Algae: Essential Technology 1


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Today, humanity is dependant on oil for fuel, as a lubricant, and in chemical processes.   Fossile oil is a deminishing resource and as such control of this resources causes conflict and other problems for humanity.  We have many options available to us to help us get off fossile oil dependency.  The most promising utilizes the one most ancient of organisms:  Algae. 

There are many reasons why we have not yet moved to renewable algae based oil as our primary fuel source… Most of those involve the lucrative nature of controlling a deminishing resource… Very profitable for the few, very harmful for humanity as a whole.

Currently Algae biofuel is a very hot investment  because profitability is nearly on par with current oil production.  For our purposes, we do not require extreme profit margins on par with the oil industry…

The purpose proposed is to bring this technology simplified and freely to all of humanity.  Energy independence in a new age of plenty.  An end to the global oil empire that is killing our children and our planet and our wallets.



What is Algae?

Pond Algae

Algae are the most important life forms on Earth. Still, many can’t answer the question, “What is algae?”

First of all, “algae” is plural, so it is better to ask “What are algae?

The word “algae” embraces a huge variety of life forms, and scientists don’t always agree on which organisms are algae, and which ones aren’t.

You may think of algae as plants that float in the water, but that’s not exactly correct. Like plants, algae make their own food by photosynthesis. But algae aren’t planted in the ground, so they aren’t really plants.

Furthermore, some algae don’t live in the water, they might live in the soil or in the snow, and some algae have even been found floating in clouds. So you can think of algae as photosynthetic life forms that usually float in the water.

There are huge numbers of algae. Everything from the tiniest photosynthetic bacterium to a giant kelp that grows 200 feet tall are considered algae.

— excerpt from

Read More about Algae here: Algae


Why are algae so important?

  • The oceans cover about 71% of the Earth’s surface, yet algae produce more than 71% of the Earth’s oxygen; in fact, some scientists believe that algae produce 87% of the world’s oxygen.
  • They also help remove huge amounts of Carbon Dioxide from the air. Carbon Dioxide causes global warming, so algae are one of our most important allies in the fight against climate change.
  • They are the basis of most food chains in the ocean and in fresh water. No algae, no fish.
  • Someday, algae may allow us to stop burning petroleum.  That someday is NOW.

Algae offers global energy independence (fuel oil, ethanol), natural fertalizer, high quality animal feed, uses for human consumption, plastics, a means to clean waste water and a means to reverse the CO2 climate crisis.


and relavent to the DIY energy producer:

Algae Oil


The seminal work on algae-to-biodiesel was performed in the wake of our nation’s first energy crisis (mid 70’s to mid 90’s) by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, whose original mission for the algae project was carbon dioxide mitigation (Sheehan 1998).

During the early years of their program they discovered that some of the algae species were capable of producing 50% or more of their weight in lipids, under the proper growth conditions, and the program therefore transitioned from carbon dioxide mitigation to algae-to-biodiesel. The program included laboratory and field work to identify the most promising species and to optimize growth conditions for maximizing lipid yield per acre. Their key findings, over 30 years ago, were that it was possible to produce 30 grams of algae per square meter per day, at 30% lipids (Soy Beans are typically 20% lipids) content which would yield 4,000 gallons of biodiesel fuel per acre annually.

Current bio-engineered strains of algae are capable achieving up to 80% lipid content, and to double their mass in less than 24 hours, with some strains capable of doubling every 8 hours. Production of 50,000 gallons per acre is currently being achieved, with production rates of over 100,000 gallons per acre per year considered to be fully achievable using closed photo bio reactor systems.

In any algae oil production system the algae is harvested from the growing process as algae paste. It is then de-watered either by heat drying or de-watering presses. Centrifuges are also another way in which the algae past can be de-watered. The oil is then separated from the paste wither by a chemical process or by pressing in a high pressure device such as a screw press. The finished product is algae oil in a form that is then suitable for use in the transesterification process to make biodiesel fuel.

Advantages of Algae Oil As a Feedstock

Current feedstock production rates for “standing crops” such as Soy Beans, Camelina, Rape Seed, and Jetropha are in the 200 to 400 gallon per acre per year range. Palm Oil is a little better with 400 to 700 gallons per acre per year. These productions rates fall far short of the production rates per acre of Algae which is currently delivering up to 50,000 gallons of oil per acre per year from open pond systems.

The most recent developments in Algae Oil production systems using genetically engineered Algae strains indicate that production rates with “closed photo bio reactors” will exceed 100,000 gallons of Algae Oil per acre per year. These and other factors, such as the market for biodiesel in non-automotive areas, which include home heating oil and power generating plant fuels, have led to the decision to pursue the production of Algae Oil to be sold as a feedstock for the biodiesel industry.


