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An Algae Bioreactor from Recycled Water Bottles


by mfischer on February 1, 2009 Table of Contents An Algae Bioreactor from Recycled Water Bottles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Intro: An Algae Bioreactor from Recycled Water Bottles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Step 1: Make Carbon Dioxide Delivery System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Step 2: Attach Tubing to Manifold . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Step 3: Mount Carbon Dioxide System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Step 4: Mount Water Bottles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Step 5: Make Algae Media . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Step 6: Media Inoculation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Step 7: Growth and Harvesting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Related Instructables . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Comments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 2 3 3 3 4 5 6 7 8 8

http://www.instructables.com/id/An-Algae-Bioreactor-from-Recycled-Water-Bottles/

Author:mfischer
Michael Fischer

Intro: An Algae Bioreactor from Recycled Water Bottles


In this instructable, we describe how to build a photo-bioreactor that uses algae to convert carbon dioxide and sunlight into energy. The energy that is produced is in the form of algae biomass. The photo-bioreactor is built from plastic recycled water bottles. By designing the apparatus to be compartmentalized, we are able to do many experiments in parallel. Michael Fischer mfischer @t stanford.edu

By using algae as a biofuel, we can increase the world's supply of oil while at the same time we decrease the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide used during its production. The resulting product is a sustainable biofuel whose carbon footprint is neutral inasmuch as the CO2 produced on consumption is essentially balanced by the CO2 used in its production. In this instructable, we first make the carbon dioxide delivery system, then mount the water bottles on a rack, and then inoculate the bottles with algae. After letting the algae grow for a week, we extract the biomass.

http://www.instructables.com/id/An-Algae-Bioreactor-from-Recycled-Water-Bottles/

Step 1: Make Carbon Dioxide Delivery System


To make the carbon dioxide delivery system, connect an eight port sprinkler system manifold to a one inch long PVC pipe. To get good seals, use Teflon tape to tape the threads before attaching the pieces together. Next, attach the one inch pipe to a T-connector. Block off one end of the T-connector and attach the other end to a foot long PVC pipe.

Step 2: Attach Tubing to Manifold


For each manifold, cut eight-pieces of flexible tubing and connect each piece to a port of the manifold. The manifold that I am using has a dial on each port to control the rate of flow. Make sure all the ports that you use are open and allow approximately the same amount of carbon dioxide to flow through the port.

Step 3: Mount Carbon Dioxide System


Mount the air system to a metal rack using zip ties. Attach the air system to a tank of carbon dioxide.

http://www.instructables.com/id/An-Algae-Bioreactor-from-Recycled-Water-Bottles/

Step 4: Mount Water Bottles


Hot glue the water bottles to the metal rack.

http://www.instructables.com/id/An-Algae-Bioreactor-from-Recycled-Water-Bottles/

Step 5: Make Algae Media


We next make the medium to grow the algae. Although there are many possible mediums, a standard garden store fertilizer contains all the nitrogen and nutrients that the algae need.

http://www.instructables.com/id/An-Algae-Bioreactor-from-Recycled-Water-Bottles/

Step 6: Media Inoculation


A good source of algae is pond algae, if available. If not, there are a large number of online vendors that sell batches of algae. To inoculate the culture, measure out a fixed amount of algae and add it to the growth medium.

http://www.instructables.com/id/An-Algae-Bioreactor-from-Recycled-Water-Bottles/

Step 7: Growth and Harvesting


After several days of sunlight and CO2 exposure, the algae are much denser. A French press is then used to extract the algae from the solution. The biomass of the dried algae can then be used as a fuel. As a by-product of this process, a large amount of atmospheric CO2 is sequestered. By: Michael Fischer, Stanford University, mfischer @t stanford.edu

http://www.instructables.com/id/An-Algae-Bioreactor-from-Recycled-Water-Bottles/

Related Instructables

PhotoBioreactor for Algae & Aquaculture Using Recycled Bottles by harmane

Solar-powered algae bioreactor by middlenamefrank

WIP: Scalable, automatic algal bioreactor by pyrosine

Simple Algae Home CO2 Scrubber - Part 1 by egbertfitzwilly

Simple Algae Home CO2 Scrubber - Part II Algae Cultures and Breeding by egbertfitzwilly

How To Make an Algae Test Photo Bioreactor...Part Six by dsieg58

Comments
50 comments Add Comment view all 203 comments

pashanoid says:

Jun 19, 2011. 10:55 PM REPLY Thank you for this amaizing instructable! I now really want to build one of my own! However, up here in Moscow, Russia we don't get that much sunlight. Should I start with a scaled down model. I have one window in my apt facing west - gets the most sunlight... In any case -- great story, thank you!

jbuk1 says:
visit the our online site http://www.phycotechinc.com/ for more information regarding photobioreactor

Jun 18, 2011. 9:40 AM REPLY

algaemaster says:
do the tubes that the co2 passes through go in the plastic bottle through the top?

