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Is DIY Algae Farming the Future? 322

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 @06:56PM (#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).
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        But the solar powered LEDs take a lot of energy to manufacture and ship. At what scales does it make more sense to use direct sunlight to grow algae rather than use a solar powered LED?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by iwaybandit ( 1632765 )
        Sugar producing algae? I WANT!!!
        Just add yeast. Fun for all.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        growing algae to produce sugar

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

    • Ever had a spirulina [] product, usually a smoothy/drink?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by flyingsquid ( 813711 )
      Although I wouldn't consume algae as a food source, I could certainly use it as a fuel source.

      A big issue with biofuels is the water used. It's sort of dead obvious once you think about it. It doesn't take a heck of a lot of water to pump a barrel of oil out of the ground, but producing a similar amount of ethanol from corn will require a lot of water for irrigation, and we're already straining our freshwater water resources. According to a report commissioned by congress [ []

  • Urine? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by WarJolt ( 990309 )

    Does this article really suggest feeding algae urine and then using it as a food product?

    • Re:Urine? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chyeld ( 713439 ) < minus painter> on Sunday September 12, 2010 @06:52PM (#33556278)

      You do understand that in many places normal food crops are still fertilized by feces?

      • Re:Urine? (Score:5, Informative)

        by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @07:18PM (#33556504) Journal
        In the developed world, we prefer the euphemism "biosolids".

        Dealing with the leftovers of sewage treatment is so much more cost effective when they can be classified as fertilizer. Luckily, absolutely nobody would dream of dumping heavy metals or some of the nastier organics into the general sewage system, so soil application is entirely safe...
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by macraig ( 621737 )

        Feces are pathogenic unless very carefully composted. Urine is sterile right out of the tap.

      • Re:Urine? (Score:5, Informative)

        by westlake ( 615356 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @07:38PM (#33556654)

        You do understand that in many places normal food crops are still fertilized by feces?


        The use of human feces as fertilizer is a risky practice as it may contain disease-causing pathogens and because it contains heavy metals. Nevertheless, in developing nations it is widespread. Common parasitic worm infections, such as ascariasis, in these countries are linked to night soil, since their eggs are in feces. Night soil []

        Nearly 2.2 million people die each year because of diarrhea-related diseases, including cholera, according to WHO statistics. More than 80 percent of those cases can be attributed to contact with contaminated water and a lack of proper sanitation. Human Waste Used by 200 Million Farmers, Study Says []

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by tacarat ( 696339 )
        I lived in one of those places while in the military. We were advised to not eat the local fresh veggies unless we could peel them. I think hepatitis was one of the concerns due to blood in the untreated sewage.
    • A quick show of hands, who's ever pissed on a lemon tree?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by copponex ( 13876 )

      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. []

      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.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Nope. We are all dying of cancer because we now live long enough to get cancer.

        If you don't want to die from cancer, I suggest that you move to a preindustrial society so you can die in your 30s or 40s from some other cause like malnutrition or disease.

        • And that explains how I got cancer at 13?
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by jedidiah ( 1196 )

            You can probably explain that with at TOTAL LACK OF NATURAL SELECTION.

            In pre-industrial societies you're still lucky to make it to 13.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by gblackwo ( 1087063 )
              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.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )

            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 r

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 12, 2010 @06:35PM (#33556172)
    I'm skilled at cultivating mold on the floor, shower curtain, and walls of my shower. Perhaps these moldy efforts can help the environment and health.
  • Problem with standing water and algae is that they attract mosquitoes. How is this issue normally addressed?

    • By keeping it covered.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Its been raised as an issue with rainwater tanks where I live. The solution seems to be to have a grid of fly wire over all large openings so that the mozzies can't get in and out.

      • by macraig ( 621737 )

        What on earth is "fly wire"? Try googling it.

        • Wire to keep flies out. You don't have a fly wire door on your house? It must be full of flies.

          (its an Australianism, like hats with corks swinging from the brim).

          • Of course we have it. Yanks call it "screen."
            I like the term "fly wire" though. It's very descriptive for what it does.
            We don't, however, have the hats with the corks unless we brought it back from a trip Down Under.

            • by macraig ( 621737 )

              We need finer "screen" than the stuff we typically use on windows here, though. I've seen motivated mosquitoes squeeze through the stuff. For growing algae, I'd want something almost as fine as cheesecloth. Fungus gnats are another potential huge problem, as I suspect they might settle for algae, and they're smaller than mosquitoes.

