How To Start An Algae Farm Using Hydroponics

To successfully start anything, and achieve the desired results, the first critical thing is to fully understand all the aspects of whatever it is you want to start.

It is possible that you are interested in starting an algae farm, and our intention is to ensure you have the information you need on the same.

In this article, we will not only help you to know how you can start the farm. We will also venture into details on how you can do that successfully.

So, what is an algae farm?

A look at how to grow an algae farm 

The plants that grow in water and feed on the nutrients found in that water, and on the energy from the sun, are called algae. An algae farm is a place where one grows algae for commercial purposes.

When one engages in the art of growing algae, they are said to be involved in algaculture. Algaculture allows one to grow different species of algae. It is notable that most of the algae that are grown commercially are microalgae.

Microalgae is also known as phytoplanktonic, planktonic algae or microphytes. Macroalgae refers to some species of the larger algae, and examples of the macroalgae include the seaweed. These also have several commercial uses.

However, most people do not prefer growing the macroalgae because of the challenges that come with cultivating them in a controlled environment.

Monoculture is the art of growing one type of algae. In this case, the algae farmer chooses the variety they will grow and put their energy on that.

The critical thing monoculture demands is that the farmer takes care of the species they are growing, so that they do not have instances of other species invading the farm.

It is important that the algae farmer keeps his supply pure. Monoculture that is kept pure is the best, both for research and for commercial use. However, growing mixed species of algae has its important place as well. It serves as food for other sea creatures, for example the larval mollusks.

This kind of farming serves well as a low maintenance way to feed the seafood that is grown for commercial purposes. When you venture into growing mixed algae species for the commercial seafood, what you need to do is minimal.

You will only be required to separate the larger species from the small one, by using a filter. The larger algae may be too large for the seafood to feed on. Next, put the algae in a greenhouse pool or outside, for a day or so.

This will help the algae to collect the necessary nutrients, making it healthy food for the seafood. That said, how then do you make an algae farm?

Making an algae farm 

Requirements of an algae farm

When you want to farm algae using hydroponics, you will need to keep note of some basic requirements. These requirements will help you to get a good stock, regardless of the species you choose to grow.

You will need light, good water supply, carbon dioxide and minerals. That combination is what gives the algae the energy they need to grow. If you are asking what makes algae grow faster, the above-mentioned ingredients will give you such results with your algae farm.

You can still grow algae without sunlight. In that case, you would need sugar to directly feed the algae, and you would not need carbon dioxide. Most farmers though, prefer the light method.

Another thing to be keen about is the temperature where the algae is growing. Ideally, at what temperature does algae grow for best outcomes?

Research shows that different species have different temperature requirements. However, the optimum range for any species you desire to grow is 25 to 35 degrees C.

Step by step guide on making an algae farm

  • Construct a raceway pond

Identify a favorable spot where you will construct a raceway pond to grow the algae. Get a place that allows the pond to get as sufficient lighting as possible. The ideal is a spot the pond can receive 30% shade on the days that tend to be warmer.

Dig an oblong shape for the pond. The size should range between 10 to 300 meters in length, and 1 to 20 meters in width. Next, create ridges which will help to divide the pond, so that you have parallel channels of about 1 meter wide apart.

It should leave the edges open such that water can freely circulate. Check the length of the pond and adjust it according to the space you have at your disposal. You should not have a depth more than 0.5 meters (1.64 feet).

Another important thing to do at this stage is to install a drainage system. It will help you drain the water from the pond, in case something goes wrong and you need to correct it.

  • Line your pond

The next thing to do is to line up your pond. You can choose whether you want to use concrete, or a pond liner which is usually made of long-lasting plastic such as PVC. You can also use clay.

In case you decide to use the PVC, the best way is to talk to your PVC supplier, so that they can professionally sew the pond liner and keep to your measurements. This is critical because it will keep the pond from leaking. If you are not a construction professional, gladly hire an expert to help you in this stage.

  • Installing a paddle wheel aerator

Whether you are dealing with large or small ponds, the movement of oxygenated water from the aerator is critical. Paddlewheel aerators are the perfect choice for medium and large ponds. You can have your own DIY paddle wheel, or you can choose from the many off-shelf paddle wheels aerator designs available in the market.

To get the best results with the paddle wheels, connect several wheels to one of the central motors. Then, position them in parallel ponds. That will give you a highly efficient pond. Now that you have paddle wheel aerators which are motor driven, back them into the water.

Ensure that the axles are placed parallel to the water surface. For optimum results with the wheel aerator, ensure that the turning of the wheels is 108 (RPM) rounds per minute. Also, check that it is at 21 inches deep.