Feb 3, 2011. 6:31 PM REPLY

http://www.instructables.com/id/An-Algae-Bioreactor-from-Recycled-Water-Bottles/

dawgz031 says:

Jan 15, 2010. 9:10 PM REPLY wow...this is a really nice step to reduce global warming when connected to the co2 scrubber.... the co2 scrubber gets the co2 in the air...then it is feed to the algae......and more i saw some article about specific algae that can be cultured so it can be used as a fuel or something when it is processed... but there are still questions about the process on how to transform algae to a fuel.....and how to extract co2 of caustic soda.... can some on please help me??? is there some one who know more about caustic soda and algae???

Pe-ads says:
Isn't the algae a good enough scrubber? :D Plants are carbon-neutral, as all the CO2 that gets released when you burn it, gets absorbed when a new plant grows.

Dec 2, 2010. 12:21 PM REPLY

tomas.savage says:
fossil fuels are technically carbon-neutral as well. they were once plants that took CO2 from the atmosphere.

Dec 2, 2010. 2:07 PM REPLY

'carbon neutrality' doesn't apply to specific fuels, it applies to a process of removing the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere as you put in; for whatever good or damage that will do.

gaiatechnician says:

Dec 2, 2010. 8:59 PM REPLY Perhaps it should read "biosphere neutral"? Adding fossil carbon to the biosphere changes the composition of the biosphere. Thats the big problem.

tomas.savage says:
that would be a more accurate term since the biosphere remains equipoise. as for that being the big problem, it's just the popular opinion at this time. popular opinions aren't always right.

Dec 2, 2010. 10:16 PM REPLY

CO2 is the primary plant fertilizer. i wouldn't be keen on removing too much of it. i would rather be worried about increasing the O2 supply as that is becoming dangerously low.

squenchmeister says:

Dec 3, 2010. 9:52 AM REPLY By primary, do you mean limiting plant fertilizer? If so this is not true. Phosphorus and Nitrogen are limiting, and much less abundant. It is these nutrients that dictate plant growth, and of course carbon consumption. It should not matter how much carbon you pump at a photosynthetic organism. It will not take up any more than is dictated by these two nutrients. This is why forests would not be adequate carbon sinks. I can see this becoming a problem as well. I would imagine that if done at an industrial level, companies only trying to make a buck will pump more and more fertilizers into their algae farms. These are the same chemicals that cause algae growths in streams and lakes when they run off from farms, lawns, etc.. Eutrophication is an environmental catastrophe which is destroying aquatic life and resources. The dead zone off the coast of New Orleans is a result of this process and others. Judging on the fuel industry's track record, I am positive that it will end badly. It is a shame too. This seems like a great biofuel.

nsupple says:

Dec 3, 2010. 8:43 PM REPLY The motivation for a company not too pump too many fertilizers into there algal solution would simply be the cost f fertilizers, that would be one of an algae farms biggest costs, and with money on the table you can bet the company will use just the right amount...Just a thought, perhaps one of these such farms could sit on the Mississippi river and simply feed their algae on the water in it, we all know theres plenty of fertilizers within

squenchmeister says:

Dec 6, 2010. 8:46 AM REPLY You would think this is a major motivation, but industry, agriculture, and lawn care enthusiasts f**k this up all the time. This is why the Mississippi river is so rich in fertilizers. Every time anyone in the Midwest over fertilizes it ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. This is on top of all the other inefficiently used pollutants found in run off, and all the failing sewage treatment plants. Lets not forget, it would be energy companies (BP, Exxon, Shell, etc.) doing the energy production. They seem to find a ways to screw up every last detail, and then fight tooth and nail to deny responsibility. Did it make sense for BP to construct a crappy well that failed, killed 10 people, lost millions of gallons of valuable crude oil, and lost them over 20 billion dollars? ...Somehow yes. On the positive side, I think it would be a great Idea to use algae in this way. What about using algae farms as pretreatment for sewage? I wonder what other pollutants could be processed by algae into less harmful chemicals.

