Archive for March, 2013

Come Meet Us At Maker Faire!

We will be at the Bay Area Maker Faire, on May 18 and 19 at the San Mateo County Events Center, San Mateo, CA. This is a tremendous event, huge, fun, and incredibly inspiring, so pay us a visit!

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When do I add nutrients to my algae culture?

Hello AlgaeLab,

I just joined the Algae Lab community. I’m an engineering student (and an algae enthusiast) doing a project on algae. I’ve been working on algae for about a month now. I’m trying to optimize the growth conditions of a local algal strain at lab-scale. I’m working on the physical factors (light, temperature, CO2, pH, salinity). I can’t figure out how often should I add more nutrients in my culture. What indicators should I look for, to know its the right time to feed my algae?

Thank you in anticipation. =)

Hello and welcome to the community… this sort of question comes up a lot. It is easy to throw some nutrients into water, add algae, and get it growing (though this can take some tweaking to get it right), but eventually the algae consume most or all of one or more critical nutrients, and growth slows or stops; if left alone long enough, nutrient-starved algae will die, though some species will form long-lived cysts. This sort of growth process, where the algae are taken through a sort of life cycle, is called batch growth.

The alternative is called continuous growth; the goal is to maintain the algae at a constant density – generally the density at which they have the highest production rate – while keeping the level of every nutrient in the optimum range for maximal growth. This is the most productive way to grow algae, as they are always growing and reproducing at their fastest rate. It is a lot more work, though, as you must harvest and add nutrients continuously at a rate exactly matched to the growth rate, and watch the levels of all the nutrients. Nutrient levels are measured using colorimetric chemistry – adding chemicals that change color depending on the concentration of the substance you are interested in; this color is then measured exactly by a device called a colorimeter (most popular models are made by Hach). Probes can also be used (pH for CO2 concentration, dedicated sensors for ammonia, nitrate, etc.). But this is generally expensive and (excepts for pH) above the level of most DIY-ers.

For our kits we try to strike the best possible balance between robust growth and ease of use; as the nutrients absorbed from the medium can be calculated from the weight of the algae you harvest, we simply add nutrients back to the culture in proportion to the amount harvested. We call this mix of nutrients “Make-Up Mix”; you cannot use Starter Mix (used to mix the initial culture medium) for this purpose, as it contains a number of ingredients that create the right salinity and alkalinity, but which are not consumed by the algae. For our Spirulina make-up mix, happily this works out to a very simple ratio: one teaspoon of mix per tablespoon of harvested Spirulina. Once these nutrients are back in the culture, your Spirulina will have just the right nutrients to keep reproducing rapidly until your next harvest. If you harvest frequently, this is somewhat like continuous production; if you harvest in frequently, it is more like batch growth.

Hope that is helpful.

From the heart of the chloroplast,
Dr. Baum

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March 9th Workshop: Get A Free Copy of Grow Your Own Spirulina Superfood!

For non-local algae enthusiasts, online training will be starting soon as well…

Grow your own superfoods and biofuels at home…

Instructor: Dr. Aaron Wolf Baum, algae scientist with the NASA OMEGA project and author of Grow Your Own Spirulina Superfood.

Saturday, March 9th, 11-5 pm

Ace Monster Toys (makers’ co-op), 6050 Lowell St, Oakland CA 94608

Grow plentiful food and fuel in a small space.

DIY Algae Workshop:

Algae can make impressive amounts of food or fuel but do not require land, soil, or fresh water. They can be harvested every day, producing many times more output than land crops, and some of them (e.g. Spirulina) have amazing health benefits as food.

You can grow algae too — in your own home — and I would love to show you how.

Come to the Hands-On Home-Grow Algae workshop series. Go home with your own Spirulina Home-Grow Kit with everything you need to grow your own Spirulina superfood algae in your own home!

One personal algae photo-bioreactor in one sunny window can provide enough spirulina to significantly supplement the diet of one person every day. Larger installations can provide biofuel and organic fertilizer, and perform important services, such as cleaning up water, and eliminating greenhouse gases from exhaust.

In addition to an introduction to an overview of algae farming, and a discussion of the practicalities of setting up your own farm, we will have an extended hands-on section of the workshop where I will show you how to set up and run your personal photo-bioreactor kit — it’s easy!

All participants will receive: one copy of Dr. Baum’s book, Grow Your Own Spirulina Superfood, copies of all the instructional slides, and a one liter bottle of live spirulina culture to start your own tank or pond…

Sign up now, space is limited!

Course Fees:

$379 for workshop and Grow Your Own Spirulina Superfood book, plus Full Spirulina Home-Grow Kit (shown above), including 1 liter of live culture, heater, air pump, air diffuser, air tubing, thermometer, two tubs of starter and one tub of make-up nutrient powder mix, iron solution, special pH strips, harvesting tube, harvesting cloth, clips, plug timer, and measuring spoons. This is a $50 savings from the online kit price. This is enough gear to be able to harvest from a 10-gallon tank every other day for approximately one year.

$129 for workshop, Grow Your Own Spirulina Superfood book, copies of all workshop slides, and a 1-liter bottle of live Spirulina algae culture (a $70+ value!).

Send payment via PayPal (, or by mailing a check to:
772 Santa Maria Road
El Sobrante, CA 94803

To receive the personal photo-bioreactor at the workshop, be sure to pay at least a week before the course date so that materials can be ordered…

DIY Home-Grow Algae for Biofuels and Superfoods

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