Grow: Algae Production Systems

by Robert Henrikson

What are the best designs, engineering and systems to work effectively and economically on a community scale or distributed model?

Algae Competition invited algae enthusiasts, engineers, systems designers, builders, students and teams to develop working models and designs for algae production systems and microfarms. Algae Production System (APS) categories ranged from open raceway ponds, open and closed hybrid, closed system tubes, bags, tanks, plates, personal micro farms, community size farms, village scale farms, large commercial farms and lake farms.

Algae Competition Entries for Algae Production Systems

Here are some of the algae system entries, and stories about them. All the algae production system entries are exhibited at

  • Lake harvesting systems
  • Commercial algae farms
  • Small-scale village and microfarm systems
  • Integrated algae production systems
  • Cybernetic and versatile photo bioreactors
  • Novel photo bioreactor designs

Lake Harvesting Systems

Spirulina, blue-green algae, flourishes in alkaline lakes in Africa, Mexico and South America and Asia. Two different kinds of lake production systems, Chad and Myanmar, together produce about 600 tons dry weight per year primarily for local markets in their own countries.

Improved technology, production and marketing of dihé in Chad. Mahamat Sorto. FAO-Chad. Algae production of natural spirulina lakes in Myanmar. MinThein. Myanmar Pharmaceutical.

Kanem women have harvested spirulina from lake regions near lake Chad using traditional methods, perhaps for centuries. Currently about 1600 ladies harvest from about 16 wadis, small natural alkaline soda lakes. Spirulina grows spontaneously in these salty waters, where no fertilizers are added. Georges Bonnin reports the production of dihé, traditional dried algae cakes, is about 400 tons per year, and retails on the local market for 7.5 euros/kg—the world’s cheapest spirulina.

Improved technology, production and marketing of dihé in Chad. Additionally, Mahamat Sorto of FAO-Chad describes new techniques for improving harvest, good manufacturing practice and commercialization of dihé and the living conditions of communities around Lake Chad. Spirulina harvested through filter cloths and dehydrated in solar dryers increased to 10 tons in 2010. The income of women has increased dramatically. This project was funded by the European Union and implemented by FAO and Ministry of Agriculture of Chad.

Algae Production System of Natural Spirulina Lakes in Myanmar. Based on 22 years of lake harvest experience, Min Thein reports that sustainable spirulina production from four lakes has been achieved. Sustainable means algae can be continuously harvested without depletion of biomass and resulting algal contamination, which would end production. Lake water is pumped into lakeside cultivation ponds with paddlewheels for 10 months of annual production. In the remaining two months, March and April, spirulina blooms on the lake 12-18 inches thick and is harvested by boats for about 50% of annual production. Twin Taung Lake is the main Spirulina harvesting facility due to this occurrence of thick spirulina biomass. Capacity is about 200 tons per year, producing one million bottles of nutritional supplements, as well as crackers, cosmetics and beer.

Commercial Algae Farms

Boonsom Spirulina farm—Thailand’s leading producer. Jiamjit Boonsom. Algae Integrated Management System. Algatech, Malaysia

Boonsom Spirulina Farm. Thailand’s Leading Producer. For over 20 years, Jiamjit and Somchye Boonsom have built a family-owned business into Green Diamond Company which owns and operates three farms around Thailand. Boonsom Farm near Chiang Mai farm offers the rural community an opportunity for a better life. Keys are sunlight, clean water, environment and the work force. Boonsom employs hundreds of people in research, cultivation, harvesting and production, and is not dependent on high tech equipment. Staff has nutritious lunch meals, health insurance, cooperative store, credit union, health and lifestyle training and bonuses for bicycling to work.

Algae Integrated Management System (AIMSYS™). Founded in 2004 by Syed Isa Syed Alwi, Algaetech group activities include research, development, consultancy and commercialization of microalgae for biodiesel feedstock production and processing and high value products. Located within Malaysia Technology Park, Algaetech operates an R&D and processing center, microalgae laboratory and ponds. Consulting services are based on AIMSYS™, a method for designing and maintaining algae cultivation systems for biofuel, food, feed and high value products. AIMSYS provides real-time web-based monitoring of a facility, including computerized automation control system of the process conditions, customized reporting and analysis.

Small Scale Village and Microfarm Systems

Over the past 30 years, small-scale algae growing systems have been developed in India and Africa with the Integrated Village System by Ripley and Denise Fox, microfarms by Jean-Paul Jourdan and appropriate scale village projects in India and Africa by Denis von der Weid and Antenna Technologies.

Circular tank technology to reduce costs, Kenya. Vincent Guigon. Antenna Technologies, France. Organic spirulina microfarm with biogas plant in Normandy. Laurent Lecesve. Hyes, France.

