Algae and Farmboy Engineering

As I have commented earlier, algae production is in its infancy and needs to be mastered before it has any impact on our lives.

I recently took the trouble to read material from the naysayers, including those currently and previously involved in the 'industry'. What became clear immediately is that the attempts to date have been few and long on the big money approach to science and engineering. This approach is often doomed to failure because flawed assumptions are often impossible to fix on the fly unless a very gifted fixit type is on staff.

Fortunately, enough money is now going to be thrown at the industry, that perhaps we will win through.

In the meantime, you may recall now I engineered a farm based solution to the task of producing Biochar that was cheap and very efficient using shipping containers. An engineer would have looked at the budget of a hundred million or so and built out a haulage rich super plant dependent on the farmer paying an uneconomic price and thus proving it impossible. And the natural economic model that drives the engineering profession does not stop this type of unwitting nonsense.

Let us return to our ideal farm. How in hell are we going to successfully grow the right type(s) of algae long enough to produce the desired products? And remember, the more processing that can be achieved on site, the lower the end cost.

The first thing that I am going to admit is that I have not read anything on the current attempts to produce algae efficiently and know nothing about pumping systems. However, all that sounds like something that I would have to buy from a scientific supply shop which is a little out of my budget.

I will use one premise. My task is to emulate the behavior of an almost stagnant pond which is where I have seen plenty of algae. This also leads me to speculate that the best end environment will consist of a mix of specie rather than an attempt at a mono culture. The trick will be to find a way to manage the algae soup.

I have also learned one thing that is important. The best oil producing algae is heavy and will settle on the bottom. This was represented as a problem. to me this is a separation technique. It would be advantageous if most of the remaining lighter algae were rich in starch and could be drawn of for ethanol production. All of a sudden, I am back in the mining business running a flotation cell.

I think that these are reasonable premises and our task is to discover the art necessary to make it into a paying proposition. Hey, we are back in the wine business. Ever wonder what the first barrel of wine tasted like?

We can start out with a fabricated pond, perhaps three feet wide by say fifty long, or whatever length is convenient and a foot deep. It only has to be able to hold water. There we have many options, but today it is pretty easy to frame in the structure and then roughly lay up fiberglass. It may not be pretty, but this is a farm. Of course the base is on the ground saving us any extra expense.

The one other thing we need to do is to place a platform of tight stiff plastic screen about three inches above the bottom. Perhaps 50 to 80 percent shade. We can use bricks to support the screen. We now can also run hoses along the bottom to support both air and water injection, giving us the flexibility to explore various effects.

That leaves one other thing. We should also place transparent plastic sheets on top of the pond. These can be 4X8 sheets for ease of handling. They will allow us to contain and partially isolate the immediate atmosphere, as well as induce strong warming of the water.

This is actually a pretty good pond. Nutrient mixing can be done in a shed and pumped directly into the pond as can air or better still CO2 if available.

Since the oil rich algae will enrich on the screen (at least that is the intent) the screen needs to be occasionally lifted and run through a roller press to extract the oil. This could be set up easily at one end.

The rest of the working fluid will need to be run through a filter press and returned to the pond to continue the process. This does not have to a hundred percent of the fluid at all. In fact it is better to simply run the fluids through a recirculating cycle in a way that visibly drops the algae content by 60 to 80%. If the fluid is held briefly in small separation tank, we should be able to skim off additional oil.

With this type of setup we can now experiment to our hearts content to see if we can make it pay. All of the hardware is available in some form or the other, and once we actually know what we are doing it will be easy for manufacturers to make modifications.

That leaves us the problem of the algae soup. First, there will be a night time in which the soup will be producing CO2 and enriching the working fluid as happens in nature. That means that we want to start with as close to a natural mix as possible to get things going. Once that is accomplished, we want to introduce and encourage the success of the oil algae and perhaps several others. In other words, this is a long way from mono culture.

As a bonus, the filter press should minimize the populations of larger predators and mosquitoes. In the best of all worlds we succeed in causing the oil algae to be dominant and maximize production. Right now we do not know how, but I think that I have shown us a way produce the end product on the farm very cheaply.

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