DIY Algae Photo Bio Reactor

I have wanted to do this a project for a long time and with earth day this year it kinda just fit timing wise. Its really a simple and quick build, yet getting the level up in bio-friendly-geek makes this all the more fun. Now I admit that I have a lacking of unquenchable aspirations to being a hugger of trees or a crusader of tofu and hemp. But I do believe in making changes so that the poor saps that come along after me might have the world a little less badly off for them. Let’s face it, we kind of effed up the whole earth thing… but watching the rhythmic bubbling in 12 clear pipes with green goo floating in them makes me forget it all.

But in all seriousness, once we get a good strong colony established we will be doing some testing of the amount of carbon these can remove from our environment with a C02 PPM meter. Now just myself doing this project all alone will have a minuscule effect I realize. But there cheap enough to build that some variant should be able to be installed in every house hold. The cumulative effect would be far greater obviously. But more over it would have a far greater effect on the environment than not doing it… (Until everyone starts dumping huge quantities of plankton down there drains and into our local water drainage, lakes, rivers and oceans.)

Killing a Tree:

So we will be starting this project by killing a tree and removing its heart (wood) for our project. Basically we will be building a fairly simple frame to hold our acrylic and pumps. Could you use reclaimed or recycled wood products? Sure! if you have them locally or on hand… if not don’t burn off that gallon or more of gasoline driving 20 miles and back from a recycler…. just go to the home center around the block.


For this project we will be using some acrylic sheet that is 1/2 inch thick. This will be cut using a hole saw to make the plugs for the tube ends as well as making the holes for the plumbing. Now I realize that everything can be measured in carbon and energy required in making a product… and I realize that I will get email saying how plastics will kill the earth. Well… your likely right. So I wanted you to know preemptively that I actually got this magic carbon / pollution free acrylic from my future self coming back in time with a carbon free time machine to give it to myself so I could feel guilt free about using it. For those not fortunate enough to have a future self with a carbon free time machine and carbon free acrylic just go to your local plastics supplier. (Use your phone book, yes it’s in there)

More Acrylic:

These are 3 3/4 OD 3 1/4 ID Cast acrylic tubes. There are two types of acrylic, cast and extruded. It’s important that you use a cast acrylic tube for this project. If you use extruded acrylic it will eventually crack under the pressure of the water in the tubes and you will kill an entire plankton colony thus lending to the over demise of the planet some how…

Life Support Chemicals:

To help keep our plankton happy we have both de-chlorinator and a phyto-grow plankton fertilizer. This stuff makes the plankton really take off and I highly recommend it. Fair warning though, it smells kind of like pee after taking a good multivitamin. So don’t get it on your hands just in case. I did buy it off the internet after all.

The Hole Maker:

For this project I recommend a nice sharp hole saw. We found a 3 1/2″ hole saw at our local home improvement center that had a 3 1/4 ID. The only catch is that the acrylic can get stuck inside so have a screw driver handy to prod it out.

Air Tubing:

This is your basic run of the mill aquarium air tubing. Nothing to special about it other than we used three twenty foot packages for the build. When you buy this it’s good to look for hard kinks in it. You need a nice clean 20 foot kink free run.

The Pumps:

We found these WISA air pumps on eBay for 8.00 each. The cool thing about them is that they have a input and output on them so you can easily capture the air and pass it along. These are surprisingly high volume and 6 of them in parallel ran great on our 45 watt solar panel kit.


A box of basic drywall style screws will hold most of this together. There cheep and don’t rust easily. Don’t use nails to hold this together, the pumps do vibrate a lot and it would work the nails out fairly quickly

Air Valves:

We picked up 2 of these dual valve kits at our local super mega gigantic crap you don’t need mart along with the air tubing. The cool thing about this is it lets you mix and even recycle air through the reactor with very fine control. One other highlight of shopping at the local super mega gigantic crap you don’t need mart is most of the useless crap in them are made overseas. So ultimately were not polluting here making lots of useless crap we don’t really need. And that makes it there problem not ours right?

Live Phytoplankton:

We went with a mix of 2 species of LIVE plankton microalgae for this project. Nannochloris and Nannochloropsis are both hardy fresh or salt water plankton microalgaes. We mixed a very slight salt concentration into the system to help these adapt to either condition easily. Once your reactor takes off it really pumps this stuff out. There are lots of aquarium enthusiasts who would love to come drain half your tank (to reduce the concentration) and take those happy little planktons home to feed to their happy little under water worlds.

We picked up four 8 ‘X 1″ X 6″ pine planks at our local home center. We cut them to the following:

2 – 6′

2 – 2′

2 – 7′

2 – 1′

We use all the lumber excluding scraps other than the saw dust we burned with the plastic shavings for good measure. Just kidding, we sent them to the land fill. hahah just kidding again, we mulched them. (Is that the right answer?)

The bottoms of the 6′ and 1′ board we will cut a 15 – 30 degree cut so the stand sits at an angle for better light exposure. Choose the angle the frame will be standing at carefully by watching how the light affects the area you want to put this.

From the center of the 7′ boards space out 3 3/4″ holes with one inch gaps between them. Leave 6″ between the last cut and the end of the board for air flow. A little tip is to screw the boards together on top of each other and hole saw through them both at the same time.

I think this picture should be self explanatory enough. Honestly what could I say… screw it together and don’t get your hand between the screw and the wood? Maybe eat some hummus as a snack?

Here is a quick test fit of the tubes. It’s starting to look really cool. But I realized that I needed to redistribute the weight a little differently. Where did those two 2′ scraps go to again?

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