Algae is one of the quickest-growing plants in the world, which is why algae farms are a growing industry.
Algae don’t require fertile land, food, or processing energy to thrive.
As a result, it can grow almost anywhere, and it can even thrive in environments that are energy-deficient like saltwater or sewage drains.
As long as there’s enough sunlight, algae can grow.
As a result, algae farming has become a way to produce energy.
It’s been practiced for a little over a century in order to produce algal biofuel — a renewable, natural, and readily usable resource.
If you’re interested in creating algae farms where you can grow algae to harvest as biofuel, here’s what you should know.
1. What are algae farms?
Algae farms are places where algae are grown for commercial use.
You may hear this practice referred to as “algaculture” — a form of aquaculture involving the farming of species of algae.
2. Why algae?
You may wonder why algae are being farmed.
Previously, it’s probably been viewed as a nuisance in pools and ponds.
Why would anyone want to grow it intentionally?
As noted above, algae have a high growth rate while also needing relatively few nutrients.
They get all their energy from sunlight.
It doesn’t matter what water they’re in.
This is great news for humans because our freshwater supplies are already in demand.
Algae farms can use land and water that are unsuitable for conventional agriculture.
While it’s a biofuel crop, it won’t compete with food products like corn or soybeans.
These are the traditional “biofuel row crops” that have caused issues due to competition in the past.
Compared to the crops used to produce vegetable oil, algae can generate up to 50 times the amount of oil per acre, making it incredibly efficient.
Algae also utilize carbon dioxide when it grows.
This means it takes it from the air when it’s produced and keeping algae farms near industrial pollution sources can be a great way to sequester carbon and clean the air.
Algae farms are also a great fit for California’s Imperial Valley.
This area has an unemployment rate of more than 20 percent and establishing these plants in this area can help give the area a boost.
3. Which types of algae are intentionally cultivated?
Most algae that are intentionally farmed fall into the category of microalgae.
Microalgae are also referred to as phytoplankton, microphytes, or planktonic algae.
Macroalgae is more commonly referred to as seaweed.
Seaweed can also have commercial and industrial uses.
However, due to its size and specific growth requirements, it doesn’t lend itself well to cultivation.
4. What are the commercial and industrial uses for algae?
The commercial and industrial uses for algae include:
The production of food ingredients
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Natural food colorants and dyes
Chemical feedstock (raw material)
5. How do you start algae farms?
At its core, an algae farm is a business.
Here’s what you need to know about starting an algae farm if you’re ready to jump in with two feet.
Construct a raceway pond
Choose a favorable spot on your land where you can build a raceway pond.
This is a shallow artificial pond that is specifically used for algae cultivation.
Ideally, the location of the pond should allow it to get sufficient lighting and receive 30 percent shade on the days that tend to be warmer.
Raceway ponds are oblong.
The optimal size is between 10 to 300 meters in length and 1 to 20 meters in width.
Next, you should create ridges that help to divide the pond so you have parallel channels that are roughly 1 meter wide apart.
Leave the edges of the pond open so that water can freely circulate.
Check the length of the pond and adjust it according to the space that you have at your disposal.
You shouldn’t have a depth of more than 0.5 meters.
Your pond should also have a drainage system in place in case something goes wrong, and you must correct it.
Line your pond
Line your pond with concrete, pond liner (made from long-lasting PVX), or clay.
If you decide to use PVC, then you should talk to a professional to ensure they can professionally sew the liner and keep it to your measurements.
Otherwise, you may have problems with the pond leaking.
If you’re not a construction professional, you should hire an expert to help you with this stage.
Install a paddle wheel aerator
To grow algae successfully, there must be movement in the water.
This is where an aerator comes in.
For medium and large ponds, paddlewheel aerators are ideal.
You can have your own DIY paddle wheel, or you can select one from a variety of designs in the market.
For best results, connect several wheels to one of the central motors and then position them in parallel ponds.
The axles should be parallel to the water and the wheels should be turning at 108 RPM.
They should also be placed 21 inches deep.
Fill the pond with water
Identify a clean water source that you can fill your pond with.
The preferred options for water are spring water, melted ice, or rainwater.
You can also use tap water, but this isn’t ideal.
Tap water can have traces of nutrients that are good for algae growth, but you’ll want to test it to be sure.
You should also check the hardness of the water to make sure it’s less than 200.
The Fluoride levels should be less than 20, and the Chloride levels should be less than 15.
Identify the culture medium formula of your choice
The culture medium is the nutrient mixture that your algae will feed on so that it thrives and reproduces.
You should do research about the specific type of algae that you’re growing to select the best formula.
Add nutrients to your pond
When adding the culture medium to your pond, you should mix them in properly with the water by running your agitator or air pump.
An electric timer can be helpful to automate when your agitator is turning on or off.