nsupple says:

Dec 7, 2010. 10:25 PM REPLY You have good point there, i have often thought, if only we could someone convince farmers that it would be cheaper to use less..... On the waste treatment idea, I don't think algae works very well with waste treatment, the newest system for that (atleast where i live, near the mississippi) seems to be simply open air tanks for a period to kill of bacteria then draining across a large field that treats the water over a period until it washes in wetlands....Usually bacteria are better suited for such waste treatment

http://www.instructables.com/id/An-Algae-Bioreactor-from-Recycled-Water-Bottles/

squenchmeister says:
http://www.oldcastleprecastonsite.com/algae_wheel_MAIN.html

Dec 8, 2010. 9:24 AM REPLY

Check out this site. The only problem with this is the algae use the CO2 produced by the bacteria, not by the later burning of the algae as fuel. Similar symbiotic relationships are found in eutrophication. Do the algae farms discussed in this instructable account for this? We are dealing with a more controlled environment, but how easily could the bacteria that eat dead algae contaminate the operation? If they did they would be the primary contributors of CO2 to the algae, and possibly decrease biomass yields. This might defeat the purpose.

nsupple says:

Dec 8, 2010. 8:42 PM REPLY Interesting thought, In the case of this instructional obviously no bacteria is present, though also in reality the farmand process depicted in this instructable is only useful as a concept, since, in all likely hood the process above requires more energy than it produces....But back to the bacteria i really don't know, that would certainly be something to consider

gaiatechnician says:

Dec 2, 2010. 11:48 PM REPLY Different types of plants take up CO2 at different rates. So this "fertilizer" gives some plants a big advantage over their neighbours. Result, extinction of the neighbour! It is also well known that if you boost fertilizer to a plant, you have to boost water supply too in drought areas. Thank you, you have highlighted another of the destructive effects that we have as we boost the CO2 levels in the atmosphere and in the sea and fresh water bodies.

hargee says:

Dec 3, 2010. 4:45 AM REPLY The increase of CO2 in the atmosphere decreases the number of stoma on the plant, thus decreasing the amount of water used by the plant. More CO2 equals happy planet. There was a time where the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere was much higher than present day - that was the time of 3 foot dragonflies and ferns that dwarfed trees of today.

tomas.savage says:
yes. the percentage of oxygen was much higher as well.

Dec 3, 2010. 11:08 AM REPLY

there is a downward oxygen trend and if it goes below 15%, we could have a mass extinction event. http://www.pnas.org/content/vol96/issue20/images/medium/pq1991262002.gif

tomas.savage says:

Dec 3, 2010. 2:31 AM REPLY you haven't made much of a case. expanding on this logic; reducing CO2 would then give advantage to the plants that absorb CO2 more slowly thus driving the plants that absorb it faster to extinction. fortunately, it doesn't work that way. there are many other environmental factors that determine the success or failure of a particular species. you even mentioned one of those factors... availability of water!

campbellu2002 says:
And here is your transformation :D http://www.instructables.com/id/Convert-your-Honda-Accord-to-run-on-trash/

Sep 6, 2010. 10:39 AM REPLY

Arano says:

Jul 19, 2010. 4:01 PM REPLY Na2CO3 + water +heat transforms to NaOH+co2 one of the easiest ways to transform your algae into somehting useful would be heating it up which would transform the algae into coal and burnable gases

rbarba says:
Here is a solution: Dry up the algae then use biomass to make some pellets and finally use algae-pellets into a simple gasifier. See for example this 'open-fire' gasifier: Luciastove at www.worldstove.com It is possible to put aside most of the woodgas produced while the stove is burning only 5% of it. Luciastove byproduct is biochar that is very good to enrich the soil. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsH_Gh-n2Mg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy4XXD2N_nY

Dec 3, 2010. 4:16 AM REPLY

yellowcatt says:
As I see it there are three ways of using the algae for fuel: 1. Dry it and burn it.

