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Biotech Open Source Earth Science Technology

Is DIY Algae Farming the Future? 322

Posted by timothy
from the for-fun-and-food-and-friendship dept.
hex0D points to this "interview with Aaron Baum explaining why people growing algae at home for food can help the environment and their health, and what he's doing to facilitate this. 'We'd like to create an international network of people growing all kinds of algae in their homes in a small community scale, sharing information, doing it all in an open source way. We'd be like the Linux of algae – do-it-yourself with low-cost materials and shared information.' And one of the low-cost materials is your household urine."
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Is DIY Algae Farming the Future?

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  • Although I wouldn't consume algae as a food source, I could certainly use it as a fuel source.

    I even make LED panels for growing specific species of algae, for this very purpose.

  • by Plazmid (1132467) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @05:56PM (#33556320)
    You might want to reconsider growing algae for food, one research group at my university is investigating growing algae to produce sugar, so we don't have to cut down forests to grow sugarcane. Also, I really hope those LED panels are solar powered. As solar powered LED panels emitting light at frequencies the algae uses can be far more efficient than growing algae in direct sunlight(even cheap solar panels are more efficient at solar conversion than algae).
  • by MattskEE (925706) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @06:09PM (#33556432)

    It's put in the summary for shock value I think, but really what they need is mainly nitrogen (prevalent in fertilizer and also urine) and carbon dioxide. In one of their experiments they fed the algae exhaust from a generator. They could also be fed agricultural runoff rich in fertilizers, which is a problem when it reaches streams and oceans because it is so nutritious for algae that it produces algal blooms.

    I'm sure you could feed your algae off of a bag of fertilizer from home depot, it's just like gardening but in water.

  • by Chemisor (97276) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @06:16PM (#33556492)

    The reason people don't eat algae is that it tastes bad. The author himself says he can only eat 15 grams a day, which comes to about 60 calories. Gee, that's only 3% of his daily energy needs. Now, if he could splice in some genes to make his spirulina taste like beef or chicken, he'd have a lot more success.

    Personally, I'd like it if somebody worked on engineering trees instead. A tree growing potatoes with sugarcane's photosynthesis efficiency could feed the world.

  • Re:Urine? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by copponex (13876) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @06:19PM (#33556512) Homepage

    Everything you eat and drink was once pissed or shit out of something else. That's why you can't dump chemicals into the environment without eventually experiencing the consequences. [msn.com]

    The further up the food chain you go, the more concentrated the toxins become. I suspect that's one of the reason's we're all dying of cancer.

  • by danny_lehman (1691870) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @06:46PM (#33556722)

    on a gram by gram basis Corella Algae is actually like SUPER nutritious. NASA i think experimented with using it for long space flights in the 60/70's. So your body can function longer running on a tomato-sized amount of algae than it could on an actual tomato.

    Ancient alien conspirators actually believe that the Holy Grail was actually a Manna Machine that produced this kind of algae. Fun Fact..

    kinda skimmed the article but i think hes getting at the idea that it's a good supplement and could have potential in enriching foods.

  • by LurkerXXX (667952) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @06:51PM (#33556750)

    I think growing a maple tree or two in the back yard and tapping them would produce about the same amount of calories he's taking in, with a lot less maintenance, and much better tasting product.

  • Welcome to Trantor (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Digicrat (973598) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @07:24PM (#33556990)

    Asimov predicted this decades ago [wikipedia.org]. Just another case of science catching up to fiction, or perhaps this just validates the theories of psychohistory that we aren't supposed to know about..

    Of course, there's a long way to go before we generate enough recipes and concoctions of artificial ingredients to make it palatable, so that it's economically and socially mandated to create massive bio-farms.

    For more information, refer to your copy of the Encyclopedia Galactica.

  • by GWRedDragon (1340961) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @07:48PM (#33557146)

    Fortunately, there is enough easily accessible uranium in the Earth's crust to power civilization for tens of thousands of years. Modern nuclear plant designs are incredibly safe, and the French have proved that spent fuel reprocessing can be done quite efficiently. If there's a true civilization-ending energy crisis ahead, we have a LONG time to work on it. For now, the main issue is improving battery/fuel cell technology so that electricity generated by nuclear reactors can be used for transportation.

    That is, assuming you buy into the concept of near-term "peak oil" in the first place.

  • by jedidiah (1196) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @08:02PM (#33557232) Homepage

    I have made no money with my own "victory garden". However, I have managed to produce small quantity of items that I can't get in sufficient quality at my local green grocer.

    I think this algae idea is totally bonkers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 12, 2010 @08:29PM (#33557384)

    > solar powered LED panels emitting light at frequencies the algae uses can be far more efficient than growing algae in direct sunlight(even cheap solar panels are more efficient at solar conversion than algae).

    That doesn't pass the giggle test. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynthetic_efficiency [wikipedia.org] only 45% of sunlight works for photosynthesis; all other losses in that article (which cut *total* efficiency from sunlight down to 3-6%) still apply. So if you double the useful light shining on the algae, you may boost its efficiency to 12%... but that's 12% *after the losses from the solar panel*. Cheap solar panel efficiency is only around 6%, and expensive ones on spacecraft max out in the low 40s.

    So instead of getting 6% sunlight->algae, with cheap panels (and perfect LEDs) you're getting 12% of 6% (0.72%!). Even with the excellent 40% efficient panels, that's still only 12% of 40% (2.4%!). Fail.

  • by Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @08:38PM (#33557432)

    growing algae to produce sugar

    Combine with this: viologen mediated sugar-air fuel cell [blogspot.com]. The viologen is a major weed killer, so it's quite cheap.

