Ink/pigments from spirulina?

I did various experiments last week trying to extract pigments. Yesterdayevening I came home from a short trip and noticed that experiment #7 had developed a blue-isch foam. There was no visible separation of layers in the bottle not even when I put it in front of a strong light. The fluid remained very dark. So I took a pipet and took some of the upper layer and it was blue. Going in about 5cm and the fluid became very dark green again. I spread some of the top layer on a wooden panel and after letting it soak in the wood was nicely stained with a blue color.

Basicly what I have done is blended (10min) 2 tablespoons of dried spirulina in 400ml of demi water. That resulted in a very foamy dark green mix. After letting it settle I added 40ml of methanol and put it in an ultrasonic bath for 20min. The result of that just settled in a bottle on my desk for about 80hours…

Next I tried to boil the water out of the mixture but now when I poured it into a metal pot it became clear that actually two colors; red and blue where in there. They didn’t seem to mix up; the blue more to the sides/bottom and the red on top/middle. I heated the pan up very slowly.. the water first became grey, brown and after a while dark green. Boiling most of the water out resulted in a sticky, dark green, tick paint like, slurry. It smells a bit like smoked fish or baked red meat even.. After scraping it out and letting it airdry for about a day it became at sticky emulsion, like mastic… Easy to roll sticky balls with to plug holes or something.

Next experiments; see what else I can color with the blue water, try to separate blue and red, try to extract in pure (bio)ethanol, dissolve paste in glycerol and use as ink,…

Spirulina; Scaling up and harvesting attempts

Meanwhile… after scaling up in bottles and now a bigger container (IKEA… offcourse) I have about 20l of Spirulina saturated water. The bigger open watersurface and fine spread bubbles in the container raised the moist level in my growbox significantly.. I placed a glass plate on top with just a 1cm gap to let O2 out. Still…. I can’t close the door completly so there is some aeration in there and avoid condenswater leaking out. Since I don’t see any salts depositing on the inside of the box I assume the water vapor is not that salty… I have some room plants here who’d prefer a more moisty air so maybe I can move the bigger container out of the growbox next to these plants :blush:

Also, it’s about time to start doing some harvesting! Or so I thought… The water looked nice and dark green but when I checked with a (diy) sechi stick it appeared that the density was only about 0.35g/l in the Ikeabox. In the glas bottle it was about 0.5g/l so I decided to try and harvest from the bottle wich is only 1l. Must be said that after moving to the ikeacontainer the average temperature in the growbox went down to 24°C and probably the light dosage is not so efficiënt as with the glass bottles.

Tried out 3 filtermedia, non really worked that well for this small amount;

  • linnen cheesecloth = small amount of Spirulina ‘stuck’ in the clothfibers
  • lab filterpaper = clogged up, tears apart when trying to push through, scraping off spirulina afterwards not without also scraping off paperfibres
  • coffeefilter = works best but very slow, small amount of spirulina scraped off after pouring through about 200ml. Water ‘exiting’ the filter had almost no Spirulina left in there


More spirulina and some experiments

After about 3 weeks of growing Spirulina algae from a 150ml sample I now have about 4l spread over 4 bottles. Hoping to switch to a larger container soon.

Meanwhile I started doing some experiments with dried spirulina I bought online. From each source I read it basicly comes down to breaking to cell structure to get to the content. Breaking stuff means mechanical forces to me..

  • grind with acid / water mix then pour in mold and apply to other materials and leave to dry;

    Semi-hardened fabric with green color, dried sushi sheets became hard and curled up, the emulsion in the mold basicly broke up in little chunks while drying. Everything has a distinct algae scent…

  • 4 freeze and thaw cycles at -20°C, filtering and then mixing in ethanol (cheap wodka that is..) to try and extract whatever is inside the cells;

    After a day of settling I had a dark green/brown alcohol solution with some solids on the bottom of the flask. Next I’ll see what happens when applying this fluid to other materials.

GIY Algeafarm

It took me some time to gather all the stuff I needed but my small indoor algeafarm is now up and running.. I constructed a box from insulationboard and mounted a fluorescent growlamp inside. To fully use the light, and heatloss, of the growlight I lined the inside of the box with aluminiumfoil. The growlight is controlled by a timerswitch on a 16/8 hour light/dark cycle. With just the growlight, the inside temperature of the box reached to about 25°C. For optimal growing conditions Spirulina likes it a bit warmer so I added a propagator heatmat in there. Now the temperature is around 33°C wich is perfect.

