RAS: “It’ll be expensive at the beginning, but will it come down to offshore level? With hard work I believe it will”

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In January, OFS Måløy- a wholly owned subsidiary of OFS Norway – was given the green light to construct a land-based salmon farm capable of producing 15,000 tonnes of fish. Ian McIntyre is a director at Niri, who is supplying the RAS tech for the project.

The English chemical engineer turned businessman and a long-time resident of Norway said Niri is planning to build a 10m diametre tank in Måløy, Western Norway: “We’ve been granted permission to locate it on the same site where OFS (Onshore Farming Solutions) will develop production capacity of 15,000 tonnes a year – not mega but very doable, and there is access to great sea and fresh water supplies and other necessary logistics there,” he said.

RAS hub
McIntyre told SalmonBusiness that Niri is also working to with a cluster of local and central government authorities and local commercial interests to turn Måløy into a world-class RAS hub.

Niri – who is partly owned by OFS (Onshore Farming Solutions) Norway, believe that their particular type of RAS tech can be scaled up. Last year, SalmonBusiness reported on Niri Scotland’s project at the huge Machrihanish Airbase. The pilot ran for a 2-year period when smolt were grown out while the technology was tested. “Valuable lessons were learnt, and the results were communicated back to Måløy for us to further develop the technology,” wrote McIntyre at the time.

Norwegian Entrepreneur Arve Gravdal who was associated with Niri is no longer attached with the current version of the company or the IP rights to the technology, explained McIntyre.

Couple of generations ahead
He said that those lessons were learnt and that Niri has now “developed a design that is a couple of generations ahead from what we had in Scotland.” Niri AS is building up a core staff that includes a technical director, PHD staff and a new managing director. “At this stage, Niri considers staff know-how and operation routines to be the main technical risk factor rather than the technology per se – akin to the fact that a passenger plane needs to be flown by a trained piloting crew and not a random selection of passengers,” he explained.

ILLUSTRASJON: OFS

Right now, OFS and Niri are progressing to begin staff training and capacity building, while groundworks and construction for the rest of the development will follow in due course. McIntyre said, “Niri´s modular technology offers this neat benefit, that it is possible to establish one or more of the Independent Production Units rapidly, and early, in a new project – to make sure that when that plane takes off, there are trained aviators on board.”

“The tech can be scaled out to other species – though salmon is the most demanding – because we are in Norway and have access to skilled fish farming experience – we are focusing on that species as when we master that – we can do anything,” he said, adding that they aim to be the industry benchmark for the technical robustness, operating costs and speed of development.

Production costs
Will the tech help farms to become a commercially sustainable business or will it remain an experiment is the question. To date, all land-based salmon producers have so far lost money on the fish they have produced – even when they achieve a price premium for the salmon.

“It’ll be expensive at the beginning, but will it come down to offshore level? With hard work I believe it will, and with protein of a higher perceived quality in the market,” said McIntyre. “RAS doesn’t need any medicine, there’s easier access, and there will be less chance of fish losses – which all contributes to a lower opex.”

And how long will it be until we get to that place? “It very much depends on investor risk tolerance,” said McIntyre. “I think it will take anywhere between 3-10 year range.”

There are already those who think are envisaging winning the “6 Euro” battle – the level which land-based salmon farms have not managed to come below. “I went to a presentation yesterday – where a RAS company said that they could reduce productions costs to £2 per kilo as a direct opex. But that is optimistic in the short term,” said McIntyre.

Food Security
Last week, SalmonBusiness reported on Vikings Label’s USD 90 million, 5,000-tonne indoor salmon farm project in the UAE.

“That’s the advantage, with the new tech from Niri AS’s production environment, we have full control of production water conditions. That’s what the UAE want, not just traceability but supply security – control over their own food supply. Qatar is very interested in that. The Middle East is also concerned as there are skyrocketing rates of diabetes – and they are looking for healthier foods and a plentiful supply of good quality salmon is an answer to some of those issues. It is more important than cost at this stage,” he concluded.