  • by plover (150551) * on Sunday September 12, 2010 @09:12PM (#33557606) Homepage Journal

    Like anything else, it's a first step. The first internal combustion engines didn't put out 320 HP, either. It'll take time for new iterations to evolve it into a better product than this guy is pitching. And getting it started now is the only way to get those next iterations going.

    Those potential improvements would include not only the size and energy input types of things, but improvements to the palatability of the finished product. I'm not saying that they'll ever produce a steak-like substance with it, but maybe they can produce enough food to feed a cow to get us some tasty steaks. (Cows are horribly inefficient food sources, by the way, requiring at least a 10:1 feed-to-meat ratio.) Or maybe if cloned meat ever becomes commercially viable, algae could be the feed needed to grow it.

    And I know you want things to get "better", but "better" is not sustainable. Civilization has peaked. This is it. You and I are among the ultimate consumers at the pinnacle of production and consumption. You may want even more for yourself, but it's got to come from somewhere. From here on out as the population grows and available land shrinks, as non-renewable energy sources run down, things are not likely to get "better" by your definition. But perhaps we can slow the decay, and that might be good enough to call it "progress" by some measures.

    I agree with you that advertising it with the words "your own urine" does not help sell it, except maybe to a few eco-fruitbats. That's why real businesses hire marketing people. Even a C-average-marketing-degree kid fresh from college would know "Grow your own food with urine!" is not a particularly effective slogan.

  • Re:Urine? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gblackwo (1087063) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @10:33PM (#33557948) Homepage
    That's a pretty good answer actually. - And I was just trying to show the parent he was being a dick. I really had Leukemia though.
  • by hedwards (940851) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @10:50PM (#33558028)
    Spirulina is pretty much the king of the hill in that respect. The problem with it though is that it's cleansing, consuming enough to make for even a small snack would definitely be enough to give you diarrhea amongst other things. But it's packed with nutrition.

    To some extent same goes for other algae, they've got lots of nutritional value, but you have to be mindful that they are used medicinally for a reason.
  • by GooberToo (74388) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @10:52PM (#33558038)

    Ancient alien conspirators actually believe that the Holy Grail was actually a Manna Machine that produced this kind of algae

    They also believe the Ark of the Covenant [wikipedia.org] was a radioactive energy source of some type which powered the Manna Machine. Interestingly enough, the descriptions available do describe, if you want to liberally interpret the readings, a high energy weapon (gamma + laser beam or something) with radiation sickness; including for those who might open the Ark.

  • by Ex-MislTech (557759) on Monday September 13, 2010 @12:11AM (#33558352)

    AT 100,000 gallons of oil/acre/yr in the desert Algae may be
    the new source of oil for the world.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hioZ7C6HLs [youtube.com]

    With some modification it can be switched over to
    produce hydrogen in a biological fashion as well.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biological_hydrogen_production [wikipedia.org]

    Once we get the infrastructure for hydrogen in place
    it would be a viable transition between these two methods.

  • You would think that, but I've been working on systems to produce far more while consuming far less.

    http://imgur.com/TOgCX.jpg [imgur.com]

    As another example, an acre of barley grass takes about 100,000 gallons of water to produce on regular land, and about two weeks for usable animal fodder harvest. Newer systems I work on cut that down to about 1500 gallons, it happens in 7 days, and we don't even need ANY source of light. We grow it in completely dark sheds.

    http://imgur.com/TYJUR.jpg [imgur.com]

    And we have these already in production for growing biofuel-producing algae, so your assumption would be somewhat wrong. The Middle East is one of my bigger clients.

  • by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) on Monday September 13, 2010 @06:01AM (#33559558) Homepage

    What the other response to this post is trying to say is that chlorophyll can't convert most light frequencies into food. Converting sunlight into blue light, even with a 30% efficient process, would mean more sunlight + co2 + h2o converted into sugar (or whatever you're trying to produce).

  • Re:Urine? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Monday September 13, 2010 @07:32AM (#33559944) Journal

    Chance. Some proportion of the population always got cancer at age 13. It's probably higher now, because fewer children die before they get to 13 (it wasn't so long ago that you'd have been considered an adult at that age and expect to be thinking about getting married soon).

    Cancer is one of those things that's related to a trade off in terms of evolution. The higher the mutation rate in a species, the faster it can adapt to changes in its environment, but the more likely it is to die of cancer. In rats, this rate is much higher than humans, which is one of the reasons that most rat poisons don't work for very long (there'll be one rat whose immune due to some mutation, and in a couple of generations they'll all have that gene). The down side, from the perspective of an individual rat, is that they all die of cancer if they don't get killed by something else first.

    Humans have benefitted a lot from their relatively fast mutation rate. The most obvious example of this is skin colour, which is a relatively minor genetic variation. Even within Europe, people with white skin are recommended to avoid their exposure to the sun in the south, while people with dark skin are recommended to take vitamin D supplements regularly. Without that change, humans would probably have been confined to tropical latitudes, rather than spreading almost to the poles.

    The down side of this fast mutation rate is that often the mutations are fatal, in the form of cancers. The older the human, the greater the chance that they will experience a fatal mutation. It's unlikely at age 13, but becomes pretty much guaranteed some time between 100 and 200. From an evolutionary perspective, that's absolutely fine because most people died of something else long before they reached that age.

    Other species manage this in different ways. For example, a lot of insects don't continuously replace their cells as we do, they only replace them in response to damage. This makes them much more resilient to DNA damage, and consequently slows the mutation rate in individuals. They reproduce in much larger numbers and over a much shorter period than us, however, so the species mutation rate remains relatively high.

  • Re:Urine? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BobMcD (601576) on Monday September 13, 2010 @10:16AM (#33561428)

    You might want to consider all the hormones and/or pharmaceuticals in it. "Sterile" does not necessarily mean "desirable".

What the world *really* needs is a good Automatic Bicycle Sharpener.

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