Bricks and Mortars

Two hours with Bent Urup

By Lawrence Reichard | Oct 26, 2018

On Sept. 25, I awoke in Odense, Denmark, home of famed Danish storyteller Hans Christian Andersen. I walked to the train station and took a half-hour train ride to Fredericia, where I was picked up by a daughter of Bent Urup.

Bent Urup is a gregarious and energetic man, and he loves to talk about his work. He is perhaps the world's foremost expert on Recirculating Aquaculture Systems, which Nordic Aquafarms plans to use for its proposed Belfast industrial fish farm. Urup was the first to develop saltwater RAS, and he invented RAS 2020, which he says is the world's most efficient and cost-effective RAS system.

Urup designed and built Maximus, a Danish smolt farm he owned for eight years before selling it in October 2017 to a group of investors in which Nordic Aquafarms had a 50-percent share. Urup designed and developed Sashimi Royal, a Denmark fish farm he then sold to a group of investors in which Nordic Aquafarms had a 62.5-percent share. And in 2015-2017 Urup was CEO and chief technology officer of Sashimi Royal, which uses his RAS 2020 system.

Urup has designed more than 50 RAS systems, and has built RAS 2020 systems in Switzerland, Australia and Denmark. Time Magazine named Urup's bluefin tuna project the second-best invention of 2009.

Meeting in his Fredericia office, Urup painted a picture of an RAS industry — and a Nordic Aquafarms — in disarray and suffering from poor management.

Urup believes Nordic's Maximus plant is running at only 10-percent capacity. I asked him why. “Because of management,” he said. “You need the right people ... Maximus is complicated to operate.” Urup said Maximus is Sashimi Royal's only source of smolt and that Maximus' production woes are limiting Sashimi's production to half its capacity.

“When you don't really feel you're in control, the typical reaction is ... 'we need to make protocols.' But the thing is if you put 20 tanks up and you did exactly the same trick, they will all behave differently, because of biological factors ...The day you turn into working on a routine, on a fixed protocol, you're lost ... As soon as you see something go wrong, it's too late — you can do nothing. You have to anticipate problems. It's about getting the right qualified people.”

Like a former Maximus worker I interviewed in Denmark Sept. 27, Urup said that Maximus has had problems with fish disease, something Nordic CEO Erik Heim denied to me in his Norway office Sept. 19, and which Nordic Director of Operations Marianne Naess denied in an Oct. 18 Republican Journal op-ed.

Naess's op-ed did not address allegations that a 14-year-old Maximus employee worked with Virkon S, a chemical children that young are not allowed to handle under Danish law. Those allegations appear consistent with Urup's concerns about Maximus management.

“The management (operation) of Maximus is very difficult,” Urup told me, “and if you don't do it right, you will have bacteria growing.” Urup said Maximus has in the past treated its fish disease problem with antibiotics.

But Nordic's problems in Belfast may go far beyond poor management and fish disease.

Bent Urup obtained a patent for his RAS 2020 system, and in 2015 he sold it to Veolia, a French company. But while Urup's RAS 2020 patent was still pending, Inter Aqua, a Danish company, built a fish farm in Australia that infringed on Urup's pending patent. Veolia sued Inter Aqua and won its suit in June 2018. The next month Inter Aqua went bankrupt. (Editor's note: This paragraph was updated Thursday, Oct. 25, by the columnist and differs slightly from the column printed in The Republican Journal.)

And now Urup believes Nordic may do in Belfast what Inter Aqua did in Australia.

“They (Nordic Aquafarms) have never built anything. ...They were never involved in the construction (of Sashimi Royal),” Urup said. “They were just investors. They came to board meetings. That's the only involvement they had. But they are building one (in Belfast) and again it's the same story. You see history repeating itself. People have a half-understanding, then they become dangerous, because then they think they know enough. Now they are trying to develop their own system, which is a modification (of RAS 2020), but I don't think they can do it, because it's compromising the patent, as I see it.”

Indeed, Nordic Aquafarms had intended to get its RAS technology from Inter Aqua, and when Inter Aqua went bankrupt, Nordic promptly hired six former Inter Aqua employees.

“What I have been told is that they (Nordic Aquafarms) try to build it longer,” Urup said of Nordic's Belfast design. “It's an oval, and that's the way they try to move around Veolia ... but ... the RAS 2020 patent is not about whether it's oval. It's the flow-setting device, and if you don't have that, you can't make the salmon grow efficiently.”

At this point, Urup launched into a story, as he loves to do. “In 2014 there came an Irish delegation to Danish Salmon, where I for a period of time was CEO. I showed them around ... I explained to them about the new RAS 2020, which was coming up, and they were interested.

“And the guy who was showing these people around was a guy called Ivar Warrer-Hansen, and I didn't know that he was part of Inter Aqua; but the people were very interested and I said, well, go and talk with Veolia, they are the one you need for supplying it.

“But in May he (Warrer-Hansen) put an article in Fish Farmer (magazine), in May 2015, around a new concept they, Inter Aqua, were developing, and that was clearly a copy of what I had showed him. ... so clearly the reason why they came was a kind of sales trip; he was trying to sell a system, a conventional system, but the client he brought was clearly so interested in the RAS 2020, so they want something similar, so they tried to copy it.”

According to Warrer-Hansen's Linkedin profile, he has been a senior Nordic Aquafarms RAS adviser since September 2018.

Looking ahead to Nordic's Belfast plans, I asked Urup whether Veolia's lawyers were sharpening their pencils, in anticipation of a patent-infringement fight against Nordic. “I believe so, yes,” Urup said.

When we were done talking, we had a big lunch of typical Danish smørrebrød, and Urup's wife took me back to the train station for my four-hour ride to Thisted. And so ended a memorable two hours.

Lawrence Reichard is a first-place Maine Press Association winner, freelance writer and activist who lives in Belfast.


Comments (1)
Posted by: Kenneth W Hall | Oct 27, 2018 12:08

Will be interesting to see if Veolia's lawyers wait until NAF has made larger investments of land clearing, and underground water lines installed, before filing suit to make sure NAF resources are depleted enough to eliminate the competition for Veolia?

Would the Belfast subsidiary of Nordic then file bankruptcy and walk away from the project not completed?  What size bond will Belfast ask for,considering moving the water district?  At what point does the City hand over the quarter million dollar check to support their project? Dam inspections etc, etc, etc.   Property taxes will go down how much?



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