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,…


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!