Growing Algae For Fun And Profit

Supposedly, writes [Severin], algae is a super food, can be used as biofuel, and even be made into yoga mats. So he’s built an algal reactor at Munich Maker Lab, to try to achieve a decent algal yield.

You might expect that  sourcing live algae would be as simple as scraping up a bit of green slime from a nearby pond, but that yields an uncertain mix of species. [Severin] wanted Chlorella algae for his experiment because its high fat content makes it suitable for biodiesel experiments, so had to source his culture from an aquatic shop.

The reactor takes the form of a spiral of transparent plastic tube surrounding a CFL lamp as a light source, all mounted on a lasercut wooden enclosure housing a pump. A separate glass jar forms a reservoir for the algal-rich water. He does not mention whether or not he adds any nutrient to the mix.

Left to its own devices the machine seems to work rather well, a 48 hour session yielding an impressively green algal soup. Sustained running does cause a problem though, the pipes block up with accumulated algae and the machine needs cleaning by blasting it with high pressure water and a healthy dose of nuts and bolts.

This isn’t the first algal reactor we’ve featured here on Hackaday, we had this Arduino-powered one back in 2009. But mostly the algae that have appeared here have been of the bioluminescent variety, as with this teaching project, or this night light.

Living night light with glowing algae

I may sound like I’m being over enthusiastic in this video. I’m not. Everyone who has seen this thinks it is simply amazing.

My father, an ex navy man, has told me stories of glowing water since I was little.  Being a person who was obsessed with all things that light up, this always stuck with me. I saw a headline one day that someone was making an algae-light. Sadly when I clicked on it, the algae was just there to create oxygen. It was a cool idea, but not what I was hoping for.

That slight disappointment drove me to create a night light using glowing algae. The process could be extremely simple.

1. Buy Algae.

2. set up light for algae (it needs a 12 hour light cycle and putting it in a window sill would kill it due to heat). It needs bulbs labelled 6500k or higher.

3. shake algae at night (it only lights up when agitated, and when it is on its “night” cycle).

I really wanted to add more to this project though, so I decided to put the algae in a klein bottle and build a custom base for it that would allow me to move a BB around inside the bottle using magnets. This would in turn, hopefully, agitate the algae and make it light up.

Continue reading “Living night light with glowing algae”

Growing algae with an Arduino


We’ve seen automated grow boxes of all shapes and sizes, but all were for growing plants. [Jared] over at Inventgeek wanted to do something similar for his algae. He started off with an Arduino-based solution that allows the controlled pulse of LEDs connected to his standard bioreactor as a prototype. Once he determined his proof of concept worked, he began work on a design based on the Arduino Pro Mini that has more advanced features such as temperature monitoring and algae culture density monitoring via some fancy IR voodoo. The code is open source and the hardware is easily obtainable, all that remains is the desire to grow algae.