Dec 5, 2010. 11:13 AM REPLY

2. Extract oil and burn that, you would still have biomass that could be either burnt or used as fertiliser. I suspect that to get a viable yield of oil will require particular varieties of algae and possibly careful balancing of the nutrients. To use the oil as a fuel it would need processing from a triglyceride to a methyl ester. Craig Venter of Synthetic Genomics is working on bioengineered algae for this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jul/14/green-algae-exxon-mobil 3. Use the algal biomass in an anaerobic digester to produce methane, you would still have biomass left which could be used as fertiliser or dried and burnt as fuel.

http://www.instructables.com/id/An-Algae-Bioreactor-from-Recycled-Water-Bottles/

All are possible but economic and technological factors will decide which are most viable, the algae oil has the most potential but also requires the most development to become viable.

nsupple says:

Dec 3, 2010. 8:34 PM REPLY I am wondering why pump co2 actively into the solution, why not just put the algae in a larger surface area contained and allow them to do the work? Another interesting idea, is i recently discovered that a fairly sigifigant amount of algae can be grown only using the co2 and chemicles that leach from heated plastic bottles, perhaps it would be possible to wholly get rid of the fertilizer, and grow them only on heated, recycled plastic bottles

michaelkaer says:

Dec 2, 2010. 10:58 AM REPLY I would like to know how much energy it takes to run the CO2 pumps. Can it be done using solar power or other renewable energy source? I would say yes. Yes we can create oil, but at what cost? It takes a lot of energy that has to come from somewhere. It is a great idea that can be scaled up or down. Why do they not use some form like this to scrub coal fired generators? Even if it cost some energy to do it, we would have cleaner air. Thanks for your good ideas.

xapa says:

Dec 2, 2010. 8:16 PM REPLY I would say yes too, if we use a simple stirling engine and a fresnel lens to heat up the hot side...we've got ourselves a pump! To see some videos just search "stirling engine fresnel lens" there's this guy doing this for a long time now, and it seems like a perfect fit for this algae bioreactor.

michaelkaer says:

Dec 3, 2010. 5:51 PM REPLY I saw the guy melting concrete and glass like it was nothing! I found one of those TV screens that is just a big fresnel lens and I have used it to heat things in the summer. That would be enough power to run a few pumps. This is a good idea and it can be worked many different ways to supply us with oil.

silveruno says:

Dec 2, 2010. 3:19 PM REPLY what is the production cost, how mutch co2 does the powerplant send out in the air, to produce the power your need to run the compressor, to pump the co2 into the bottles ?. The idea is great, but you need a windmill or something els that does not need any kind of power from a powerplant, if you want a solition that will do any good. Bio diesel produced by using power from a powerplant burning cole, oil or natural gas, isent realy doing any good. Cant say if newclear power is any good, since radioactive material isent that good either. That is just my opinion.

rc jedi says:

Dec 2, 2010. 8:20 PM REPLY oh, and the power needed to make, ship the nitrogen fertilizer. might be easier and tastier to just plant a garden. but interesting if i ever have a need for algae.

dreadengineer says:
The energy needed to pump CO2 is going to be small compared to the net energy harvested.

Dec 2, 2010. 6:47 PM REPLY

goonrick says:

Dec 2, 2010. 5:11 PM REPLY The solution is solid even if it relies on fossil fuels for processing so long as you get more energy in than you get out, provided the solution is itself carbon neutral. As efficiency improves over time, the ratio to energy out to energy in will increase. Logically, any increase is still an improvement over using only non-renewables. Of course, the goal is to eventually reduce the need for non-renewables to zero, but that will take quite a lot of R&D and time.

matthewtyler1 says:

Dec 2, 2010. 5:43 PM REPLY i cant believe that nobody thought to use a large clear plastic contaners with clear straws or something similar to increase surface area and thus increasing efficiency. by doing this would also make the procces much faster, because you wouldnt have to propigate each bottle indivisualy. Dec 2, 2010. 1:34 PM REPLY What a fascinating 'able! I was beginning to worry about where the CO2 was coming from but it comes in a box so that's that sorted out. What does one do if there isn't a handy tankful of the stuff round behind the laboratory? I suppose you could make it a condition of admission to your house that every caller has to blow into the tank. Or something. I know I'm being silly but it does seem to negate the exceptionally high level of idealism and usefulness that this project embodies. The energy you'd have to use to fill the CO2 tank does have to be factored in, when you think about it.

hairybaroque says:

luke96 says:
I could not find algae for sale on line.