Circular Tank Technology to reduce production costs. Antenna is an NGO promoting spirulina against malnutrition with projects in Africa and Asia, with a mission to make spirulina more affordable. Today there are about 10 farms initiated by Antenna running by themselves in 8 countries. Vincent Guigon introduces Antenna’s circular tank technology which decreases costs by 20% through long lasting maintenance of culture quality and without purges.

Organic spirulina microfarm with biogas plant. Normandy, France. Inspired by the work of Ripley Fox and Jean Paul Jourdan, Laurent Lecesve and Gilles Planchon have developed an integrated growing system in Normandy, in the north of France. The farm has 4 ponds of 50m2, biogas digester, heat pump with heat network connected to digester and ponds, harvesting room with press and solar dryer, and a culture laboratory. The goal of the digester is to grow spirulina organically using cow and horse manure as main inputs and provide a heat source.

Integrated Algae Production Systems

AlgaeWheel-based Algae Cultivation. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Algae Production System for Sustainable Transport Depot in London. By Akos Kovacs.

AlgaeWheel-based Algae Cultivation for Environmental Enhancing Energy. The Illini Algae Group proposes a novel approach integrating algal wastewater treatment with hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL) of biomass to biocrude oil, resolving two bottlenecks: contamination of target high-oil algae species with low-oil algae and bacteria, and high energy input for dewatering algal biomass. A pilot scale demonstration system has been setup in University of Illinois Swine Research Center. The project attempts to apply the E2 energy concept, incorporating Algaewheel technology with an HTL system to treat the waste stream and produce bio-crude oil simultaneously, thus offsetting the wastewater management cost and recovering energy.

Algae Production System for Sustainable Transport Depot in London. Akos Kovacs has designed a reinvention of a multi-story car park in Marylebone near Baker Street Station as a training, holding and support facility for sustainable urban transport. Photobioreactor cells arrayed over the facade of the building would provide biofuel for cars and contribute to environmental control of the internal spaces.

Cybernetic and Versatile Photo Bioreactors

Haberlandt bio-reactor kitchen. Fresh algae vending machine. By blablabLAB, Spain. Goal: Grow Outstanding Algae Live Photo-Bioreactor. By Bill Rucks, Water Alchemy Ltd.

Haberlandt bio-reactor kitchen. Fresh algae vending machine. From the artistic collective blablabLAB in Spain, this biotechnological vending machine grows and maintains algae in a super optimized, continuous production state. It is designed for any culture, currently spirulina. Biological conditions are maintained via a microprocessor. Inputs are measured and sent to the processor and an output is executed, generating a feedback that allows for constant conditions, allowing the survival and reproduction of the algae. The system becomes a cybernetic organism. By spherificating the dose, it avoids any packaging. Haberlandt produces, stores and delivers in the same place.

Goal: Grow Outstanding Algae Live Photo-Bioreactor. Bill Rucks of Water Alchemy Ltd. in New Zealand has developed a self-cleaning domestic photo-bioreactor, simple to operate, cost effective, and will fit on a kitchen countertop. Built to last with few moving parts. High quality, quiet and energy efficient. Can switch species and grow AFA, chlorella and spirulina. Potential end users of the GOAL system are educated consumers, immune compromised people, developing country health clinics and schools, and organic consumers.

Novel Photo Bioreactor Designs

UREF: Universal Renewable Energy Farm. By Roy Mahoff and Stefan Schlau. Thailand. Algae Production System using night cycle LED. By Josh Wolf. USA.

UREF: Universal Renewable Energy Farm. Roy Mahoff in Thailand has designed UREF, an outdoor clear, very strong polycarbonate (PC) honeycomb photobioreactor (PBR) tailored to growing algae regardless of climate and geography. The UREF optimizes full light for high productivity and minimizes photo inhibition and photo saturation. Further optimization is possible by integrating artificial lighting, such as LED grow lights. The UREF is designed to help communities world-wide to decentralize their energy, food, feed, fertilizer needs while cleaning waste water, and mining landfills rather than filling them, while sequestering CO2 and producing oxygen.

Algae Production System using night cycle LED. A combination of blue, red, and green lighting during the algae’s night cycle will increase growth rate. What’s new about this system is a combination of artificial and natural lighting working together, a new way to look at LED lighting, solar powered, recycled algae drying method, night and day aeration. This innovative system was the result of Josh Wolf researching botryococcus braunii for his 10th grade science project at Elk River High School in Minnesota, and he’s looking for companies to sponsor his project to take it to the next step.

Next, we’ll look at emerging themes and dreams in algae landscape and architecture designs.