project. Despite the challenges, the team fine-tuned operation details, engineered equipment, estimated energy and aquaculture production output, and calculated financial projections. Their ultimate Neptune Rising proposal addresses each problem they set out to alleviate and with an initial estimated startup cost of $900 million, the operation would turn a profit of $15 billion after 30 years (the expected lifespan of the man-made offshore floating facility).

Neptune Rising is designed to harness multiple forms of marine renewable energy including: Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC), hydrokinetic energy, offshore wind, and offshore solar. It would generate enough clean power to run the entire aquaculture operation and enough excess power to light up the entire Florida Keys and much of South Florida. The marine aquaculture component in Neptune Rising would allow the cultivation of multiple fish and valuable marine products like pearls in a single, integrated system where one species feeds off the waste of the other, exactly like in nature. The cold, nutrient-rich waters from the OTEC would be utilized to grow phytoplankton, zooplankton, and sardines, to feed the target species of Bluefin tuna, the most valuable fish in the ocean. Waste from the tuna would cascade to lower levels in the system, providing energy to pearl oysters, seaweed, and corals. In turn, the oysters and seaweed filtering properties clean the ocean waters flowing through the system.

The tuna would be sold for human consumption while the pearls from the oysters would be used for the jewelry industry. The seaweed would be sold in the aquarium trade and to cattle farms as a methane-reducing cattle feed. Finally, coral grown in Neptune Rising would be donated for local coral reef ecosystem restoration and also sold in the aquarium trade.

The students virtually presented their Neptune Rising project in a 15-minute pitch and animated tour of their facility to a platform of judges on July 9. The CFK team was the only state college in the competition, competing against 15 other research universities like Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Virginia Tech, and University of California Berkley.

“This was an amazing opportunity for our students to compete against some of the brightest young minds in the country, while demonstrating to the marine renewable energy industry how to lower energy production costs by using what we call energy synergy, meaning a single floating platform for all kinds of energy and aquaculture production. The concept is simple, if you are going to pay to build a structure, then you should maximize the space to produce as much revenue as possible,” said Dr. Patrick Rice, CFK’s Chief Science and Research Officer and team advisor.

Dr. Rice plans to take the student team to show off their award-winning Neptune Rising project to industry leaders in marine renewable energy at the first-ever joint convention of the National Hydropower Association and the International Council on Ocean Energy in Washington, D.C. next year.