I had some issues with preparing the Zarrouk grow medium. The base for this medium is distilled water but I thought I’d give it a go with just plain tap water… Turns I couldn’t dissolve 17grams of soda and bakingsoda in tap water. The final solution looked like some milky water so not all the salts were disolved. I tried to add some algea to that mix but after a few hours all the loose salts and the spirulina had binded together in one clump. So I went to the hardware store for some deminerelised water and started over. This time it worked and the growmedium looked clean.  I prepared 500ml of growmedium and added 150ml of culture from my ‘motherbottle’. Today, about 36 hours later the seem to be multiplying quickly. The bottle looks a lot greener.


Shindogu ‘iphone batteryheating’

Just a small creativity excercise… Smartphone batterys go empty quicker when it’s very cold. Now you can have a cover with integrated heating. Keeping you battery nice and warm on very cold days. Best of it all, no extra power is needed. Just hook it up to your phone and you’re good to go 😉


This semester @ IPO HOWEST we got to choose a course for the experimental module. I went for the GIY or ‘grow it yourself’ course. The idea is that you try to make a solid object or product based on one selected bio-sourced or better; a material that you grow yourself. Options are wide; anything you can find in nature that grows and is or was alive, mycelium/fungi, kombucha bioleather, algea,… The end result is not that important, most of the scores will be based on our efforts to experiment with the material and documenting this proces.

As an aquaponics enthousiast I was immediatly drawn to idea of growing algea. Allthough I have no specific idea of what I want to make with it in the end. I’m a bit more interested in using them alive then in a processed but dead material.. I also want to give myself a plan B and C if all fails with the algea. So I’m growing some bioleather on kombucha as a ‘side-project’… I will not be getting in to details about that here for know.

There is quite some research in algea ongoing. Mainly because of their high nutrional content, efficiënt photosyntetic process and their ability to clean water and air. Furthermore they can be processed to bioplastics. Before heading off into the unknown I did some research. I found out that Spirulina Arthrospira and Chlorella Vulgaris are the two main species grown for nutrion (mainly in Asia), biofuel, bioplastics and research. Here are some of the interesting pages I came across;

I decided to go for Spirulina; they are ‘relativly’ easy to grow and because they grow in very alkaline water (ph9.5+) there is very little chance of other bacteria growing in the water. My algea population should stay quite healthy and grow if I give them the right conditions; warm, light, air (CO2) and a good grow medium.

Afterwards I decided to get in touch with some people who know what they are doing, hopefully… I received very positive replys from the biotech departments @ KULAK, UA, and HOWEST so I visited them all to talk about their research, see how they grow algea and what species, get some insider information and tips, but most importantly; get some samples. In the United states you can just by ‘a starter culture’ online but here the only option was to purchase them from a collection (=high price, little algea) or hopefully get a sample from someone who is growing them.

@Kulak they showed me their algea growlab, gave me a lot of useful information and a big sample of one of their many strains of Spirulina. Thx Sara 🙂

@UA I also got some very useful information, some small samples and a view on their growlab wich was aimed more at mimicking large scale ‘open raceway’ production facilities. Thx Maarten 🙂


Arriving at home I immediatly put my population of Spirulina to work in a recycled glass juice bottle;

Next update on this project in about a week!


Quick&dirty lightbox

There was this little project on my ‘when I have some time and energy left’-list that had been there for quite a while; A very simple lightbox to copy sketches and make further iterations on it. I allready had the key parts lying around; 12V led strip and a glass plate with one matted side. The plan was to build a very nice low profile box for it with integrated powersupply and an on/off switch. That was the plan, one for wich I didn’t find/make time yet.

However we now have to do assignment where we have to sketch at least some 100 iterations. Since I haven’t upgraded to a drawing tablet for sketching and at my studio I don’t have a nice big window available (wich can be used as a copy lightbox) I could actually use that lightbox to speed up the process.

So I decided to build a quick and dirty temporary version. Using the lid of a styrofoam ‘fresh fish’ box, some duct tape, paper, a few wires and the power source in my lab station I was up and running in less the 15min…