What supplies do I need?
We have just about everything you need to grow algae. We break it down into different categories so that you can use your existing materials, or buy some new ones from us.
You are creating a small habitat and ecosystem. Your goal is to make the conditions good for the algae you want to grow, and bad for bacteria and undesired algae to grow. Algae and bacteria are EVERYWHERE!!!
Picking your container is important. First, think about how much algae you will need at the end of your project? Do you need that all at one time, or can you grow it in batches? Do you need replicates, a large "n"? For research projects, statistics can not be done on a trial of less than 3, but for algae I like the number EIGHT. So, eight samples of the identical treatment per test. For a single variable, that means 1-test and 1-control, with an n=8, you would need 16 containers.
Self Standing Centrifuge Tubes are great for experiments. We always recommend replicates a magic number for statistics is EIGHT. If you can, repeat each sample eight times.
Self Standing Centrifuge Tubes (50mL)
If you are growing algae for production (ie Spirulina) go with the larger containers. We recommend 10-gallon glass aquariums. Easy to buy locally from your pet shop (shipping is not recommended). We manufacture lids and LED lights (should be released soon). This is a work horse of many a lab and classroom. After your algae project is over, we recommend goldfish.
If you are growing to 10-100 gallons, aquariums can be useful, but limited by the amount of light that can pass through the culture. For larger cultures, make sure you are mixing well to move the culture around to give each cell an exposure to the light. We love solar tubes (link, can we get a contract to resell, or 5% to recommend).
Ponds, 100-gallons and larger. Covered or open-ponds. They are where most of the world's algae is grown. Any ideas on how to cultivate at sea? It is our goal to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. Call us if you have a good idea! We want to believe!!!
Fish-Tanks (10-gallon tanks are great!!!)
Did you know that your drinking water has a quarter of a gram of salts per liter in it? Those salts are important sources of calcium, iron, carbonate, chloride, sulphate, and sodium- things algae need to grow!
All you need to do is add water, we pre-weigh the bags to add chlorine free water with in volumes of: 500mL, 1-gallon, or 5-gallons.
Seawater is mostly water, but with a lot of dissolved salts, or ions. Salinity in the ocean mainly comes from sodium and chloride ions. But that is not all! Below is a table of the major ions that make up seawater, these ions account for 99.8% in seawater.
Seawater Salts Link
Seawater Media Kit (Salt and Nutrient) Link
High pH means alkali. One of our favorite alkali-water strains is spirulina, a blue green extremophilic algae that prefers high pH (around pH 10). This pH is advantageous as it limits competition from other algae, freeing you from worrying about contamination.
Alkali Salts (spirulina) Link
Alkali Media Kit (Salts and Nutrients) Link
Just like your garden plants, algae needs fertilizer, we call them nutrients. We break nutrients into two categories based on their relative amounts: Macro- and Micro-nutrients.
The macronutrients are nitrogen, phosporous, and potassium (NPK), and the micronutients include iron, manganese, zinc and more. Our general culture media is based on f/2, which media for algae and a widely used general enriched medium for growing algae. All of our nutrients are easy to use and contains all the necessary trace elements and minerals to grow your algae.
The gold standard for most marine culture is f/2 first published in 1962 by Guillard. You can order it with or without silica.
Our version of f/2 media is linked here.
Our spirulina media is a modification of the media from Aiba, S. & Ogawa, T. (1977) and Schlösser 1994. Using this media you will have good rates of growth and be able to have maintain replete nitrogen concentrations and thus a high protein product.
Spirulina nutrient link is here.
We strongly recommend you pair the nutrients with the salts for the complete media kit. Link.
You will need light.
Light is very important to photosynthesis, duhh!!!! We recommend LEDs or CFLs. Sunlight can be OK, but it is often too much light, will kill most algae cultures. For reference, sunlight is ~2500uE/m2s and the saturation of most phytoplankton is 120uE/m2s. That means that the extra light will need to be discarded by the algae, so it does not die. It costs the algae energy to dispose of the light. We never recommend a culture under 20L get direct sunlight.
More on light- see this link.
We intend to have our own manufacture of LED algae grow lights in 2021. :)
Each algae culture has its own temperature range that it does best in. Most can thrive acrosss a wide range of temperatures.
Probably yes, maybe no. Most strains will do well at temperatures that humans find favorable. In the 21-32C (71-90F) you get the best response for most of our strains. Each strain is a bit different (read great research project!) The higher temperature will result in faster growing algae. So, if you are in a rush- warm it up (you know who I’m talking about as a high school science project student).
