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.

 

Grow-it-yourself

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 🙂

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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!