          • by macraig ( 621737 )

            Okay, we call it "screen" or "screening" here in the U.S., as in "screen door". See my reply to the other fella regarding characteristics.

            What's up with the corks?

        • one word. I also put "mosquitos" after it.

    • Re:Skeeters control? (Score:4, Informative)

      by MattskEE ( 925706 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @07:00PM (#33556362)

      In commercial algae growth, the water is not standing, it is agitated. For home algae growth you may not use an agitator, but I imagine at the least you would use an air bubbler like in fish tanks to keep things mixed. And of course, by screening any openings the mosquitoes can't get in to lay eggs.

  • by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @06:37PM (#33556184)

    ...people growing algae at home for food ....... And one of the low-cost materials is your household urine.

    Somehow I think this business is it's own worst enemy. Perhaps they should omit that little part of the plan, at least until they start making some progress with the rest. How could they think this was a good way to promote a new food source?

    • Or, as those with a Pittsburgh speech patter might say: "I thought this algae was mine, but it's your'in.
    • Oh, I'm feeling so sorry for Ed Begley, Jr.'s neighbors right now.
    • by MattskEE ( 925706 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @07:09PM (#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 macraig ( 621737 )

      Urine is sterile. What's the big deal? I piss in the shower all the time and don't even aim for the drain, and I'm just as healthy as anybody who doesn't.

      • by EdIII ( 1114411 )

        Uh huh. Are you pointing your dick up and drinking it in the shower? Capturing the showering water to make Mac N Cheese?

        "Sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but that don't mean I'll eat the mother fuckers"

        I'll take your word for it that it is in fact sterile, but disagree (along with most of the planet) that it is an acceptable culinary ingredient.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by CarpetShark ( 865376 )

      How could they think this was a good way to promote a new food source?

      It's better than the truth: soylent green is people.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by sjames ( 1099 )

      Grow two tanks. One fed urine and one fed composted urine fed algae. Extend as many degrees as needed to lose the ick factor.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @06:43PM (#33556226)

    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.

    So, like I start going down on the bitch, and complain that she tastes like algae and household urine. And then she quips, "But it runs Linux!"

    Can't argue with that . . .

  • ... a great way to give yourself the shits in whole new and exciting ways previously unknown to mankind.

    It's cryptosporidi-yummy!

  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @07:05PM (#33556396)

    Is shooting yourself in the head to avoid a pointless and severely unpleasant (but "sustainable") existence in a dystopian ecologically green world "the future"? Can we deprive ourselves of everything good about life so our children can inherit a world where they'll also have to deprive themselves of everything good about life? Is this wise?

    Why wouldn't we choose to strive for a good outcome rather than the worst possible outcome where we all (sort-of) survive?

    Do you have the blueprints to the Discovery Channel building?

    • by selven ( 1556643 )

      Food is only a small part of enjoyment. Our children in this dystopia will see food eating as a mundane but necessary task like drinking water and will focus on all the other joys of life instead.

      • by Kohath ( 38547 )

        Like driving or flying to a nice vacation spot? Nope.
        Like reclining in air conditioned comfort of their spacious homes? Nope and nope.

        There's nothing good about life that extreme environmentalists wouldn't frown on.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Who gives a shit what extreme anybody thinks, it doesn't mean you don't have to worry about sustainable alternatives because you don't agree with some whack that wants you to sit on your hands all day. Sounds like a convenient excuse to do whatever you want because the extreme opposition is 'wrong'.
          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Kohath ( 38547 )

            Who gives a shit what extreme anybody thinks, it doesn't mean you don't have to worry about sustainable alternatives because you don't agree with some whack that wants you to sit on your hands all day. Sounds like a convenient excuse to do whatever you want because the extreme opposition is 'wrong'.

            Doing whatever I want? You mean like a free person in a free society? That's a subversive idea you have there. I can see why you posted it anonymously.

            Extreme environmentalists aren't really into letting you choose whether you care about what they think. They demand obedience to their enlightened authority.

        • by Shark ( 78448 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @07:54PM (#33556780)

          We could use extreme environmentalists as fuel. Since most of them are also vegetarian, they'd even be carbon-neutral!

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @07:43PM (#33556700) Journal
      The advantage of "progress" that makes life worse, or at least having access to the technology and engineering needed to institute it on short notice, really depends on how optimistic you are about the alternative.

      If you are of the optimistic "steady-state-or-even-better" school, giving up long hot showers, giant pieces of perfectly cooked cow corpse, and 85 degree buildings all winter for its own sake is a rather curious and masochistic hobby. Fine if that is your thing; but not really for general consumption, much less compulsory introduction.