Prepare your cultural medium and add the nutrient supplements in your preferred portions.
Most formulas will require a liter of mother culture for every 1000 liters of nutrients after mixing the water.
After that, you should run the agitators and use cycles of 15 minutes per hour.
Continue to run the agitator daily every 10 to 12 days without adding more chemicals.
Depending on the type of algae you’re growing, you should see a concentration of algae that’s due for harvest.
For example, spirulina would be ready for harvest after the 12th day.
Harvest your first batch of algae
You just grew your first batch of algae.
How you harvest it can vary depending on the variety you grew.
However, if you grew spirulina, then it should be ready for harvest on the 13th day.
The texture of this algae will be a thick dark green.
To harvest it, you’ll need a nylon 30 to 50 microns mesh which you’ll position above the growth tank.
Allow the liquid to pass through it so that you have a thick jelly-like paste on the top.
If you have a water pump, this can make the process much easier.
Use a piece of fabric and place it on the edge of your hose.
This will help strain out and collect unwanted plants and insects, so you’re left with a clean product.
When you’re done, take the wet biomass and rake it in the middle of the mesh.
Squeeze the excess water from the biomass.
Only freshly harvested spirulina should be kept.
Use clean water to wash the mesh.
Avoid waste by pouring it back into the pond.
Feed the culture after every harvest
After you’re done harvesting the algae, you must weigh the dried yield to determine the number of nutrients to add after the harvest.
If you don’t want to dry your algae, you can calculate that in a ratio of 10 percent of the weight of the biomass.
For example, if you harvest 1 kilogram of fresh biomass, you’ll work with 100 grams as the dried weight.
In most cases, algae will get to its peak within 30 days or 4 weeks.
You don’t need to wait that much time to harvest it.
6. Why do algae begin to grow?
In the past, you may have noticed algae popping up in the water and not know exactly why it was growing.
Here are the top reasons that algae begin to grow.
Excess nutrient levels of phosphorous, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and potassium are present (often, this is due to nearby agricultural land or biodegradable materials)
There are depleted levels of oxygen in the water
There is sunlight and warm temperatures present
That’s all it takes!
If a pond has sunlight, excessive nutrients, and water movement, then algae will grow.
Most often, it grows toward the bottom or along the edges and then rises toward the top of the pond as it produces oxygen.
7. Do algae only grow in ponds?
No, you can grow algae elsewhere; however, growing algae in an open pond is the most common and straightforward system for mass cultivation.
Pond growing is the most natural and least energy-intensive form of algae farming.
You can have an open-pond system that’s either natural or manufactured.
Either way, it should include a few different features to maximize the yield.
Nearby runoff water that provides the nutrients that algae need for optimal growth
Water movement (algae farmers often use paddles, wheels, or a rotating structure to keep the water moving)
Warm areas with plenty of sunlight that helps boost production
8. How do you harvest and convert algae to biofuel?
Biofuel companies often grow algae in controlled environments that release pollution and other contaminants.
However, it is possible to grow, harvest, and convert algae to biofuel in an environmentally friendly way.
For example, an eco-friendly way to harvest algae includes using magnetic beads that attach to the clusters of algae.
The beads are then pulled out of the bonds, and they bring the algae along with them.
After the algae are harvested, a system using high heat and pressure converts the algae into carbon-neutral and renewable crude oil.
This system is simple and inexpensive compared to more traditional algae biofuel conversion systems.
The method permits the algae biofuel it produces to compete with crude oil extracted from fossil fuels in all the following ways:
Carbon emissions (negative!)
9. How much do algae farms cost?
According to one expert, the cost a 2,500 acre farm will cost about $500 million to build.
10. Who is the target market for algae farms?
It depends on the type of algae you want to raise.
If you’re an aspiring algae farmer, it’s valuable for you to do your research and discover what your target market is seeking.
Here are some sample uses of algae:
Algae are used to recycle human waste by NASA and other space exploration organizations
Algae are used as animal feed
Algae are used in medicine and vaccines by pharmaceutical firms
Algae are used in cosmetics and skin care products by those industries
There is also consistent research by scientists to discover new applications for algae.
Always be on the lookout for the next emerging type of algae.
If you get in early, this can be a great way to make money.
11. How does an algae farm make money?
Algae farmers generate revenue from each healthy crop they sell to the public.
The specifics of this depend on various factors like location, algae strain, and buyers.
The money you make will also depend on your product and its demand.
For example, it was reported that the Department of Defense paid $150 per gallon for jet fuel derived from algae oil.
On the other hand, spirulina prices are as low as $5 per kilogram.
One type of algae farming can make you lots of cash while the other may be a lot more work than it’s worth.
Algae farms can produce food, fuel, and alternatives to essential products (like plastics!).
If you have land that you’re not sure what to do with, creating a thriving algae farm could be a wise investment.
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