The process of producing a fuel from plant and animal oils is a relatively simple process that has been proven over many years. The growing of Algae Oils is a well known process and the production of more or less oil is a function of the selection and feeding of the specific strain of algae.

Algae Oil is primarily used in the process of producing biodiesel fuel. Transesterification, the chemical process of making biodiesel, is also a relatively simple and well understood process. The process is stable and not nearly as hazardous as the production of petrodiesel. The production process also produces little or no noxious gasses to pollute the air around the refinery.

The Finished product, Biodiesel, is an environmentally friendly, renewable fuel with little or no noxious gas release during the process of combustion. The production of biodiesel requires one eighth of the energy required to produce ethanol and is usable in its undiluted state. The demand for biodiesel for use in all sectors now serviced by petrodiesel is projected to grow at an exponential rate.

The other available feedstocks for use in the Biodiesel production process have been unable to meet the increasing demand while retaining a price that allows the biodiesel manufacturers to operate profitably. Algae Oil can be produced at rates of up to 500 times the production rate per acre of any other source of vegetable oil. Algae Oil is a potential answer to the success of renewable energy. The production of Algae Oil is almost nonexistent in the US at this point in time, making this an extremely sound venture.


— excerpt from


Algae Oil Yields…


Microalgae, like higher plants, produce storage Lipids in the form of triacyglycerols (TAGs). Comparatively algae produce more oil than any other oilseeds which are currently in use. Many microalgal species can be induced to accumulate substantial quantities of lipids, often greater than 60% of their biomass.

Comparison of average oil yields from algae with that from other oilseeds 

The table below presents indicative oil yields from various oilseeds and algae. Please note that there are significant variations in yields even within an individual oilseed depending on where it is grown, the specific variety/grade of the plant etc. Similarly, for algae there are significant variations between oil yields from different strains of algae. The data presented below are indicative in nature, primarily to highlight the order-of-magnitude differences present in the oil yields from algae when compared with other oilseeds. (See also: Vegetable Oils Yields & Characteristics – from Journey to Forever)

Yields ( Gallons of oil per acre per year )

Corn 18
Soybeans 48
Safflower 83
Sunflower 102
Rapeseed 127
Oil Palm 635
Micro Algae 5000-15000


Oil content of a few Microalgal species:

Microalgal species Oil content(% dw)
Ankistrodesmus   TR-87 28-40
Botryococcus braunii 29-75
Chlorella   sp. 29
Chlorella protothecoides(autotrophic/   heterothrophic) 15-55
Cyclotella   DI- 35 42
Dunaliella tertiolecta  36-42
Hantzschia   DI-160 66
Nannochloris 31(6-63)
Nannochloropsis  46(31-68)
Nitzschia TR-114 28-50
Phaeodactylum tricornutum 31
Scenedesmus   TR-84 45
Stichococcus 33(9-59)
Tetraselmis suecica 15-32
Thalassiosira   pseudonana (21-31)
Crpthecodinium cohnii 20
Neochloris oleoabundans 35-54
Schiochytrium 50-77

Theoretical maximum yields of few microalgae in open ponds:

Species Yield (in g/m2/day)
Marine   Nannochloropsis 20 (~ 30% lipids)
Spirulina   plantesis 10.3
Dunaliella   salina 12.0
Scenedesmus species 13.4
Ankistrodesmus 18
Haematococcus   pluvialis 3.8

–excerpt from

Read more:

Effective yield is highly dependent on the method of oil extraction.  We will be covering oil extraction methods later in this text.

Sourcing Algae?  

Algae for your DIY or community project may be sourced from your local environment.  This has the advantage of requiring no special growing environments, as your local algae is already bred to be compatible with the climate of your region.

Algae may also be sourced from various universities around the world studying algae fuel production.  This typically the advantage of higher yield per area, but usually requires a more controlled growing environment (contact your university to discuss the requirements of modified high yield algae).

Find a University working with Algae near you HERE.

It MAY also be possible to source algae from your nearby algae biofuel startup.  Here is a list of Algae Biofuel Producers.




Cultivation of Algae

Like plants, algae use the sunlight for the process of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is an important biochemical process in which plants, algae, and some bacteria convert the energy of sunlight to chemical energy. Algae capture light energy through photosynthesis and convert inorganic substances into simple sugars using the captured energy.