The paddles should operate while turning to the banks, and that should force the water into the open pond. The paddles do this with a forceful agitating action.

  • Filling the pond with water
  1. Identify a source of clean water, and the preferred options are spring water, melted ice, or rain water.
  2. It may not be ideal to use tap water, but it is okay to use it. However, you would need to calculate the nutrient proportions, since clean tap water can have traces of nutrients. The nutrients are good for spirulina growth. Check that the hardness of the water is less than 200, the Fluoride levels should be less than 20, while that of Chloride should be less than 15.
  3. You may opt to work with the tap water, but may not for some reason want to modify the nutrient levels. In that case, let the Chloride evaporate for 12 hours before you can add the culture medium.
  • Identify the culture medium formula of your choice

The culture medium is the nutrient mixture that the spirulina will feed on so that it thrives and reproduces. It is a detoxifying agent and therefore, it consumes any type of nutrient it finds, and that includes heavy metal and toxins.

The spirulina does not need any organic materials for it to reproduce. Therefore, it is unnecessary to indulge in a debate of whether to use organic or non-organic. However, you will learn that some minerals are better than others, when your health is concerned. The spirulina glossary will come in handy to help you make an informed decision on the formula to use.

  • Adding nutrients to your pond

Mix up the chemicals properly by running the agitator, either by use of a paddle wheel agitator or an air pump. An electric timer will come in handy to set the agitators either on or off.

Now get your culture medium and add the nutrients in your preferred proportions. For most formulas, you will use a liter of mother culture, for every 1000 liters of nutrients after mixing in the water.

After that, run the agitators and use cycles of 15 minutes per hour. Without adding more chemicals, continue running the agitator every 10-12 days. On the 12th day, your pond should be a concentration of green spirulina that is due for harvest.

  • Harvesting your first batch of spirulina

Congratulations! Your first batch of spirulina is ready for harvest on the 13th day. The appearance should be a relatively thick texture which should be dark green. You will then need a nylon 30-50 microns mesh which you will position above the growth tank.

Let the liquid pass through it so that you have a thick jelly-like paste on the top. A water pump will come in handy to make the process much easier. Take a piece of fabric and place it at the edge of your hose.

It will help to sieve and collect unwanted plants and insects, leaving you with a clean product. Take the wet biomass and rake it to the middle of the mesh.

Place a harvesting close and squeeze the excess water from the biomass. Only keep the freshly harvested spirulina. After that, you will need to take some clean water and wash the mesh. To avoid wastage, pour it back to the pond.

  • Feeding the culture after every harvest

When you are done with harvesting, it will be critical to weigh the dried yield. It will help determine the amount of nutrients to add after the harvest. If you do not want to dry your spirulina, you can calculate that in a ratio of 10% of the weight of the biomass.

If for example your harvest is 1 kg of fresh biomass, you will work with 100 grams as the dried weight. There are calculators specifically designed to calculate the nutrients proportions after harvesting. You can use that to make your work easier. So, how long does it take to grow algae?

Ideally, algae should get to its peak within 30 days or four weeks. However, you do not need to wait that much time to harvest it.

What can algae be used for?

Algae has many uses; we will discuss several of them: Algae are coming up as the most reliable source of biomass, or essential oils for food, including other essential by-products. The most attractive thing about algae are the many benefits they associate with and the places they grow.

  • Plastics

Algae comes in as a bio friendly way to create plastics. What a company needs to grow algae is sunlight and waste water. It is an environment friendly way to produce plastics.

Some companies have come up with plastic products, for example water bottles from algae. Such products have earned the name “green plastics”. It is from this ability to create plastics from algae, that enabled Kanye West to come up with the aspect of “Seed to sole”.

What is behind that phrase?

Well, this came up when Kanye unveiled a new product-a foam sneaker made from algae. The shoe was manufactured from his Yeezy fashion firm.

The sneaker prototype is a result of combining ethylene-vinyl acetate made from petroleum, and foam produced from algae. Speaking to the event attendees, the head designer at Yeezy said the firm had began intersecting eco-concerns with what they do.

Kanye West took this move as a move of his brand to sustainability. The company, according to Kanye West, was going to use algae to make foam, and he added that they would be using their foam to do that.

During a three-day festival to showcase company innovations, Kanye said that his firm would be relocating the headquarters to Cody, Wyoming. He added that they were moving to a 4,000-acre ranch. There they would venture into creating Kanye west hydroponic farm.