Here are some that we have data on:
Spirulina vs temperature
Too hot is over 100F, most algae will die promptly at 104F. It is best not to tempt fate.
Should you buy a heater? Probably yes, maybe no.
Most strains will do well at temperatures that humans find favorable. In the 21-32C (71-90F) you get the best response for most of our strains. Each strain is a bit different (this is a great research project idea).
Generally the higher temperature will result in faster growing algae. So, if you are in a rush- keep the cultures warm (you know who I’m talking about as a high school science project student).
This is an article we wrote on heating your algae culures. LINK.
Microalgae has mass, but it is difficult to measure it because they are
(1) really small and too numerous to count
(2) suspended in water
(3) the cells themselves have ~90% water
Here are ways to measure algae biomass
Estimating the amount of biomass in a system is often an important first step in understanding how matter and energy move between populations.
This is sometimes the best way to determine biomass, simply weigh it! *Weighing involves filtering, which is not a good thing to do if you want to keep the algae alive. So it is called a “destructive method” for quantification. (For non-destructive methods look at the Secchi stick.)
Wet Weight: (our favorite weighing method) A best practice is to simply filter a volume of culture onto a pre-weighed filter pad. Subtract the mass of the pad from the algae and the pad and that is your wet weight. This is expressed as grams of wet weight per liter of media, (g-WW / L).
Wet weight = (Mass of pad) - (Mass of pad and filtered algae)
Dry weight: (our favorite weighing method) More accurate than wet weight biomass measurements, dry weight is what most algae growers will talk about when describing the amount of biomass in their ponds. It is identical to the wet weight process, except the pad is often washed with fresh water to remove salts then oven dried at 100C until all the water is driven from inside of the cells (usually a half hour). The final mass is then determined immediately after weighing so moisture from the air does not reabsorb into the algae. (g-DW / L)
Dry weight = (Mass of pad) - (mass of oven dried algae and pad)
Ash-Free Dry Weight: Some researchers get drunk with informational-power and want to know exactly how much organic matter is in the biomass- the ash free dry weight. This process helps you determine how much “alive stuff” is in your algae, or conversely, how much non-biological cellular material the cell has in them. A good example of when to use this method, is to estimate the mass of silica in a radiolarian cell wall or a diatom frustule, or calcium carbonate in a haptophyte. Can you imagine an experiment where you varied the amount of silica available to a diatom culture in an effort to learn if their frustules got thicker with extra silica? To perform this process, you perform the dry weight procedure, then burn off all the biomass in a furnace and weight again. (g-AFDW / L)
AFDW = (Mass-post furnace) - (Dry Weight)
How dense in dry weight are natural systems?
Open ocean: ~0.0001g/L
Coastal oceans: ~0.01 g/L
Coastal and lake algae blooms: 0.1g/L
Lab cultures in photobioreactors: 1 g/L
COUNTING CELLS, HEMOCYTOMETER:
Using a microscope and a specialized slide called a hemocytometer, you can count the number of cells on the slide. When a cover-slip is placed on the slide, the volume of liquid is fixed, and you can find the number of cells per area. By multiplying to the volume of the sample, you can estimate the population of cells.
The downside: You need a microscope with reasonably good optics and a hemocytometer ($30-300). Also you have to ‘math’ a little to make it work.
BY OPTICAL DENSITY:
Using the Beer Lambert laws of optical density there are several ways that you can estimate biomass, the most easily used here are: turbidity-meter, spectrophotometer, and secchi stick.
The turbidity-meter and the spectrophotometer. They are meters that generate light, pass the light through a sample, then detect the light that has made it through the sample to a light meter. The difference is that a spectrophotometer can be adjusted to emit light across a range of the electromagnetic spectra and the turbidimeter uses a few wavelengths to estimate the turbidity of the water.
Downside: Spectrophotometry costs $3,500-50,000 per unit and is generally not portable for field use. The turbidiometer is often portable but still has a price tag in the hundreds of dollars
The Secchi Stick is our favorite meter, it is easy to use, nondestructive and can fit in your pocket with a cost of $2. The Secch Stick is a derivation of a very old tool used to determine turbidity in water. The target on the stick is lowered into the water until the user can not discern the pattern in the target. The depth in to the water when the pattern is not identifiable is called the Secch Stick Depth. A common assumption is that 3.1x the SDD is the 1% light level which is near the intensity of light where photosynthesis and respiration are equal (aka the compensation intensity).
This stick is great for use with students and is as accurate as a student-grade spectrophotometer.
Downside: Great, like really great for student work or cell cultivation, but for scientific publication dry weight or cell count are also required.