There are two main methods of cultivation

  • Ponds
  • Photobioreactors


Since algae need sunlight, carbon-di-oxide and water for their growth, they can be cultivated in open ponds & lakes. More about open ponds are discussed here – Cultivation in open pond


A Photobioreactor is a controlled system that incorporates some type of light source. The term photobioreactor is more commonly used to define a closed system, as opposed to an open pond. A pond covered with a greenhouse could also be considered an unsophisticated form of photobioreactor. Because these systems are closed, everything that the algae  need to grow, (carbon dioxide, water and light) need to be introduced into the system. More about photobioreactors are discussed here –Cultivation in photobioreactors

There are several factors to determine the growth rate of algae. The following are the important factors that determine the growth rate of algae

  • Light – Light is needed for the photosynthesis process
  • Temperature: There is an ideal temperature range that is required for algae to grow
  • Medium/Nutrients – Composition of the water is an important consideration (including salinity)
  • pH – Algae typically need a pH between 7 and 9 to have an optimum growth rate
  • Algae Type –  Different types of algae have different growth rates
  • Aeration – The algae need to have contact with air, for its CO2 requirements
  • Mixing – Mixing prevents sedimentation of algae and makes sure all cells are equally exposed to light
  • Photoperiod: Light & dark cycles

A Generalized Set of Conditions for Culturing Micro-Algae

Parameters Range Optima
Temperature (°C) 16-27 18-24
Salinity (g.l-1) 12-40 20-24
Light intensity (lux) 1,000-10,000
(depends on volume and density)
Photoperiod (light: dark, hours) 16:8 (minimum)
24:0 (maximum)
pH 7-9 8.2-8.7


Algae cultivation can be done in a variety of environments. Algae cultivation in various environments are discussed in the following pages.

1. What are the best algae strains for biodiesel?

2. Which filamentous algae have high lipid content?

3. From where can I buy botryococcus braunii algae strain?

4. What are the best yields for macroalgae?

5. Can algae be used to treat toxics such as mercury in wastewater?

Find answers at Algae Fuels section @ CleanTick


Algae cultivation is an environmentally friendly process for the production of organic material by photosynthesis from carbon dioxide, light energy  and water. The water used by algae can be of low quality, including industrial process water, effluent of biological water treatment or other waste water streams.

The open systems, in order to increase their efficiency, are generally designed as a continuous culture in which a fixed supply of culture medium or influent ensures constant dilution of the system. The organisms adapt their growth rate to this dilution regime, with the organism best adapted to the environment prevailing in the system winning the competition with the other organisms.

A drawback of the common open algae culture systems is the major risk of contamination by undesirable photosynthetic micro-organisms which can be introduced via air or rain.

An alternative to the drawback of the open system could be to carry out algae cultivation in closed photobioreactors. In these, the process conditions can be accurately controlled, and no infection carrying alga species will occur. A major drawback of the closed photobioreactors resides in the high investmentcosts which lead to high production costs.

Thus, cultivating algae for fuel is an area where more experimentation and research are still required.

— excerpt from


Coupling photoreactors with CO2 waste output offers salvation from the climate crisis

Imagine adding waste water/greywater effluent to accelerate the process, increasing CO2 absorbtion rate over area.
Also instead of the wasteful gassification process, stick to low tech (lower yield) fuel production and sequester the biomatter…


Bioreactor Basics


DIY bioreactors





Algae Biodiesel Engineering: Extracting Oil from Algae

How can we get oil from algae? It’s like getting juice from an orange — with an additional chemical reaction thrown in. Algae are grown in either open-pond or closed-pond systems, which we’ll discuss later. Once the algae are harvested, the lipids, or oils, are extracted from the walls of the algae cells.

There are a few different ways to extract the oil from algae. The oil press is the simplest and most popular method. It’s similar to the concept of the olive press. It can extract up to 75 percent of the oil from the algae being pressed.

Basically a two-part process, the hexane solvent method (combined with pressing the algae) extracts up to 95 percent of oil from algae. First, the press squeezes out the oil. Then, leftover algae is mixed with hexane, filtered and cleaned so there’s no chemical left in the oil.

The supercritical fluids method extracts up to 100 percent of the oil from algae. Carbon dioxide acts as the supercritical fluid — when a substance is pressurized and heated to change its composition into a liquid as well as a gas. At this point, carbon dioxide is mixed with the algae. When they’re combined, the carbon dioxide turns the algae completely into oil. The additional equipment and work make this method a less popular option.
Once the oil’s extracted, it’s refined using fatty acid chains in a process called transesterification. Here, a catalyst such as sodium hydroxide is mixed in with an alcohol such as methanol. This creates a biodiesel fuel combined with a glycerol. The mixture is refined to remove the glycerol. The final product is algae biodiesel fuel.

The process of extracting oil from the algae is universal, but companies producing algae biodiesel are using diverse methods to grow enough algae to produce large amounts of oil.

— excerpt from


It is desirable from a simplicity standpoint to opt for less efficiency (profitability) to avoid using harmful chemicals or adding chemical streams to the process.  The goal being simplicity and ease of production over profitability.

Here is a simple auger style oil press in action:

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