The plan was to farm algae on that farm they would be going “seed to sole”. He also added that since color was a big signature for the brand, they would take responsibility from a-z, with the awareness that dying was one of the factors that affected the fashion industry.

He also mentioned the plan to return manufacturing to America after making the shoe in Atlanta. A credible source of Yeezy and Adidas confirmed that the sneaker would be named as the Yeezy foam runner shoe.

The company would use algae to make the Yeezy foam runner shoe. The projection was to avail it in the market at $75. Seeing the power of hydroponics it is time you start your own project at your backyard too.

  • Creating biofuel

Algae is an essential resource in creating biofuel. That is why companies that are looking into increasing their biofuel production find it essential. If you are growing algae on one acre of land, in one year you can produce 500,000 gallons of biofuel from the algae.

  • Reduces wastage of land

When you farm algae, it will not take away the traditional land where you grow foodstuff such as beans, corn or wheat. The growth of algae is remarkable, because it can thrive almost anywhere, as long as you create the conditions that favor that growth.

The other fact about farming algae is that it uses water which other plants find unfavorable for growth. Any type of land will serve well, to create facilities to farm algae. Such land that would then otherwise go to waste is instead well utilized when you grow algae.

  • It is good for animal feed

Algae contains high levels of protein, and can also be grown to produce an even higher protein level.

  • It functions as a source of energy

After extracting oils from algae, the rest of the by-products are essential sources of fuel for power generation sources. It helps reduce the demand on coal, nuclear power and natural gas.

  • Useful in creating vegetable oil

Many people know peanuts, olives, or safflowers as ways to create vegetable oil. Algae is however essential in creating vegetable oil. Some prediction usually, is that algae can produce more vegetable oil, as long as it is farmed and harvested properly.

  • It comes in as a supplement for human food

The amino acid profile of algae is complete, meaning algae is a complete amino acid. This is not so with other common plants. Algae supports the human metabolism in a way no other plant can. It contains trace elements and numerous minerals which are critical for optimum health.

  • Used as fertilizer property

Algae can perfectly come in as fertilizer because it is a living organism. When used as fertilizer, it quickly breaks down its nitrogen source. This helps it to act as a great resource for crops to grow efficiently.

  • Helps cleanse carbon dioxide pollution

Algae requires carbon dioxide for growth. It absorbs carbon dioxide at very high rates. This plays a key role in cleansing the carbon dioxide that nuclear plants and other energy sources release. It absorbs carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, which is very healthy for the ecosystem.

  • Algae and wastewater treatment

Algae is considered as an important component in the stages of treating waste water. It also has the ability to produce biomass, which has multiple uses. The fascinating thing about algae is that it can utilize phosphorous and inorganic nitrogen in the process of growing.

The advantages of algae 

Do you need to invest in farming algae, and if so, what are the advantages of algae?

There are several benefits of algae, we will check through several of them:

  1. The growth of algae is fast and doubles in hours every few hours. It is possible to harvest it daily. From that, you can get volumes of biofuel and biomass which you cannot get from usual productive plants.
  2. You can get high volumes of biofuels from algae. This is because algae stores energy, in the form of carbohydrates and oils. From an acre of land, you can get 2000 to 5000 gallons of biofuels per year.
  3. Macroalgae or seaweed thrive in the sea or on a land that has sea water. Their sugars can then be converted into chemicals and biofuels.
  4. The algae industry helps to create jobs across the board. This is because algae grow in different environments and there is a wide variety of products to get from algae, which include fertilizers, chemical stocks, plastics, chemical feedstocks as well as cosmetics. Such products influence many fields such as research, financial services, marketing, among others. When all is done concerning algae, jobs are created all over.

Disadvantages of algae 

Anything that has its pros also has its cons. What are the harmful effects of algae?

  1. Growing algae faces the same challenges that monoculture farming experiences. When one focuses on growing one type of product year after year, they end up dealing with pest infestation, catastrophic failure and water pollution. When faced with one issue, it could lead to massive losses for the entire industry.
  2. You could end up with variations of quality during the refinement process. Algae goes through a refining process before getting the final products. One has to ensure the processes maintain consistent practices so that the quality is not compromised. It helps to ensure that the quality is consistent through and through. However, there might not be a way to guarantee success, especially because water can change its photosynthesis profile.
  3. Problems with regional sustainability: Algae allows you to grow it in any closed tank technology facility. However, the variety of environments in different places could easily hinder the expected algae production. Outdoor cultivation methods come in handy to make the biofuel a product that is possible to sustain.
  4. The cost of biofuel production is higher than other types of energy sources. It costs about $30 to produce a gallon of biofuel.