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Open Hardware Project AlgaeFarm
  • The AlgaeFarm Project

    I have an open source hardware(OSHW) project I am working on and am looking for individuals who would like to help. This OSHW project incorporates software as well as open source mechanical designs and will be licensed under a GNU General Public License v3, and TAPR Open Hardware License v1 respectively.

    It is built around the Arduino platform and will be controlled and monitored by a pc. The project will allow for the automated culturing of microalgae on an experimental scale in a closed environment photobioractor. This will allow DIY biologists and biohackers an opportunity to discover and experiment on new strains of microalgae without having to cough up the bucks for an outrageously overpriced piece of lab equipment.

    There are currently automated photobioreactors on the market, however these seem to be marketed towards multi-million dollar research ventures and can cost anywhere from $1500 and up. The AlgaeFarm Project is an Open Source Hardware project that is just starting out and wishes to incorporate volunteers of all skill levels interested in DIY biology, phycology, chemistry, mechanical design, biofuels, software engineering, and more.

    We aim to create a stable automated photobioreactor that is viable for school research and science fair projects, 3rd generation advanced biofuel research and development, biodegradable bio-plastics research and development, waste water treatment research and development, and more.

    I have estimated roughly that a complete AlgaeFarm meeting the project specifications can be reproduced from freely downloadable open source information packets and less than $600 in materials costs. Materials costs can be lowered by being creative and using locally abundant recyclables and modifying the core designs of which ever release you will soon be able download. The $600 is only a rough estimate as material costs can fluctuate dependent on supply and demand and there seems no way to make a feasible guarantee on possible future economic instability.

    Materials lists are provided in every information packet along with the sources where previous developers obtained their materials. Any distributed mods of the AlgaeFarm must have a materials list and sources for materials readily available to the third party for at least three years, it is open source you know.

    Being an OSHW project unstable prototypes could possibly pose a hurdle as some of the materials may prove not to be reusable for their intended purpose if a prototype fails. Whereas an open source software project mostly requires time to find and fix a bug in the software and then can be recompiled, a bug in an OSHW prototype may prove costly in materials. For this reason, an OSHW project with all volunteer developers still requires materials and shipping and handling funds.

    Further, great care will be taken to design as many features as possible in separate compatible modules. So once a problem is discovered in a prototype the individual modules can be assessed and then can either be repaired, modified, or replaced to function properly. Sort of like what clean code is for open source software developers, replaceable modules are for open hardware developers.

    I'm mostly trying to get the idea out there right now so I'm not ready to "begin" the project so to speak even though it has already started. A fundraiser is going to be necessary as I do not have deep pockets. I have drawn out some interesting rewards that crowd contributors can claim after the project publishes the first stable release. The planned fundraiser, if successful, will allow for a stable release of the AlgaeFarm to be released for free and open source.

    If you are interested in this project and want to read more drop by the AlgaeFarm Project page and check out what I've got so far. As of now the website is under construction every once in a while with new features and content added daily.

    Let me know what you think, I would greatly appreciate the help and support to deliver this open source hardware project to the world.

    Tyler J Hinz,
    Founder and Interdisciplinary
    WorldProject9 & the AlgaeFarm Project

  • 6 Comments sorted by
  • Personally, it would help me to understand your project better if you could tell me what kind of experiments it was designed to run or what it's designed to produce.  Is the algae intended for biofuel production?  food source?  what?  It it capable of separating one strain of algae from another?  If so, how?  I note from your web site that it will allow control over light, pH, nutrients, aeration, and density - but what does sort of control do for me?

    - Mark Norton

  • Mark,

    Thank you for your comment, I definitely forgot to mention the so what factor. I just very recently got this project idea after coming across the micro-controller Arduino while performing my own experiments on microalgae. I thought it would be worth the effort to attempt automation and I would feel relieved if there was already someone out there doing the same thing so we could team up because I want to see an inexpensive automated algae photobioreactor in the public domain. It should be noted that I am not an expert in phycology and I hope one will join the developers team soon, however, this project is merely an idea and I would like for it to take on a life of its own and begin evolving in an open source platform the sooner the better.

    There are some general precursors for every-day products that can be extracted from various algae like deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo has glycerin a co-product of biodiesel which can be made from algae, ice packs, shaving cream, and even an electronic cigarettes nicotine solution contains a form of polypropylene. Basically if the economy was reversed and everyone wanted items to be as inexpensive and abundant as possible instead of trying to always make a profit on supply shortages, oil companies would switch over from poisoning our common precious oceanic resources with crude oil (million year old decomposed algae) before further exploration into a more sustainable and abundant venture researching and developing similar products from algae.