      The great utility of "worse progress" comes in the event of some sort of nasty supply shock. The basic problem is this: "progress"(R&D, engineering, building infrastructure, educating people, etc.) requires that a civilization be able to run a surplus in energy, food, and other useful materials. If civilization falls short of that, it generally falls back on eating its own infrastructure to survive(just consider the amount of european masonry that was just pilfered from roman stuff; because that was easier than mining it, and they couldn't make concrete anymore). Worst case, you not only get infrastructure degradation(both material and human capital) from lack of maintenance and training; but further destruction as people fight over the scraps.

      In our case, hydrocarbons have essentially allowed us to, for the past century or two, run massive surpluses. If we have to get off that particular train, we have to hope that the fusion/solar/orbiting microwave satellite/thorium breeder reactor/etc. guys have it together by that time, or things are going to get ugly. The nightmare scenario is that we lose the ability to run surpluses before we perfect the next energy source. If that happens, we might never have another shot at it. "Worse" technologies have the potential to be a useful delaying tactic, allowing us to run an R&D and infrastructure construction surplus long enough to get something else in place. Also handy in extreme environments, like space colonies or antarctic bases or what have you.
      • by Kohath ( 38547 )

        Yeah, but this article isn't about some sort of apocalyptic struggle against extinction. He wants you to start growing this stuff with your urine right now.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by plover ( 150551 ) *

          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

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        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.


  • I'd love for there to be some sort of automatic control system that takes measurements and makes optimal adjustments in titration, temperature, etc. I imagine that this would potentially be a cheap part with a USB plug. But even with this, who will invite people to their house for algae and crackers? And when guests ask for the bathroom, the answer is "Are you sure you don't want to just fertilize the algae? Anyway, want more crackers?"

    I think that here is a case where the hippies really have it wrong. If

  • by GigG ( 887839 )
    DIY, No. Commercial maybe.
  • I'm already doing this simply by abstaining from cleaning my toilet bowl. I haven't figured out the harvesting phase yet, though.

  • by Lord_of_the_nerf ( 895604 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @07:15PM (#33556486)
    Yay! The pool I don't clean is the FUTURE!
  • by Chemisor ( 97276 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @07:16PM (#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.

  • Hoo boy (Score:3, Funny)

    by DurendalMac ( 736637 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @07:16PM (#33556494)

    We'd be like the Linux of algae

    So they're going to grow algae in their neckbeards?

  • It's made from algae as far as you know.
  • It looks remarkably like a home-brew setup for making moonshine. Probably would have a similar future too - only dedicated enthusiasts would take it up, as big business can do it more economically on a larger scale, and if it did take off it would be made illegal and/or heavily taxed to make sure the government gets its cut.

  • Welcome to Trantor (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Digicrat ( 973598 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @08:24PM (#33556990)

    Asimov predicted this decades ago []. 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 w0mprat ( 1317953 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @09:07PM (#33557262)
    Most of the population has enough trouble with basic sanitation, leading to thousands of preventable cases of gastric poisoning each year. Now people are going to poison or kill themselves with home cultured algae gone wrong. At best they'll poison the local waterways & wildlife when they dump their bad algae.

    The is kind of why flying cars and jet packs, although feasible, haven't really taken off, pardon the pun. Drivers can barely manage turn signals let alone handle a third dimenson. People poison themselves with DIY alcohol brewing, preserves and curing gone wrong quite frequently.

    Anyone considered the disposal implications here? Many local governments would not allow you to dump this stuff via sewer or storm water.
  • by WillDraven ( 760005 ) on Sunday September 12, 2010 @11:52PM (#33558036) Homepage

    These guys claim to be "Open-Source" but when you go to their website [] they want you to come to California and pay $150 for a seminar to learn from them. No designs or instruction available for free.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )
      Open source does not mean no-charge, it means that people who receive it are allowed to distribute copies. As long as they don't object if you start your own seminar series telling people the stuff that you learned and selling them starter kits based on their designs, then it's still open source.
  • Sigh (Score:5, Funny)

    by Voyager529 ( 1363959 ) <{voyager529} {at} {}> on Monday September 13, 2010 @12:16AM (#33558170)

    We'd be like the Linux of algae

    I'll be right here waiting for the year of Algae on the Rooftop.

All Finagle Laws may be bypassed by learning the simple art of doing without thinking.