Nov 29, 2009. 12:11 PM REPLY

Sitnalta says:

Dec 2, 2010. 11:25 AM REPLY Algae is abundant anywhere there's water. Find a creek, pond or just leave a bucket of media sitting out in the open for a few days.

http://www.instructables.com/id/An-Algae-Bioreactor-from-Recycled-Water-Bottles/

photis22 says:

Feb 7, 2009. 8:27 PM REPLY this is a good design, being that it recycles the bottles, but a little impractical, the ones I make at home use 2.5 inch clear pvc tubing to grow the algae in, and a small fluorescent tube light inside which is protected by a water-proof cover, this provides maximum lighting, this design also includes a single powerful airpump which provides high air pressure to feed multiple tubes, i run it on CO2 released from my hot water heater, but eventually you need to stress in to create maximum oil content, you also need to think about the species you should use, botryococcus braunii tends to have up to 50% oil content if treated properly, but only 2% of that oil, or oil in almost any algae can be used for biodiesel, another algae you might use is chlorrela which is a green algae know to have heavy nutrient levels, which can be made into fertilizer or health drinks , both spiceis can be purchased at utex.edu, the UT campus website, where one of the largest algae depositories in the world is located

michaelkaer says:
I live in Canada; would UTEX be able to ship it here?

Dec 2, 2010. 11:02 AM REPLY

Nyxius says:
Awsome tip! Thanks!

Jan 26, 2010. 8:49 AM REPLY

bassfishinfreak05 says:

Dec 2, 2010. 7:58 AM REPLY Ok, you say in your video once you have the algae you centrifuge the algae to get a cake and then press it for the oil. I have a couple centrifuges and have access to a press.. What do you do with the oil once you have it pressed from the cake? Do you just pour it in the tank?

beehard44 says:
maybe you need to use lye to turn it into biodiesel

Dec 2, 2010. 8:06 AM REPLY

Lt.Greg says:
Michael; Pray tell - just how does this device "increase" the world's supply of oil? You maybe got a couple of dinosaurs in your back pocket? :-)P

Dec 2, 2010. 6:48 AM REPLY

hamraddude says:
I would just dump the algae on my compost heap... the harvested CO2 would then remain sequestered no?

Aug 26, 2010. 8:05 PM REPLY

OverSaltedFry says:
I do like this idea

Dec 28, 2009. 3:51 AM REPLY

Assuming it would somehow get enough sunlight, would it be possible to put this in the trunk of a car so the exaust bubbles through a bunch of bottles?

darkknight671 says:

May 25, 2010. 1:46 PM REPLY In addition to being too hot, auto-exhaust also contains CO - Carbon Monoxide and NO2 - Nitrous Oxide - both of which would also kill the algae. Bad idea.

tekym says:
That'll melt your bottles, along with probably boiling the water and killing the algae. Exhaust is extremely hot.

Apr 27, 2010. 8:20 PM REPLY

kingmii says:
what if you found away to bottled the exhaust and then added it to the algae at home one it had cooled.

Jul 6, 2010. 8:19 PM REPLY

tekym says:

Jul 6, 2010. 9:29 PM REPLY As the comment above mine says, car exhaust contains carbon monoxide and nitrous oxides in addition to carbon dioxide, and CO and NOx would both be lethal to the algae. This in addition to it being impractical to try to bottle exhaust; cars output literally pounds of the stuff, and to bottle it would require a pressurization system and pressure bottles like many pure gases come in already. It's more complicated than it's worth, even if it would work.

kingmii says:

Jul 6, 2010. 11:02 PM REPLY I suppose your right It's just a suggestion i herd in an ethanol documentary. It would be awesome to make this into a carbon negative fuel.

FlySEED says:
Check www.carolina.com They have quite the selection

May 15, 2010. 7:17 PM REPLY

http://www.instructables.com/id/An-Algae-Bioreactor-from-Recycled-Water-Bottles/

RelientOwl says:
Where did you get your eight-port sprinkler system?

May 13, 2010. 1:52 PM REPLY

nickk says:
Hello Is algae oil suitable to be used as cooking oil ? does it have any strange taste or odor ? what color is the oil ?

Apr 9, 2009. 12:46 AM REPLY

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http://www.instructables.com/id/An-Algae-Bioreactor-from-Recycled-Water-Bottles/