    I personally plan on using this photobioreactor for modifying culture environments to research lipid(oil) production variables. Not expressly related to this project but I do also plan on experimenting on various methods of extracting oil from the cultured microalgae strains. I am a biodiesel enthusiast and have been researching and experimenting on my own for some time with waste vegetable oil.

    I presume some folks will want to look into certain edible strains of algae like Arthrospira which are acclaimed for their nutritional values as well as the possible heavy metal detoxification effects of ingesting or utilizing Eukaryotic microalgae in waste water treatment facilities. (Hugo Virgilio Perares-Vela, et al. "Heavy Metal Detoxification in Eukaryotic Microalgae." 2005) --- I can't remember MLA so please excuse the format. I promise to make an effort next time.:D

    Separating one strain of algae from another is beyond the scope of the first few prototypes of this project and would require further research and modifications of the unit I had in mind. I encourage anyone who would like to add such a mod to the AlgaeFarm because that would be truly bleeding edge stuff. However, being that I live in a region which only has fresh water, for example, it may be plausible to increase the salt content of the culture media therefore creating an environment in which fresh water algae grow poorly in order to favor growth of a salt water species. Nannochloropsis (DIA ~2-4 µm) is however a pretty hardy microalgae Genus I've noticed that does well near either environment and may be difficult to remove with such methods. Nannochloropsis is also well known for having a reasonable lipid content as well as being a prime food source for many aquatic species. Various culture banks exist which have near pure - pure algae cultures that can be introduced into a sterile culture media and grown in a covered positive pressure environment with low micron air filters between the air pumps and the reactor. Of these for some reason I can remember and sticks out in my mind is a culture bank of algae and protozoa, but these are mostly for lab grade, critical experiments, and can get rather expensive for the DIY'er or hobby biologist.

    pH can be time consuming to test and control accurately as well as flicking a switch at precise times to trick the algae into reproducing at varying intervals. Further, having the desired nutrient levels can prove to be difficult and a time consuming process when it may be interpreted that a given reading from an electrical conductivity meter can just be corrected with pH down instead of adding more iron or phosphorus. A mistake which will just stress out the algae even more and give precedence to spiraling out of control and yielding a crashed culture.

    As a personal recommendation from one friend to another, I think for you Mark one of the most prominent ways that I believe you would find time well spent harnessing the energy potential of algae is not with an experimental photobioreactor but rather in researching and developing your very own aqua culture. I'm not sure where your located, and therefore your local regulations, but definitely something to look into is tilapia farming. I've heard them referred to as the new chicken and they're gaining popularity fast. They definitely hold major potential for an off the grid, abundance oriented, supply of protein. The best part.... They were not raised in the Gulf of Mexico or off the coast of Japan. Talk about a valuable trade commodity when you know they were raised in clean water and fed all organic algae that you cultured yourself.

    This information is at the very least close correct to the best of my knowledge, I am not an expert I am just passionate about learning more and teaching others about algae. So if there are any mistakes and especially negligent or misleading content please correct me as this will challenge my beliefs and guide me towards the truth. Thank you again for your comment, as it helped me improve this project and the projects website.

    Regretfully, I believe I may have reached my bandwidth limit as I am using a free hosting service, so if anyone knows of any good hosts please let me know, inexpensive is a major major plus and linux, apache, mysql, and php a requirement.

    Thank you,

    Tyler Hinz

  • Sounds like and intersting project, Hinz, some recommendations:
    get rid of the ...s and make the front page look better.  Separate the information on it into sections and what doesn't need to be on the front page put somewhere else.  The way it is makes it look like you are not really serious about the whole thing
    2. if you don't have one get a wiki and make a sensible category tree
    3. Come up with a preliminary design. That will help bring in contributors.  Then build it, if that is not enough.
  • Thank you for the input, I know the site looks like a kid drew with a crayon on some toilet paper. Web design is definitely not my strong suit. Do you have web design experience that you would like to share? I could really use it. I haven't slept in a day and a half trying to answer all of the questions that have been coming in as quickly and accurately as possible.
    When did you view the site, because from my end it is down?
  • I saw a design for a algae photoreactor at:

     that you might be interested in. However, it says it would be released when a paper was completed and the inventor may have just died as reported at the top of the blog. Maybe you can write to them and see what the status is.
  • Thanks fitznaggle, I'm already on the ball with that one. I have attempted contact already (like a week or two ago) and as of now no reply I sent the message to info[at] and didn't see any other emails. There's some pretty sweet stuff at ArkFab, kinda inspires me to grow some mushrooms.

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